Is it possible that the beatdown that the Heels took in Tallahassee will actually prove to be a blessing in disguise? Since then, UNC has twice faced a situation in which they went into halftime trailing in an (very) hostile environment. The combined score of the two halves that followed? Try 94 - 63 in favor of the boys in blue. While it can't be proved, it certainly appears like the team has learned how to roll with a punch and respond. Would it be better if they never got hit in the first place? Of course, but just looking at results from around the nation, I don't know how realistic it is to expect any team to (consistently) come out firing on all cylinders when they are on the road. So this may just be the next best alternative.
One doesn't have to look too much beyond turnovers and three-point defense to see how the Tar Heels were able to turn an 8.3-point halftime deficit in efficiency margin (EM: 102.8 - 111.1) into a 30.7-point advantage in the second stanza (EM: 117.9 - 87.2). Over the first 20 minutes, the turnover story was tilted decidedly in favor of the Terps, as the Heels were not only uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball (TO%: 22.2; TOs in 7 of their first 24 possessions), but did nothing to force a statistically more careless team (season TO%: 20.0) to cough up the ball (TO%: 11.1). And while the Heels did not get "lit up" from behind the arc, Maryland was able to go a respectable 3 of 7 (42.9%), which was enough to give them a small advantage in 1st-half eFG% (45.5 - 48.3). The second half, as we know, was a completely different story. UNC not only did a much better job limiting their turnovers (TO%: 15.4), but they really upped their defensive intensity, limiting Maryland to just a single made three-point FG (in 10 attempts) and doubling its 1st-half TO% (22.2). That UNC was able to do this on the road is one thing. That they were able to do this while playing with (severe) foul trouble and a very thin rotation is another thing all together, and was really this season's first reminder of the team's ability to find that "extra gear" that was so often necessary last season.
- The difference in UNC's success at the line during the end of yesterday's game (5-6) and their struggles during the first 30+ minutes (12-20) really summarizes Carolina's story from the line this season: they are a team of "Haves" and "Have Nots." For the season, John Henson, Justin Watts and Blue Steel are a putrid 63 for 152 (41.4%) from the line. The rest of the team, on the other hand, is 320 -436 (73.4%), which is actually quite good. Fortunately, this should provide Roy the ability to field a team of capable FT-shooters at the end of close games, and if the the recent improvements of Kendall Marshall (85.7% in ACC play) and James Michael McAdoo (15 for his last 19; 78.9%) hold, to go along with Zeller (79.2) , Barnes (72.0), Bullock (80.0) and Hairston (85.7), then it may even become a strength.
- Speaking of free-throws, UNC's last two opponents have each had FTRs over 40.0. That is only the second time that has happened since the start of the 2006-07 season (the other was last season versus Minnesota and Vanderbilt).
- Despite the solid defensive performance in yesterday's second-half, the Heels did snap a 5-game streak of having a block% of at least 10.0, and a 3-game streak with a steal% of at least 10.0. And it was only the second game this season that the Heels' opponent had a larger steal% and block% (Kentucky).
Beyond the Box: Player Impact Ratings
[table id=177 /]
While Kendall Marshall (9 points, 16 assists) and John Henson certainly had quality overall games (17 points, 12 rebounds, their position at the top of the of the P.I.R. rankings is really the result of Tyler Zeller being limited to just 22 minutes (P.I.R. equals Impact Points multiplied by percentage of minutes played). However, when Zeller was in the game, it was clear that he was the most important player on the court, as he scored in 9 of his 14 individual possessions (Floor%: 64.8) and led the team in eFG% (58.3), TS% (67.5) and Block% (8.3). But perhaps the most important part of his performance yesterday (and credit should go to his teammates, as well) was how involved he was in the offense. Against FSU, despite being the only player who showed any level of effectiveness, Zeller's possession% was a very low 17.7. Yesterday, in what could have easily devolved into a similar situation, Zeller's possession% was a team-best (by more than 10 percentage points) 33.9. Were it not for a phantom offensive foul, Zeller would have likely scored well over 30 points.
Ironically, that same foul trouble that could have led to Carolina's demise, may have actually been a key to their eventual victory, as it allowed (forced?) Harrison Barnes to once again demonstrate his late-game brilliance. Over what roughly equates to the last quarter of the game, on a bad ankle, and with both Tyler Zeller and Kendall Marshall saddled with 4 fouls, Barnes simply took over, scoring 10 points and grabbing 5 rebounds. Tyler Zeller may be the team's (and conference's) Player of the Year, but there is no one in the country who is better at the end of a close game. It has gotten to the point where this type of performance is almost expected, and yet it still never ceases to amaze.
The cumulative impact ratings for each player can be found below. A player’s average P.I.R., both for the season and the last five games only considers games in which the player officially logged at least 1 minute of game time. The C.V. is a measure of variation; the smaller the percentage, the more consistent the player’s performance has been. While it is not technically correct to use in this instance, because P.I.R. is an interval scale (it can go into the negative), it still has some value for the top-tier players, who will likely have a positive P.I.R. in every game.
[table id=178 /]