North Carolina's win against N.C. State last night had a very "2009-ish" feel to it. No, I am not trying to say that the teams are similar; I am just noting that this was the type of game that was commonplace during that season's championship run. The Heels scored (seemingly) whenever they wanted. The defense, while not statistically stellar, got the big stops when they were needed. And it was all controlled by a maestro who was in the process of defining what the highest levels of point guard excellence should look like. It was a recipe for a Title then, and there is no reason why it can't be a recipe for a Title now.
Sometimes, the statistical breakdown of a game really needs to go no further than the first column of the Four Factors. When a team has a 16-percentage point advantage in eFG% it is almost impossible for them to lose, barring some sort of obscene disadvantage in turnovers and/or offensive rebounds (the largest deficit UNC has overcome this year is 3.2 percentage points; the largest they have squandered is 3.4). And that is really what this game boiled down to: UNC shot the ball brilliantly (eFG% 59.6) en route to only their second game in their last 59 against ACC foes with an offensive efficiency over 130 (OE: 130.3; even the 2009 team only did it twice), while NCSU, despite its own impressive OE (112.1), was limited to an eFG% of just 43.6, primarily the result of 23.1% shooting from behind the arc. The only thing that kept this game from becoming an absolute blowout was the fact that the Wolfpack did a terrific job of handling the ball in spite of non-trivial pressure from the Heels (TO%: 6.1; lowest for any Tar Heel opponent) and were quite effective and relentless on the offensive boards (OR%: 38.3). Clearly, Mark Gottfried has had a significant (positive) impact in Raleigh, which is good for both Carolina and the ACC.
- After missing their first three attempts, UNC closed the game hitting 18 of their last 21 free-throws. The team is now shooting 70.1% from the line in conference games, which is still not good, but the trend is encouraging.
- Along those same lines, Kendall Marshall is now shooting 84.8% from the line in ACC play. Maintaining this, in my opinion, is much more important than the team's overall improvement.
- North Carolina has now played 4-straight games with less than 70 possessions (season average: 73.0), and yet, their OE over those 4 games is 116.5 (season average: 113.0). This is a great sign, as possession generally become much more of a premium come March.
- The last time UNC hit 10 threes in a game (Georgia Tech), the Heels followed that up by missing 42 of their next 52 attempts. No one expects them to shoot 50% over their next couple of games, but they need to avoid a dramatic fall as well.
Beyond the Box: Player Impact Ratings
[table id=188 /]
Carolina's starting five was outstanding yesterday, and under normal circumstances, there would be lots to be written about any of them. But who are we kidding? This game was about Kendall Marshall, who put together one of the best performances of any player in the country this season. I am not going to try to definitively place Marshall's performance on the list of top Carolina games by a point guard, but if there were a tournament of sorts, I would certainly feel comfortable with its odds versus the fields.
Coming into yesterday's game, the knock on Marshall was that he was "one dimensional." Now, this may have been a reasonable assertion to make based solely on Marshall's season-long statistical output, but what Marshall showed yesterday is that there is a difference between being (truly) one dimensional and being just so good at one thing that you choose to do that more than anything else. Carolina has a lot of "mufti-dimensional" players on its roster, and none of them have been able to crack the 60-point P.I.R. plateau; Marshall is now the first, and he did so easily and despite having only the 6th highest possession percentage (15.9) the team. Kendall basically did whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, last night. His ORtg (244.9) was through the roof and his shooting percentages (eFG%: 112.5, TS%: 111.1) were obscene. And while his distribution (AST% 63.2) and protection of the ball (TO%: ZERO) were marvelous, perhaps the most impressive (and overlooked) part of his performance was the fact that Lorenzo Brown was held to an eFG% of 30.9 (2P%: 33.3, 3P%: 16.7). If (or when) Marshall wins the Cousy Award, this will be the game that kicks off all of his highlight packages.
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=189 /]