That. Was. Awesome.
Look, it is really pretty simple: North Carolina is a better team than Duke is this year. They should have won the first game, and they set out to prove it last night. But what Carolina did in Durham did last night was more than prove that they were simply better than Duke; they showed that they can be the best team in the country. The Tar Heels, even without Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald, are still a supremely talented roster. They have six, and maybe even seven, players who will be 1st round picks over the next couple of NBA drafts, which is not only more than any team in the country, it is more than any other UNC team, ever. Talent alone is a guarantee of nothing (just ask the 1994 and 1998 teams), but if the Heels put it together in the NCAA Tournament, like they did last night, then the Title could very well be theirs to lose.
What a half! When everything is taken into consideration (opponent, importance, etc.) that may have been UNC's best half of basketball since they went into the locker room with a 55-34 lead over Michigan St. in the 2009 NCAA Title game. The Tar Heels played almost perfectly for the first 20 minutes en route to a first-half efficiency margin of 66.7 (OE: 133.4, DE 66.7). Carolina shot well (eFG%; 53.9), defended better (defensive eFG%: 29.4), and were (stop me if you've heard this before) monsters on both the offensive and defensive back boards (OR%: 52.6, DR%: 78.6). About the only thing UNC did not do at a high level during last night's 1st-half (or game in general), was force turnovers, as Duke's 1st-half TO% was a very low 8.3. This is not something that is new to this team, as their defensive TO% for the is season is just 18.3 (276th in the nation). However, given their ability to clean up on the defensive glass, a little less pressure in the name of staying in front of your player and challenging shots may actually be the better prescription for defensive success.
In the second half, the Heels were clearly less effective overall (as was probably expected), but their ability to keep the pressure on Duke with their offense was still quite impressive. While Carolina's OE did take a step back in the second stanza (dropping to a still solid 117.6), this was primarily the result of an increased number of turnovers (TO%: 20.6). However, when the Heels did take care of the ball, they were actually remarkably effective, upping their eFG% to 62.5 (3P%: 50.0) and going 5 of 6 from the line. This shooting success allowed UNC to continue a pretty remarkable trend: when UNC builds a lead to 15 at any point in the game, they are not only undefeated, but they have yet to allow their opponent to even cut the deficit under 10 (hat tip: Lauren Brownlow).
- The Tar Heels closed out their ACC schedule with 5 straight games over 75% at the line, and as a team, shot 72.7% during conference play. The biggest credit for this improvement belongs to Kendall Marshall (75.6% in ACC play) and John Henson (74.1% over the last 8 games).
- As of the close of their regular season schedule, this group of Heels is poised to set Roy Era records in: defensive eFG% (currently 44.3), DR% (72.4), Blk% (14.6) and TO% (16.3). Add in a few more made threes and they just may be unstoppable.
- With their 20 combined rebounds, John Henson and Tyler Zeller surpassed 600 for the season (608). If Tyler Zeller gets 12 more rebounds, they will be the 1st pair of UNC teammates to grab 300-plus rebounds in a single season. John Henson is currently at 320 rebounds; at his current pace, he would need 8 more games to break Tyler Hansbrough's single-season record of 399.
Beyond the Box: Player Impact Ratings
[table id=195 /]
This was just a really balanced performance by the Tar Heels. Six players had an ORtg greater than 100.0 (3 over 150.0) and a Floor% greater than 50.0, and all 7 players in the regular rotation had at least 4 rebounds. And while Kendall Marshall (3rd game this season with a P.I.R. over 40.0) and Tyler Zeller (P.I.R. of 34.4 despite playing only 26 minutes) were clearly brilliant, the player who really stood out to me was Reggie Bullock, who appears to be coming on at just the right time. In UNC's first 27 games, Bullock finished in the top three in P.I.R. a grand total of ZERO times; in the Heels' last 4 games, he has been in that position three times. Bullock was everything that UNC needs him to be last night. He was efficient on offense (ORtg: 153.6, eFG%: 66.6, Floor%: 66.4) and very active on the boards (OR%: 17.2). And most importantly, he was a menace on the defensive end, playing a key role in harassing Seth Curry and Austin Rivers into a combined 8 for 25 shooting night. If there is one nit to pick with Bullock's game, it would be that he has shot a total of 3 free throws in his 12 games as a starter. Adding one or two more trips to the line per game (while maintaining his current 83.3% success rate) would go a long way towards making him (keeping him) the consistent scoring threat that UNC needs him to be if they are going to win it all.
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=196 /]