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The Perimeter Defense

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Straight stats...because I know you guys like that.

After seeing yet another opposing guard put up 30-plus on the Heels I decided to delve into the numbers to see what the difference between last season and this season was in terms of opposing guards' offensive production in ACC play.  The table below shows the points per game by opposing guards and team three point percentage.  Note that the ppg average is derived from taking all the points scored by any player listed as a G or G-F in the box score.

Teams vs UNC 2008 2009
Games Played 16 13
Team PPG 75.9 76.7
Guards PPG 41.75 47.0
Guard % of Total 55% 61%
Gms 3 Guards in Dbl Figures 6 5
Team 3P% 33% 37.8%
Gms 3P% 35% or higher 7 9
Average 3PM 7.6 8
Average 3PA 23.1 22
3PM High 13 13
Gms Guards Total 40+ 9 9
Gms Guards Total 50+ 5 4
Gms Guards Total High 64 78
Gms Guards Total Low 19 25
Individual Guard 20+ 9 11
Individual Guard 30+ 2 5
Individual Guard High 46 35(twice)
Individual Guard Low* 10 11
*Leading scorer among guards

The two stats that instantly jump out are the guards PPG against UNC and the overall three point percentage.  To absoultely no one's surprise opposing teams are shooting the three better against the Heels and opposing perimeter players are scoring more per game.  And to the credit of ACC coaches they have been very good about going to this particular well.  While UNC's points allowed average went up only slightly(76.7 vs 75.9) the percentage of those points coming off the guards increased from 55% to 61%.  It is also clear that UNC was less apt to give up "the big game" by one player. In 2008 only twice did an opposing guard go for 30-plus on the Heels.  Clemson's Cliff Hammonds did it in the 2OT game at Chapel Hill and Tyrese Rice went for 46 in the game at Boston College.  This season it has happened five times.  In 2008 UNC had six games in which they allowed three perimeter players to score in double figures.  This season that is five with three games left.  In those five games UNC is 3-2.  In  games where a single player goes for 30-plus, UNC is 3-2.  In terms of opposing three point shooting, nine times this season teams have shot 35% or better.  In six of those games it was over 40% and twice teams have gone over 50%.  In 2008 35% or better shooting happened seven times, four of those over 40% and zero games over 50%.  The best anyone shot against the Heels in 2008 was the Tyrese Rice goes nuts game at BC where the Eagles shot 47% from three.  Most of that was Rice.  This season UNC allowed NCSU and UVa to shoot 50% or better.

The question everyone wants answer to is: Why?  Some possibilities.

1. Marcus Ginyard

This is probably 75% of it and it will be very hard to convince me otherwise. And spare me the whole UNC is still talented enough to compensate, blah blah blah.  Ginyard is a lock down defender.  He is 6-5 and knows how to play defense against the type of players who have scorched UNC.  The truth is Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green cannot defend on the ball the way Ginyard could.  Granted he is not Jackie Manuel but he was clearly head and shoulders above everyone else in a Tar Heel uniform when it comes to guarding someone.  Also understand that I am not laying the whole ball of wax on Ginyard.  Obviously he cannot guard everyone and these stats indicate that team defense as a whole has fallen off but I think that is fruit of the posionous tree.  Looking at these numbers you see that opposing teams are shooting the ball 5% better from three and scoring six more ppg with their guards than last season. We have clear cases of teams getting more production from their guards and UNC has fallen victim to the "hot shooter" five times, more if you count guys like BC's Reggie Jackson or MD's Cliff Tucker. Those kind of performances were rarer a year ago.  The difference between this season and last is Marcus Ginyard is not playing in 2009.  You do the math.

2. Guard play in the ACC is drastically improved.

I think this is part of it.  On one hand there are some great guards in the ACC and many of them having real breakthrough seasons. That being said some of the players who went for 30-plus played the Heels last season and were nowhere near the same neighborhood.  What that means is yes these players are going to do more damage than last season but should not have been able to make the jump from scoring 18 to 34 like Wake's Jeff Teague did. Take maturing guards in concert with #1 and you might have something.

3. Opposing coaches got wise

Give some credit to the guys on the other bench who have figured out UNC does not defend the perimeter well.  If you scout UNC you are a fool to use any offense that does not weight towards taking outside shots.  Heck even Leonard Hamilton figured out it should be the Toney Douglas Show when the Heels played FSU and could have won the game had he also had a clue about guarding Ty Lawson with three seconds left. Opposing coaches also know that UNC does not have a lockdown defender on the perimeter.  Roy has said as much and it is clear they relish the opportunity to exploit this every chance they get.

4. Extended three point line

Worth mentioning.  We all assumed the extended line would hurt three point shooting.  That is not the case but it does mean defenders have to travel a foot further to contest a shot.  Given the style of defense UNC plays that is man-to-man and a lot of scrambling, one extra foot is going to create a few more open shots.  This is probably not a huge part of it but it is worth considering as another factor.

5. The defensive scheme itself

I do not like criticizing the coaching staff because I am convinced they know more than I do.  However I am wondering if the defensive scheme is the problem if you do not have a player like Marcus Ginyard.  Since the Heels lack a lockdown defender they are asking players who are not that to keep the opposing team's top scorer in check.  It is painfully obvious they are unable to do so and you end up with 2-3 different players trying to check the same guy because no one can handle him.  Heck the FSU game saw Tyler Hansbrough make the best defensive plays on Toney Douglas only because they switched on the screen.  UNC did the same thing versus Duke and it worked well there also.  I wonder if it is time to take a step back and try to view the defensive scheme more along the lines of team defense rather than depending on winning the individual matchups.  If you have a Marcus Ginyard you can get away with less skilled defensive players guarding less skilled offensive players.  When you cannot even lock down the other team's top scorer it opens up all kinds of holes in your defense when you are constantly scrambling to help.

I fully understand that I am not in practice with the team nor do I know the players as well as Roy and his staff does.  But I do know this.  The proof is in the pudding and numbers do not lie.  Whatever UNC is doing on defense strikes me as being more than being tough, smart or focused.  It seems to me that the players cannot execute the scheme they are in effectively enough to make crucial stops.  At this point what does Roy and the team have to lose by trying some different sets?  Try switching on the screens. Throw some zone out there or box and one just to see how it flies. Given the problems the Heels have on defensive I am not sure how much worse a poorly executed zone is going to look versus the holes we are seeing with the Heels in a man-to-man.  My point is there is obviously something wrong and to Roy's credit he realized when they went to Duke last season and made the adjustments.  Based on the evidence I think some kind of adjustment to the defense is in order.