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UNC vs. Vandy: Beyond the Box

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Hard to say what was more fun this weekend: my bout with gastroenteritis or watching the Heels on offense. (I kid, I kid... and only because I care.) With their (not-a-secret-this-time) loss to Vanderbilt, UNC drops to 2-2 for the first time since the 1989-90 season. Roy Williams has a bit more experience with with this type of a start, as his last team at Kansas started 2-2, and eventually 3-3, before making his best run (at Kansas) at a National Title. So what were the weaknesses that let to the Tar Heels' demise? And were there any bright spots that can be amplified in the future? Let's dig into the box and find out...

Four Factors

There certainly was not much pretty about UNC's offensive effort last night.  Here are some stats that will pretty much sum the evening up.  Under Roy Williams, UNC is now 46-46 when they have an eFG% less than 50.  When they have an A/T ratio under 0.8 (last night's was an awful 0.36), they are 14-18.  Their record when they manage to to both in the same game?  Try 6-18.  Throw in the fact that Vandy shot the ball very well and did a great job getting to the line, and it is really somewhat miraculous (and maybe a credit to the team) that the Heels did not get completely blown out of the gym.

Carolina did do a reasonable job on the offensive boards, and perhaps that helped to keep the game closer than the previously discussed stats would suggest.  But even though they did beat Vandy on the offensive boards, Tar Heel teams are at their best when they are getting 40% or more of their misses, a number they failed to reach last night.

Statistical Highlights

  • Over the last two games, John Henson has gone 3-12 (25%) from the free throw line; the rest of the team is 30-40 (75%).  Should this pattern keep up over the next several games, it might be time to reclassify this team from a "poor FT-shooting team," to a "decent FT-shooting team with a very weak link."  The net effect might be the same, but at least a wink link can be coached around at the end of the game.
  • While the game was played at a reasonable pace (72.0 possessions), UNC did not do a good job of capitalizing on its transition opportunities.  UNC scored just 4 points off its 8 steals.  For comparisons sake, Vanderbilt scored 5 points off of 5 steals.  This may not have been the difference in the game, but had UNC been more efficient in converting its steals into points it could have made things very interesting.
  • Despite the fact that Carolin lost, Tyler Zeller still led the team with a respectable Roland Rating of 25.  Justin Knox (-13) had the team's lowest Roland Rating.

Beyond the Box Player of the Game

Before naming the POG for the Vandy game, let's first take a look at the top five ORtgs for the Tar Heels (minimum possession percentage: 10%):

[table id=50/]

Given the nature (and outcome) of the game, it is not surprising that the overall numbers of UNC's "Top 5" are less than spectacular.  Kendall Marshall actually had the highest ORtg (177.0) but it was based on an individual possession percentage of 3.2% and also he also had the second lowest (on-the-floor) +/- on the team (-7).  But what about the Player of the Game?  In general, this is not an "everybody gets a ribbon" award (actually, it's not an award at all), and after many losses there won't be a POG for the Heels.  However, in the case of this game, I do feel that one is deserved.

In his post discussing the team's offense through the first game, THF raised the question as to who is the focal point of this team on offense?  At this point (though it is not set in stone), I think the only answer to that question is Tyler Zeller.   Zeller not only led the team in scoring and rebounding against Vandy, but was also the only player to have a positive +/- (9).  For the season, he is averaging 15.5 ppg and 7.5 rpg, while shooting 50% from the floor, 70% from the line, and with an excellent ORtg of 122.8.  Additionally, it should not go unnoticed or unrecognized that, against two experienced and physical teams, Zeller delivered two of his best performances (and arguably his best, last night) as a Tar Heel.  For the time being, any half-court possession in which Zeller does not get a meaningful touch really has to be considered a poorly executed possession.  UNC has a great history of riding centers from Indiana and kids named Tyler as far as they will carry them, and Zeller's play to this point shows that he may be up to the task.  So the POG for the Vanderbilt game is Tyler Zeller, and if UNC is going to have the type of season we are all hoping for, this will not be his last.