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UNC vs. Texas: Beyond the Box

To borrow from Doc's terrific "Good, Bad, and Ugly" series, yesterday's game against Texas featured some good (rallying back from an early 10-point deficit to maintain a 3-7 point bulge for most of the second half), some bad (losing said lead and, eventually, the game), and some ugly (losing to Rick Barnes). Okay, the "ugly" part has no real bearing on how the game should be viewed, but man I really dislike his style of coaching. Setting aside the part about losing to Rick Barnes, I think that it is safe to say that, at least for the long-term (i.e the rest of the season), the positives from this game definitely outweigh the negatives. Does that alleviate any of the immediate sting from yesterday's loss? Not really, but with a team this young (UNC ranks 305th out of 346 DI teams in experience; of the teams in Kenpom's Top-30, only Kentucky and UConn are younger), it is fairly easy to see how the positives from yesterday could become the nucleus of something pretty impressive with a little more seasoning (read: consistency).

Four Factors

Entering yesterday's game, despite some questions about schedule strength, both teams appeared to be very even statistically, so it should not be too much of a surprise that the Four Factors (and of course, the score) were as close as they were.  Both teams ended the game with numbers that were very close to their seasonal averages in terms of eFG%, TO%, and OR%, but fell far short of their seasonal free-throw rates.  This last part strikes me as odd given the number of total number of fouls called (41) and the overall physical nature of the game.

In terms of the actual game outcome, while the Heels (overall) did an excellent job of holding on to the ball (TO%: 16.7), it was the difference in the teams' abilities to convert turnovers to points that ended up being the difference in the game.  The Longhorns were able to score 13 points off of Carolina miscues, while the Heels were only able to score 8.  One could also point to the difference in OR% as a key to the game, but the Heels actually did a better job of converting their offensive rebounds to point than did Texas (each team had 14 second chance points), which essentially negated the overall advantage that Texas had on the boards.  The comparison of OR% also turns out to be the the biggest differences between this year's game and last year's, as the Heels were absolutely abused on the offensive boards in the game at "Jerry World" last season (OR%: Texas - 50.0, UNC - 27.9).

Statistical Highlights

  • The Texas game was the 5th consecutive game in which North Carolina had a TO% less than 17.0, matching the 2009 team for the longest such streak in the last 7+ seasons [Edit: I miscounted. The UT game is only the 4th consecutive game].  Any time you are in a 2-team club with the 2009 team, you know your have done something well; however, given the problems UNC had with turnovers last season and at the start of this season, this really borders on shocking.
  • UNC's offensive efficiency (points/100 possessions) cracked 100 for the 3rd straight game, and the first time against a top-50 opponent.  On the opposite side of the ball, for the first time all season the Heels have yielded a defensive efficiency over 100 in back-to-back games.  It will be interesting to see if Carolina can use the next three games to continue their progress on the offensive end while getting back to the level of defense exhibited prior to the LBSU game.
  • In terms of Roland Rating, in this game there really was a glaring difference in the team's level of play as it pertains to the two Carolina point guards, as Kendall Marshall led the team with a +16-rating, while Larry Drew had a team worst rating of -16.
  • Continuing to look at Roland Ratings, it turned out to be a "Tale of Two Halves," for both Justin Knox and Tyler Zeller.  Knox posted an incredible RR of +19 in the first half, but then fell to -15 in the second half.  Conversely, Tyler Zeller was -9 for the first half, but was then a team best +13 in the second.  The difference in second half performance really underscores the impact of Zeller picking up his 4th foul at the 6:01 mark (UNC up 6).

Beyond the Box Player of the Game

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

[table id=58 /]

After yesterday's game, Seth Davis Tweeted that, "Texas got the win but UNC got better."  Of no player was the later part of that statement more true than it was for yesterday's Player of the Game, Dexter Strickland.  Strickland was not only outstanding yesterday (178.8 ORtg, 18 points, 3 assists, 0 turnovers), but over the last two games, on the strength of a 58.3 eFG% and 83.3% free throw shooting, he has averaged 15.5 ppg.  More importantly, the last two games mark the first time in Strickland's career that he has scored in double figures in consecutive games.  And while he may have "given up" the final basket to Cory Joseph, the only way he could have guarded him any closer was if he actually morphed into Joseph's shadow.  Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the opponent, and overall, Strickland's defense continues to be excellent.

While the excellent scoring numbers posted by Strickland will (rightly) get much of the focus, perhaps the most impressive part of his performance were the couple of times he took the ball from rim-to-rim following a Texas make.  We have marveled at Strickland's speed and finishing ability in transition for over a year, but this new wrinkle is really quite exciting.  One of the biggest weapons (and methods of demoralization) that the 2007-2009 teams possessed was Ty Lawson's ability to negate an opponent's score in less than 5 seconds, and Strickland possesses that same type of ability; the ability to create transition opportunities where there traditionally are none.  Strickland may not ever be Carolina's actual point guard, but there is no reason why he cannot play like Carolina's point guard every now and then.  It will be interesting to see if this becomes a more consistent part of the Tar Heel attack.

Note: For reference, a full stats glossary can be found at