After UNC beat N.C. State back at the end of January, I opened that BTB with the following:
...after losing 3 games in November, the Heels have now gone two straight months with only 1 loss. Is it too early to start thinking about March? Absolutely, but should the Heels make their way through February the same way they progressed through December and January (i.e. with only 1 loss), then the Heels will enter the last full month of the season at 22-6 (12-2), playing for not only a high seed, but also a shot at the ACC regular season crown.
Well, the Tar Heels have done exactly that, putting the finishing touches on their 3rd consecutive 1-loss month last night, with arguably their most impressive win of the season (Maryland sits at #16 in the current KenPom rankings). In another 6 hours it will be March, and somewhat remarkably, UNC is going to enter the season's last full month playing for as high as a #2-seed in the NCAAT. Maybe even more importantly (and impressively), regardless of what happens on Wednesday, next Saturday North Carolina will be playing Duke for the #1-seed in the ACC Tournament. Who would have predicted that on December 1st?
This wasn't a great offensive night for North Carolina, as their OE of 108.7 was only slightly higher than their average for the season of 106.1. However, after a very rough 4-game stretch, UNC has now had two straight games in which they have been slightly above average on offense (combined OE: 110.2), and the results certainly seem to indicate that that is indeed enough for Carolina to be competitive with anyone.
Looking at the Four Factors for this game, there really is not a single area that stands out, as this game was a case of the combination of small advantages in each of the Factors adding up to a fairly convincing win. While UNC's OR% of 41.7 (4th straight game over 40.0) was certainly outstanding, it only netted the Heels a 3 point margin in second-chance points. However, UNC also had a 3-point edge on points off of turnovers (terrific TO%: 13.8) and at the free-throw line (FTR: 27.5; FT%; 77.3). With this type of balance, if UNC ever gets to the point where they are consistently approaching (or exceeding) an eFG% of 50.0, then they will be virtually impossible to beat (10-1 this season with an eFG% of 50.0+).
- As Doc has already mentioned, today is Dean Smith's 80th birthday. Smith was one of the first, if not the first, to embrace advanced statistical analysis and was a strong supporter of Dean Oliver's "Basketball on Paper," which has had a fundamental influence on the development of not only BTB, many of the top stat-compiling/analyzing sites available today. All of these sites owe a at least a small debt of gratitude to the incomparable Dean Smith.
- This was UNC's fastest game of the season with 80.0 possessions. UNC is now 50-6 (0.893) under Roy in games that reach 80.0 or more possessions.
- For the 6th time this season (6-0), UNC had double-figure steal (10.0) and block (12.3) percentages. UNC is now an incredible 39-1 (0.975) under Roy in games in which they do so.
- Carolina's assist percentage (71.9) was terrific, but when you consider that 5 of UNC's FGs came off of putbacks, it reaches a whole different level, as the Tar Heel's assisted on 85.2% of their non-putback FGs.
- For the first time all season, UNC has hit 75.0% or more of its free-throws in two consecutive games.
- Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall all tied for the team best in Roland Rating with a score of +21. Leslie McDonald and Justin Watts had the low scores on the team, -23.
Beyond the Box Player of the Game
Before getting to the POG for the Maryland game, let’s first take a look at the top five ORtgs for the Tar Heels (minimum possession percentage: 10% or minimum minutes percentage: 80.0):
[table id=90 /]
Army had "Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside."
North Carolina has "Mr. Offense and Mr. Defense."
The Tar Heels have been fortunate to have had many terrific low post players over the years (okay, let's be honest, you can say this about every position for UNC), but I have a hard time remembering two post players (maybe Lynch and Montross) whose games complement each others so well. And it's not just the offense/defense part; it is the fact that on each player's "weaker" end of the court, they do things that help the other player excel. On offense, Henson is a crafty passer/playmaker who throws a terrific entry-pass to Zeller from the high post (2 assists last night). On defense, Zeller does a terrific job on overplaying the entry pass and is excellent at holding his ground and funneling the shot attempt towards Henson's pterodactyl-like wingspan (1 steal, 1 block, 1 charge-drawn). And this was all on display last night in a game against the player many consider the best post-player in the ACC, Jordan Williams. While Williams did produce solid numbers, he was held to an ORtg of 85.1 and was basically a non-factor in the game. Meanwhile, Henson and Zeller combined for 35 points (career, ACC-high 25 for Zeller), 21 rebounds (Henson first: Tar Heel since Hansbrough in 2008 to have back-to-back 15-rebound games) and 8 blocks. Zeller and Henson have clearly been Carolina's most important players this season. Last night was no different, and it is for that reason that they are the co-Players of the Game.
Beyond the Box Player of the Year
The BTB POY is based on a points system in which a player gets 10 points for being named the POG and 3 points for having a top five ORtg, with a 2 point bonus for having the top ORtg. What follows are the updated standings through 28 games.
[table id=91 /]
Note: For reference, a full stats glossary can be found at StatSheet.com.