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UNC vs. Wake Forest: Beyond the Box

Doc suggested that I rename this edition of BTB, "FTB," as in, "Forget the Box." While this game did actually represent a moderate statistical improvement over the previous two games, it was a home game against an awful Wake Forest team, so a moderate statistical improvement probably is not what the Heels were looking for (although I still think it is amazing that in 3 months, we have gone from wondering if the Heels would be NIT-bound, to kvetching about a 14-point ACC win). In the past years, with Roy's more gifted offensive UNC team's, particularly the 2005 team, the running joke (and often truth) after a particularly ragged game on defense was that Roy was going to remove the rims for the next practice. So what is the corollary here? Replace the rims with hula hoops? The answer to that will not be found in this edition of BTB, but a breakdown of the game can be, and it is located on the other side of the break.

Four Factors

Trying to find what North Carolina did do well is actually pretty simple, as they did a terrific job holding  on to the basketball, posting a season's best TO% of 11.3 for the game, and a remarkable 8.8% in the first half.  The Heels' protection of the basketball, along with their best offensive rebounding performance since the NCSU game (OR%: 42.6), allowed UNC to snap its two-game (and 5-half) streak of sub-100 offensive efficiencies (Game: 109.9; 1st Half; 120.5), despite a 3rd consecutive horrid shooting night (eFG%: 40.1).  Over the last two games, the Tar Heels have only turned the ball over 17 time in 140 possessions (TO%: 12.1), and for the season their TO% sits at a remarkable 18.3.  That is a championship-level valuation of the basketball if they could just develop/find/immaculately conceive a semi-consistent outside shot to go along with that and their generally stout defense.

As for the shooting, it had indeed been terrible, and against WFU, it was not only terrible, but extremely prevalent (27 3-point FGA).  The old shooter's adage is, "When you are on: shoot.  When you are off: shoot until you are on again," and the team certainly appears to be taking this to heart.  Over the last 3 games, the Tar Heels are 9-55 from behind the arc (16.4%).  While it is fair to assume that this team is not going to morph into a good shooting team, at the same time, they are not a 16% shooting team, either.  At some point there will be a reversion to the norm (say, 33%).  Ideally this will occur over an extended stretch of games where UNC shoots 35-40%, but based on the results of the first 25 games, it is more likely that it will be the result a 2 game stretch where they make upwards of 50%.  March 5th would be a nice time for that to happen.

Statistical Highlights

  • For the first time all season (and first time against an ACC team since the 2009 team won at VPI) the Tar Heels had a larger block % (11.5) than they did a TO% (11.3).
  • Despite having another rough shooting night, UNC had more assists against WFU (20) than they did against Duke and Clemson, combined (17). Their assist percentage (76.9) was the best of the season, and the first time that they had even been over 70% since the Hofstra game.
  • The Roland Ratings paint an interesting picture in this game, as for of the starters had an RR in double-figures (Henson was the leader at +16; Zeller the only one under 10, at +8).  The bench, however, really struggled, as Bullock was the RR leader with a score 0.  Justin Watts had the low score on the team (-10).

Beyond the Box Player of the Game

Before getting to the POG for the Wake Forest 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=84 /]

It is going to be a two-headed monster for the POG, as the play of  both John Henson and Tyler Zeller, on opposite ends of the court, were the key reasons that Carolina was able to win this game somewhat comfortably.  Henson was terrific on the defensive end of the floor for the Heels against the Deacons (DR%: 30.0; BLK% 17.4), and he was especially dominant early, as was chronicled wonderfully by Adam Lucas, which really helped set the tone for the Tar Heels.  With Chris Singleton now out for (presumably) the year, Henson jumps to the top of the list of best defenders in the ACC and by the end of the season, may find himself as the leagues Defensive POY.

As important as Henson's work on the defensive end was, given UNC's current shooting struggles, Tyler Zeller's play on the offensive end may have been more so.  Zeller led the team in points (18), ORtg (126.1), eFG% (66.6), TS% (75.9) and did solid work on the glass (OR%: 15.7; DR%: 15.5).  The biggest downside to Zeller's game was that his shot percentage was way too low (SH%: 18.7; 6th on the team).  If the team (and he is partially included in this) had done a better job of getting him the ball to take advantage of the fact that he scored more than 70% of the time he possessed the ball (Floor %: 71.4) then he likely would have been the sole POG (and the Heels probably would have won by 20-plus).

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 the team’s first 25 games.

[table id=85 /]

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