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UNC vs. MVSU: Beyond the Box

Well, UNC is officially off to a better start to this season than they were last season, as the Heels cruised to a fairly lopsided win over Jerry Rice's alma mater. I specifically say that the Heels cruised, because despite the 26-point margin (with a high of 30), the game was really more of a methodical dismantling then some of the drubbings Roy's teams of the past have administered. In fact, the Heels were able to build their sizable lead without the benefit a single run of 10 points or greater, which is usually a hallmark of UNC squads. While the lack of a "kill shot" could be viewed as concerning, it should also be pointed out that the Heels did not yield anything more than a 6-0 run, so while they may not have stomped on the gas, there certainly was no let up, either. I think it is important to remember that for most basketball teams, the "killer instinct" is not so much an instinct as it is a learned behavior, and we can certainly point to recent champions ,like the 2005 and 2009 squads as examples of teams who learned to put teams down after struggling through difficult losses in prior seasons. As for the stats, to borrow from Doc's "Good, Bad and Ugly," there was a lot of "good", a little "bad", and one fairly stark, "ugly." We'll discuss on the other side of the break.

Four Factors

Offensively for the Heels, this game was almost the complete opposite of the UNC-A game.  Against Asheville, the Heels shot the ball well (eFG%: 61.1) but were careless with the ball (TO%: 21.8) and were fairly nonexistent on the offensive boards (OR%: 29.6).  Yesterday, the Heels did not shoot the ball well (eFG%: 48.9), but did a much better job protecting the basketball (TO%: 17.4) and were absolute beasts on the offensive boards, as the Heels' OR% of 55.6 was the highest it has been in a game since the 2007-2008 season.  What is interesting is that UNC's offensive efficiency (OE) against UNCA was 116.7, and yesterday it was 117.4, so despite a completely different performance, the end result was almost identical.  Of course, it goes without saying that had the Heels shot around 70% from the free-throw line yesterday, as they did against UNCA, then their OE against MVSU would have been significantly higher.

On the defensive side of things, the Heels, for the most part, did a really good job.  While it is easy to look at the 75 points the Delta Devils scored and assume that UNC did not play great defense, there are two things that need to be considered before looking at the final tally of points.  First, this was a really high-paced game, with 86 total possessions, so the 75 points that UNC gave up results in a defensive efficiency (DE) of 87.2, which is quite good.  Second, despite the fact that UNC's DE for the game was good, it is actually skewed by the fact that UNC's bench/Blue Steel gave up 16 points over the game's final 5 minutes (12 possession; DE = 133.3).  So looking at just the first 35 minutes, which featured the "regular" rotation of players, UNC's DE drops to a pretty remarkable 79.2.  If I was to pick one nit defensively, it would have been nice to see the Heels hold MVSU to an OR% under 30.0 given their height and talent advantage.  While some of this can be blamed on the fact that, at least early, John Henson, who was a monster on the defensive glass, was forced to guard his man well away from the basket, the bigger problem lies in the fact that Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall and Reggie Bullock had 3 defensive rebounds, combined.

Statistical Highlights

  • Yes, UNC's free-throw shooting was ugly, especially the 4-13 start, but interestingly enough, UNC has now won 10 of its last 12 games in which it has shot under 60.0% from the line.
  • The Tar Heels nearly doubled their season assist total yesterday by amassing 27 assists (AST%: 67.5).  In three games now, the Heels have assisted on nearly 60% of the field goals they have made.  While much of this can be attributed to Kendall Marshall, it is quite obvious that the rest of the team is also looking to get the best available shot.
  • It was not a good day to be a starter for MVSU.  The five Delta Devils who took the court for the opening tip combined to shoot 23.3% from the floor and had more fouls (19) and turnovers (13) than they did field goals made (10).

Beyond the Box: Player Impact Ratings (Glossary)

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This was  a much more balanced game for UNC, and the P.I.R. certainly reflect that.  While the first two games saw only the 5 starters reach double figures in P.I.R., yesterday's game saw all eight players who figure to be the final rotation break the 10-point plateau, including a solid 20-point performance from James Michael McAdoo and another sneakily good performance by Dexter Strickland, who not only finished 3rd in P.I.R., but also led the team with a 145.7 ORtg.

As for the stars of the game, it was once again the frontline who stole the show, as Zeller and Henson were far too much for MVSU to ever hope to contain.  The two were absolutely dominant, combining to score 34 points to go along with 24 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 blocks, 2 steals and only 2 turnovers.  It will be said many times over the course of this season that Henson and Zeller are the best frontline in college basketball, but given the current lack on an NBA, I think the more correct statement is that they are the best frontline in the world.