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UNC vs. UNLV: Beyond the Box

Well, so ends UNC's shot at an undefeated season. ;) That is about all this loss means to this season in a negative aspect, especially if the Heels can use this as a teaching tool going forward. UNLV is a good team and given their schedule, it would not surprise me at all if they only have 2 or 3 losses heading into the NCAAT. They also happened to play a great game on essentially their home court, so while there is no shame in the loss, overall, there certainly were some things that Carolina did poorly that need to be addressed. We will examine these thing on the other side of the break.

Four Factors

Looking at the Four Factors on offense, there are really two things that stand out, eFG% and OR%.  It has been mentioned many times here, but it once again bears repeating: since Roy has been at UNC, there is no more telling indicator of whether UNC won a game than their eFG%.  When Roy's Heels are above 50.0%, they win 94% of the time.  When they don't, they are simply an average team (literally; win percentage: 53.1).  What is odd about this particular game is that usually when the Heels fail to hit the 50.0-mark, it is their 3-point shooting that is to blame.  However, last night they were done in by their inability to hit from within the arc.  While the 2PT% for the game was bad (42.1%), it fell to an abysmal 32.2% in the second half (for reference, UNC is shooting 52.8% from inside the arc for the season, and 53.8% in the first half). Look at any other stat you want, but if UNC hits just 50% of their second half twos (hardly heroic), they win by 4.  Of course, given that there are other areas of concern, maybe it is a (long-term) positive that they didn't.

Now while the Heels performance from inside the arc can be viewed as a blip, their work on the offensive glass has been a trend for over a year.  In each of Roy's first 7 seasons with Carolina, his teams all had an OR% over 39.1, which is elite.  Last season, this fell to 37.1, still decent, but no longer an area of absolute advantage.  This season, while only 6 games old, the Heels are collecting their own misses at a rate of just over 35%, which is average to slightly above average, and more concerning, yesterday was the 3rd time that they were under 30%.  There are really two reasons for this drop.  First, while Zeller, Henson and Barnes all did a decent job on the offensive glass last season, none of those players attack the offensive glass like Sean May and Tyler Hansbrough did, and while it would be easy to say that the current Heels should do that, don't lose sight of the fact that there is a reason why May and Hansbrough are, well, May and Hansbrough.  The second difference between this group, and Roy's previous teams is that the wings are not as effective on the offensive glass.  Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, and Jackie Manuel all averaged over 1.5 ORPG during their championship seasons (as did Marcus Ginyard in 2008), while none of Carolina's current guards have shown an ability to do so.  Now, last year's team was better defensively than either the 2008 or 2009 teams were, so it is possible that their staying back does prevent a percentage of opponent fast breaks.  However, given the importance of offensive efficiency in determining the both the success of Roy's teams, and the likelihood of team becoming a champion (average Champion's OE rank: 4.3; average Champion's DE rank: 8.8), perhaps this is a trade-off that should be revisited.

As for the Heels' defense, there is not a lot more to be added to what has already been said.  UNC clearly has a weakness guarding teams who have multiple players to can drive to the basket, as this prevents them from "hiding" Kendall Marshall.  Fortunately, few teams have three players as good at driving to the lane as Bellfield, Marshall, and Stanback; however, this is still something that UNC will likely have to deal with again.  When they do, some will argue that UNC should play more zone, but zone defense actually places more of a premium on guard foot speed than does man-to-man (Syracuse's zone is always at its best when Boeheim has lighting quick guards like Jonny Flynn).  I think the real key is that Marshall needs to be more prudent with how "up on a guy" he gets, and against good shooters, his teammates (not named Henson) might want to be slightly less zealous with their help when Marshall does give up a blow by.  But then again, I am just an amateur.

Statistical Highlights

  • Well, at least the Heels snapped their streak of 3-straight games of shooting under 60.0% from the line.  I kid, I kid.  Obviously, UNC's shooting at the line has not been good this season, but the biggest concern (for me) is that Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes are both shooting just under 66%, after both shooting over 75% last season.  Granted, this early in the season, we are talking about a difference of making less than 1 additional FT a game (each), so it is entirely possible, if not probable, that those percentages will normalize in time.  The Heels clearly have some weak FT shooters on the roster, but if Barnes and Zeller can get back to last year's level, and Marshall (75%) and Hariston (83%) stay where they are, UNC will at least be able to field a (mostly) capable team in crunch time.
  • One positive from last night that should be mentioned was the Heel's TO% of 12.7.  For now, one has to assume that the 2PT shooting was an aberration, so if UNC can continue to protect the basketball as well as they have been (4 straight games with a TO% under 17.5), they should continue to be fairly efficient on offense.

Beyond the Box: Player Impact Ratings (Glossary)

[table id=141 /]

North Carolina has a great frontline.  Yesterday, they were far from great.  In fact, every other Tar Heel who played yesterday did so at a level that was at least on par with what they had averaged the first 5 games of the season (column on the far right), and in many cases beyond what they had produced.  Henson and Zeller, on the other hand, each had P.I.R. 15 points below their season average.  In most circumstances, UNC is probably good enough to withstand a bad night by one of the two, but when they are both bad, and the defense is porous, it can't be much of a surprise when the result is a loss.

On the positive side of things, McAdoo, Hairston and Bullock were all terrific, and if UNC continues to get production like that off the bench (especially as those three gain experience), then the number of good nights in the future should far outweigh the bad ones.