Carolina took an over-matched team behind the woodshed last night. And while that was exactly what they were supposed to do, anyone who follows college basketball knows that it is often the case that a superior team will play down to its competition, especially when coming off a game like the one versus Kentucky (e.g. Syracuse versus Marshall last night). Looking beyond the final margin of victory, there were three things that the Heels did last night (overall) that really impressed me. First, after turning the ball over on their first two possessions, UNC righted the ship quickly and scored on their next 8 possessions to firmly take control of the game. Second, already with a comfortable lead, UNC closed the first half on a 19-5 run, ending almost all hopes Evansville may have had of pulling the upset. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the Heels made sure that it would be an early night for the starters by coming out of halftime and scoring the first 10 points, ballooning the lead to such a level that the game was statistically over at the 17:23-mark. Learning how to end games quickly is an important step in the maturation process of a team. Let's hope that this is a sign of things to come.
To paraphrase Denny Green, "The stats are what we thought they would be." And that is, dominant, almost to the point of absurdity, in favor of the Tar Heels, which is generally what happens when one team scores more points in the first half than the other team does in the entire game. Digging in to the stats a bit, you will see that the Heels really did a terrific job on the (sometimes uncontested) glass. This was the first time since the 2008 season that UNC had a game in which they grabbed more than 80% of the rebounds on the defensive end and more than 50% on the offensive end. Yes, Evansville is an abysmal rebounding team, but even with that, a 50.0/80.o - game is pretty impressive. The other thing that really jumped out was UNC's defensive efficiency (DE). The Heels are currently ranked 9th by KenPom in adjusted DE, so it is not like they have been bad on defense, but last night they took it to a different level with a remarkable 61.5 defensive efficiency (0.615 points per possession). This was only the 5th time under Roy that UNC has held an opponent to under 0.65 points per possession for an entire game.
On the negative side, after two straight games above 78%, UNC once again fell into the (very) low 60s (60.5). While some of this can easily be attributed to concentration, the bigger issue is really a question of "who" was taking the free throws. Against Wisconsin and Kentucky, Tyler Zeller took 12 shots from the line (hitting all 12), while Henson, Watts and Hubert combined to take 4. Against Evansville, Henson, Watts and Hubert combined to take 11 shots from the line (hitting 3), while Zeller took just 2 (hitting both). In fact, if you remove the 3-11 from Henson, Watts and Hubert, then the team's FT% comes up to a more palatable 71.9%. Much like last season, it appears that Carolina's success and failure from the line will fluctuate fairly dramatically based on who is actually taking the bulk of the shots, which is an important reason why the Heels will need to continue feeding Tyler Zeller the ball.
- After a slow start, Harrison Barnes has now hit 12 of his last 14 free throws. Getting he and Zeller at least 10-12 attempts a game will go a long way towards ameliorating Carolina's woes at the line.
- UNC has now won 38-straight games when their (team) steal and block percentages are both over 10.0. Overall, they are 40-1 under Roy Williams in such games, with the only loss coming to Maryland in 2004.
- In a preview to next game, last season, UNC allowed a 17-point 2nd half lead to be cut to as little as five by allowing LBSU to have a 2nd half offensive efficiency of 139.0 . It will be interesting to see if the way the Heels played defense in the second half last night (DE: 63.4) shows up on Saturday.
Beyond the Box: Player Impact Ratings
It was good to see Zeller bounce back from a pretty below average game against Kentucky (despite a team-leading P.I.R.). Yes, the strength of the competition needs to be considered, but it certainly beats the alternative, and regardless, a 12/10/4 line (against only 1 TO) in only 22 minutes is pretty good line against anyone, especially when you are constantly double-teamed, as he was. About the only thing Zeller did not do yesterday was score a 13th point, which leaves him 1 point short of becoming the 64th member of the school's "1,000 Point Club."
Obviously, in a game like this, there are going to be a number of strong performances from the team's top players, but once again, Desmond Hubert was able to produce a P.I.R. that bears noting. Hubert really appears to have a desire for the basketball as he is averaging a remarkable 20.4 rebounds per 40 minutes for the season, which is by far the best on the team (for reference, John Henson's average is 14.8). This may be going out on a limb, but with the addition of a little weight and experience, it would not shock me if he became one of the ACC's more formidable rebounders as early as next season.
The cumulative impact ratings for each player can be found below. A player's average P.I.R., both for the season and the last five games only considers games in which the player officially logged at least 1 minute of game time. The C.V. is a measure of variation; the smaller the percentage, the more consistent the player's performance has been. While it is not technically correct to use in this instance, because P.I.R. is an interval scale (it can go into the negative), it still has some value for the top-tier players, who will likely have a positive P.I.R. in every game.