Last year's UNC team did a lot of things well, especially if you look at the stretch of basketball that started with the insertion of Kendall Marshall into the starting lineup. This is not uncommon for a team that wins 14 games in conference and comes within a few stops of going to the Final 4. However, one thing last year's team did struggle with, at an almost alarming rate, was starting games and halves well (and in many cases, even "mediocre" would have been an improvement). This appears to have been remedied this year, and this fix has been clearly on display in the Tar Heels' first two Conference games. UNC has opened their four halves in ACC play with runs of: 8-2, 10-2, 12-5, and 8-2. That is a cumulative total of 38-11 in just 16 minutes of game time, which is an outstanding recipe for winning, and winning big. Of course, they still need to prove to that they can do this on the road, a chance they will get this Saturday in Tallahassee. And considering FSU's almost comical inability to score points, a 10-2 run there might put the game out of reach by the first TV timeout...
The Tar Heels' defense last night was, at times, spectacular, and on the whole, extremely impressive. Miami came into yesterday's contest at the Dean Dome with very respectable averages in terms of turnovers (TO%: 18.5) and 3-point shooting (3P%: 38.8). UNC completely flipped those averages on their heads, forcing Miami to turn the ball over a season's worst, 23.9% of their possessions, and allowing them to hit only 18.8% of their three-point attempts (also a low for the season). For the game, UNC had a terrific defensive efficiency (DE) of 78.9 (only the 4th game this season under 80.0), and had they had even an average night on the offensive end, they likely would have won by 30.
UNC's offensive output didn't actually start out that badly, which is why they were able to build a 15-point halftime margin. Despite going 1-8 from behind the arc, the team was still able to manage a 1st-half offensive efficiency (OE) of 114.3 (average OE: 115.3) on the strength of 9-11 shooting from the line and a terrific turnover percentage (11.4). The second half, on the other hand, was a completely different story, as UNC's OE fell to a paltry 91.7, they went 0-3 from the line (a curiously low number of attempts), and turned the ball over on 22.2% of their possessions. Granted, they spent most of the second half playing with a 20-point lead, so there probably isn't too much to be read into the second half offensive numbers.
- UNC is becoming a monster on the defensive glass. This was the 4th consecutive game in which the Heels had a DR% of 80.0 or better. Under Roy, UNC had never gone more than 2 games in a row with that type of rebounding efficiency.
- While UNC's 5-game streak of assisting on at least 50.o% of its field goals was snapped, it did extend its streak of games with a A/T ratio great than 1.1 to 11.
- UNC had remarkable a TO% of 15.5 during its 9-game homestand and did not have a single game in which it turned the ball over more than 19.0% of its possessions. In both of UNC's two "true" road games (UNC-A and UK), they had a TO% greater than 20.0.
- It has only been two games, but so far, UNC's starting 5 is shooting 81.5% (22-27) from the free-throw line in ACC play.
Beyond the Box: Player Impact Ratings
[table id=164 /]
In spirit of KenPom and results that don't necessarily pass the smell test (yes Wisconsin, I am talking about you), Henson and Zeller once again led the team in PIR. At first I was somewhat surprised (dismayed?) by this, but when I took a look at their stats, it actually makes some sense. Not only did they both have decent, to even good, ORtgs (Henson: 107.6, Zeller: 121.4), but they were monsters on the glass (Zeller: 24.0 OR%, 18.8 DR%; Henson: 41.7 DR%;). Additionally, Zeller had a massive Possession % (29.2) and Henson had zero TOs, and both contributed in several other facets of the game, so when talking about their impact on the game, it is not as entirely unreasonable for frontline to be leading the way once again.
That being said, there is no questioning the fact that Strickland and Marshall were terrific, as they completely overwhelmed their Hurricane counterparts. Despite the fact that they did not lead the team in P.I.R., their P.I.R. still reflects how good they were. This was the first time all season that both players cracked the 25-point plateau in the same game and it should be no surprise that their combined 58.6 points was also a season's best, and by a significant margin. I guess (no, make that, I know) the biggest problem with P.I.R., is that there is no way to accurately quantify defensive efforts like that which Strickland and Marshall put forth last night. And to (perhaps) make things even more unfair, it is likely that a number of steals that their teammates were credited with were actually the result of on-ball pressure from the backcourt. I guess the moral of the story is that sometimes, even a stats-geek, has to yield to the power of observation.
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.
[table id=166 /]
Yesterday's game resulted in another change in the overall standings, as Dexter Stickland's 29.1 points were more than enough to jump him over Reggie Bullock and back into the "starting five." There is still plenty of season left, but barring any major surprises (i.e. injuries) it is certainly looking like there will be three, 2-man races the rest of the way: Henson/Zeller for the top spot, Barnes/Marshall for the 3rd position, and Strickland/Bullock to round out the top five.