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UNC vs. NCSU: Beyond the Box

Confession time. When Lorenzo Brown's miracle three went in at the halftime buzzer, I had a momentary feeling that it could have a similar effect as the Dwight Stewart heave during the 1995 Final 4, despite the fact that UNC still had a solid 14-point margin. This concern was heightened even more when Scott Wood opened the second-half with a three. UNC's once commanding 17-point lead had been trimmed to a completely manageable 11 in a matter of 15.1 seconds of game time. It was gut-check time, and UNC passed... brilliantly. The Tar Heels scored 14 of the game's next 18 points (scoring on 7 of their 9 possessions) to bump the lead to 21 and ostensibly end the competitive portion of the game. In an impressive game, it was the Heel's most impressive stretch. It was the type of response one would expect from a team that has aspirations that go beyond just making it to New Orleans.

Four Factors

So how long will it be before (ESPN) talking heads stops saying "UNC can score with anyone, but their defense is a question mark?"  UNC's current adjusted Defensive Efficiency (DE) is 86.2 (second best in the "Roy Era") and ranks 6th in the nation.  UNC is not a good defensive team; it is a great defensive team, and that was on full display last night.  For the game, UNC held NCSU to just 0.775 points per possession (PPP), which is terrific even at face-value.  But if you adjust it for the fact that NCSU is actually competent on offense, UNC's adjusted DE drops to a spectacular 70.2.  And in the 1st-half, it was even better.  UNC held the Wolfpack to an anemic 0.59 PPP, which includes giving up 9 of the luckiest points you will ever see in a game that is not, "H.O.R.S.E."  Remove those (for fun), and UNC's 1st-half raw DE drops to an almost unimaginable 30.7!  Complete.  Domination.

On offense, UNC continues to produce at a level that is below what they are capable of, though they were able to snap their season-long streak of three games with an eFG% under 50.0, primarily by taking 75.0% of their shots from within the arc (and making 54.1% of them).  Continuing a trend from the previous two games, the biggest issue for the Heels on offense was turnovers, as they once again ended the game with a TO% over 20.0 (21.1).  UNC did clean up their act in the 2nd-half, turning the ball over on only 15.6% of their possessions (and upping their OE to a respectable, if not good, 115.6), but in the first 20 minutes, it the turnover issue was really bad (25.6).  While this did not necessarily prove to be a major issue, it did keep the Heels from building what could have been an insurmountable lead going into the half, rather than having to build it coming out of the half.

Statistical Highlights

  • UNC once again proved that early season concerns about their rebounding abilities were much ado about nothing.  UNC has now had an OR% over 40.0 for the 10 times in the last 13 games, after doing so only once in its first 7 games.  The catalyst behind all this is Tyler Zeller, who is 9th in the nation in offensive rebounds per game and 21st in OR%.
  • As impressive as the Heels' work on the offensive glass is, it is being trumped by what they are doing in the defensive glass.  UNC set a "Roy Era" record with their 8th game with a DR% of 80.0 or better (this happened only 10 times in the previous 3 seasons, combined).  And this isn't just some random/meaningless plateau, either.  UNC is 37-1 (0.974; the one loss was Gonzaga during the 2007 season) under Roy when the gather at least 4 out of every 5 opponent misses.
  • As an example of just how good UNC's defense can be, this was the 4th time this season the Heels had a DR% over 80.0 and a Steal% and Block% over 10.0 (it only happened a total 6 times in Roy's first 8 seasons).  In those 4 games, UNC has raw defensive efficiencies of: 61.5, 57.0., 81.1, and 77.5.  Complete.  Domination.

Beyond the Box: Player Impact Ratings

[table id=171 /]

There were a number of "step-up" performances last night, as Kendall Marshall, Reggie Bullock, Stillman White and Desmond Hubert all answered the bell that was rung by injury or foul trouble, and produced P.I.R.s that were significantly higher than their season averages.  But the star of stars was Tyler Zeller.  It would be easy to just say that Zeller was a monster "on the boards" last night, and he was, with an OR% of 25.3 and a DR% of 41.7, but that would actually sell Zeller's performance very short, as he was just as unstoppable on the offensive end (ORtg: 153.7, Flr%: 75.3, eFG%: 72.7, TS%: 78.5), resulting in only the 3rd Tar Heel P.I.R. over 55.0 this season (and Zeller's 2nd).  To put it simply, Zeller was a monster, period.  No qualifiers necessary.

More importantly, this performance wasn't a fluke.  As of the conclusion of this year's non-conference schedule, Tyler Zeller's Carolina career included zero instances in which he had back-to-back, double-doubles.  He has now produced a double-double in each of his last four games, and in ACC play he is averaging 17.0 ppg, 12.0 rpg to go along with an ORtg of 124.6 and a FT% of 86.3 (P.I.R: 44.3 per game).  If you only count ACC stats, it would be hard to argue that, at this moment, Zeller is the ACC Player of the Year.  It was around this time of year during the 2005 and 2008 seasons that Sean May (4 games: 23.5 ppg, 14.8 rpg) and Tyler Hansbrough (6 games: 29.0 ppg, 10.7 rpg) stepped up in the absence of a teammates; performances that would play a part in their names (number) now being in the rafters of the DES Center.  Will the same thing happen with Zeller?  It is too soon to say, but if he continues to play at this level, it is certainly possible.

Season P.I.R.

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=172 /]