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UNC vs. Kansas: Beyond the Box

Based on preseason expectations, Carolina's season ended too soon. Based on the reality of what really happened this season, they probably played longer than we would have had a right to expect. The Heels went into a semi-road game against a top-5 opponent without their starting backcourt, their would-have-been 6th man (McDonald) and with Henson much less than 100%, played a scintillating 1st-half, and got to within 5 minutes of going to a Final 4. In the end, they just did not have enough offensive firepower to take advantage of a junk-defense, but that does not change the fact that there was a lot to love about this team.

Four Factors

This was the ultimate "Tale of Two Halves."  In the first 20 minutes, UNC and Kansas combined to produce some of the highest level basketball played in the NCAA this season.  And as was noted by many of the experts in the "Twitterverse," this was not a case of two teams playing playground defense; this was two teams making brilliant offensive plays against (mostly) legitimate defensive execution.  For UNC, it was a complete turnaround from the 30.4% turnover-fest they had against Ohio.  The Heels turned the ball over in only 10.8% of their 1st-half possessions, which allowed them to take advantage of their torrid shooting (eFG%: 66.7) and led to a 1st-half offensive efficiency (OE) of 127.2.  About the only thing that UNC did not do well in the first half was crash the offensive glass (OR%: 14.3), but a good chunk of the credit there should go to Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey, who were as good a frontline as UNC has faced this season.

The second-half saw Carolina fall behind by at least 5 points on four separate occasions.  The Heels were able to battle back to within at least a point (once taking a brief lead) the first three times, but by the fourth, their lack of perimeter firepower was just too much to overcome.  UNC's OE in the second-half was an anemic 58.8, leading to the lowest point total in a single half (20) under Roy Williams.  The Heels made only 7 of their 31 field goal attempts, which included going 0-10 from behind the arc (eFG%: 22.7).  What ultimately killed the Heels was Kansas' use of the "Triangle and Two," which is only adds to the frustration of losing Kendall Marshall, as this is the type of defense that he would have absolutely shredded, both with his penetration ability and his ability to hit the three from the top of the key.  But in the end, that's just one more "what if" to add to a season that was both enjoyable and frustrating.

Statistical Highlights

  • The Heels' TO% of 14.2 yesterday dropped their season's average to 16.4%, which is tied with the 2009 team for the best percentage under Roy Williams.
  • Conversely, this team forced the lowest percentage of turnovers (opponent TO%: 18.3) during the Williams' tenure.
  • At 72.5%, this was, by a significant margin, the best defensive rebounding team that Roy has had at UNC.
  • UNC has now finished each of the last 3 seasons with an eFG% under 50.0.  It had been over 51.0 in each of Roy's first 6 seasons.  The Heels will need to find consistent outside shooting next season if this trend is to be halted.  Remember, under Roy UNC is 183-13 (0.934) in games in which they have an eFG% of 50.0 or better, and just 74-55 (0.574) in the others.

Beyond the Box: Player Impact Ratings

[table id=224 /]

First, let's start with the good.  As bad/non-existent as they were on Friday (combined P.I.R.: 15.2), UNC's bench was every bit the opposite of that last night (combined P.I.R.: 47.2).  James Michael McAdoo (ORtg: 174.7) and Justin Watts (ORtg: 145.2, AST%: 31.2) were just sensational, and P.J. Hairston (AST%: 21.0, DR%: 14.0) certainly made positive contributions.  Continuing with the "good," it is kind of hard to overstate just how much Stillman White stepped up this weekend.  Over UNC's first 36 games, White had a total of 57.7 P.I.R. points; in two games this weekend, he had 37.2.  And against two top-tier defenses, in a most pressure packed situation, the point guard who was expected to be nothing more than the best player on Blue Steel this season had not a single turnover.  White was little more than an afterthought when he signed with UNC last spring, but that will not be the case when he returns in two seasons to form what should be a terrific trio of point guards with Marcus Paige and Nate Britt.

Now, as for the bad, I will keep it brief.  This was only the second game all season (the first being the UNLV game) in which UNC failed to have a player with at least a 35.0 P.I.R. score, and for the second straight game, not a single member of Carolina's dominant frontline had an ORtg over 100.0.  Much was made last year about how Barnes' game took off after the insertion of Kendall Marshall into the starting lineup, but the same was also true, if not to the same magnitude, of Tyler Zeller.  It is not a coincidence that Zeller went from 30-straight games with an ORtg over 100.0, to 2-straight under 100.0.  The phrase, "makes everyone else better" is often overused, but in the case of Kendall Marshall, it could not be more appropriate.

Season P.I.R. - Final Rankings

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=225 /]

So 2012 ends just the way 2011 did: with a loss in the Elite 8, and Tyler Zeller at the top of the team rankings.  Despite a relatively poor performance in his final game, Zeller will long be remembered for a career that embodies what is great about college athletics.  From two injury-plagued seasons at the start, to being jobbed out of 1st-team All-ACC as a junior, and finally capping it off as the ACC Player of the Year and Academic All-American of the Year, Zeller's career is an excellent reminder that, even today, some high level recruits take longer to develop than we have grown accustomed to expecting.  Zeller will likely become a top-10 pick in what is expected to be a loaded NBA draft.  This thought would have been laughable 2 years ago, and it is a credit to both player and coaching staff that it is now a (likely) reality.

As for said NBA Draft, which other Tar Heels join Zeller in having having their names called by David Stern will obviously be the main focus of Tar Heel fans for the next couple of weeks.  While it will be tempting to draw analogies to 2008, when UNC lost to Kansas and then had everyone return, there is one (very) important difference: Ellington and Green were not going to sniff the 1st Round, and Lawson's status was tenuous at best after his traffic stop.  That is not the case this year.  Barnes, Henson, Marshall, and even McAdoo would all be (high) 1st round picks if they were to go out, so there is a lot more money on the table now than there was in 2008.  Jonathan Givony, of DraftExpress, seems to be of the opinion that McAdoo will be the only one to return, and I tend to agree.  Fortunately, because of the now earlier withdrawal date (April 10th), we are not going to have to wait long to find out.