As crazy as this may seem, UNC in the Elite 8 is getting close to becoming a rite of spring. The Heels have now made the Elite 8 in each of their last five Tournament appearances, and have been among the last 8 standing 6 out of the last 8 years. It is a remarkable run that this program has been on, and is hopefully in the middle of, and it is probably not getting as much play as it should be, with so much focus being paid to a certain scaphoid bone. As for the game, it was ugly, but despite that, there were three things the Heels did last night that impressed me:
- They won without their starting PG. Ask the 2005 team about how difficult that can be.
- They built a 15-point lead early, proving that they do still have some firepower left.
- And most impressively, down 4 late, the team did not quit, or even wilt. This was most evident in the hustle block by Henson that kept the deficit at 4, perhaps saving the game and sparking a 20-8 run to end it.
Survive and advance.
Despite the fact that Ohio hit 12 three-pointers, UNC actually had a pretty solid defensive outing. For the game, UNC limited Ohio to an offensive efficiency (OE) of just 82.3, allowing them an eFG% of only 40.3 (28.2% from inside the arc), and in the first-half, it was even better. In 37 first-half possessions, Ohio scored just 22 points, an absolutely miniscule OE of 59.5. The Bobcats made only 8 of their first-half field goal attempts (FG%: 22.9), and were just 4-20 from within the arc. It was a borderline dominant defensive performance, and it needed to be.
Offensively, the Heels were just slightly better than terrible, and it really was all because of turnovers. UNC's OE in possessions in which they did not turn the ball over was 132.7, which is almost identical to their season's average of 133.4. Unfortunately for the Heels, more than thirty percent of their possessions against Ohio ended with a turnover (TO%: 30.4), which was not only a season's worst, but it was almost twice their season's average (16.0 entering last night's game). Now, it would be easy to look at the boxscore, see that Stillman White had zero turnovers (kudos, by the way), and say that the lack of Kendall Marshall was not the issue. But that completely ignores the way the game was played and the way the Heels usually play. When Marshall is in the lineup, he dominates the ball. He is the one who is primarily responsible for entering the ball into the post, be it through an entry pass or through his incredibly effective, "drive-and-dish." Stillman White, through no fault of his own, provided the Heels with none of this. After bringing the ball across half-court (which he did very well), White often quickly gave up possession to his teammates, who were forced into handling the ball much more than we are accustomed to seeing, and the results were, ummm, not good. The biggest issue for the Heels was that they had no one capable of driving to the basket, which eliminated the easiest way to get Zeller and Henson the ball. Whether they can find this in the next 24 hours will probably determine whether or not they make a trip to New Orleans next weekend.
- While UNC struggled protecting the ball, they were absolutely dominant rebounding it. The Heels grabbed 48.9% of their own misses and 85.4% of Ohio's en route to grabbing more than 2 out of every 3 miss for the entire game.
- The Heels allowed Ohio to score on on only 35.7% of their possessions, their 3rd best mark of the season.
- UNC's 29-point first half snapped a streak of 14 halves with at least 30 points, and it was only the 5th half all season in which they scored under 30.
- Carolina's turnover issues yesterday were so significant that they caused their season's TO% to jump from 16.0 (best under Roy) to 16.5 (second to the 2009 team).
Beyond the Box: Player Impact Ratings
[table id=222 /]
Looking at the P.I.R., there are three things that jump out. First, despite snapping his 30-game streak with an ORtg greater than 100, Tyler Zeller continues to be a stud. He has certainly been more efficient (ORtg: 94.3; TO%: 33.3; FT%: 57.1), but his production last night was undeniable (20 points, 22 rebound, 4 blocks; OR% 20.0, DR% 32.8) and it will long be remembered as one of the great (considering the circumstances) Carolina performances in Tournament history.
Second, even though Zeller led the team in P.I.R., Reggie Bullock may have been the game's best player last night. Bullock led the Heels in ORtg (140.1) an eFG% (65.3), while contributing positively in nearly every other facet of the game (AST%: 28.2, DR%: 16.0, OR%: 7.3, BLK%: 2.8, STL%: 1.3, TO%: 18.1). Bullock has already stepped up once this season when Strickland went down, and he is currently doing it again, as his P.I.R. over the last 5 games (28.0) is more than 40% greater than his average for the season. Needless to say, the Heels have needed every bit of it.
While Zeller and Bullock represent significant positives from last night, the third observation is decidedly negative. There is no other way to put it, but Carolina's bench was awful, and what makes this worse is that it was a huge departure from their play since the start of the ACC Tournament. In the 5 games that preceded yesterday's, the trio of James Michael McAdoo, P.J. Hairston, and Justin Watts had been averaging a combined P.I.R. of 43.4. Against Ohio, they combined for a P.I.R. of just 15.2 (with all three having a TO% of 50.0 or greater). It was a completely forgettable performance, but he beauty of the NCAA Tournament is that if they come back and do what they are capable of on Sunday, then that performance will be completely forgotten.
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=223 /]