The Heels return to action tomorrow night when the Hokies of Virginia Tech visit Chapel Hill. Fresh off a precious road win against a feisty Boston College team, UNC should be eager to get back on their home court, where they are undefeated this season. North Carolina looks to continue that trend and keep their ACC regular season title hopes alive as they try for their seventh straight win.
The game will broadcast on ESPN at 8:00PM EST. You can also find it on the ACC Network on the ESPN app. If you do happen to tune in, here are a few things to watch. (All stats come from KenPom.com, unless otherwise noted).
It is no secret that UNC makes rebounding the basketball a top priority. This season, UNC is extremely proficient at rebounding, specifically on offense. In ACC play, the Heels are rebounding 43.9% of their own missed shots – this is called “Offensive OR%”. Not surprisingly, the Heels also lead the country in offensive OR%, with 42.7%. On offense, the higher this number is, the better.
They dip a bit on the “Defensive OR%” boards where they are ranked 42nd with a success rate of 25.6%. This means that when UNC is on defense, the opposing team successfully grabs 25.6% of their own missed shots. However, that’s actually a better rate than the past four seasons (2013-2016) when they never finished above 156th in this particular category. In conference play, that number improves to 24.6%, and is good enough for 1st in the conference. On defense, the lower this number is, the better.
As for Virginia Tech, their rebounding is less than impressive. In the ACC their “Offensive OR%” clocks in at 14th in the ACC with a 24.7% success rate. They are only slightly better on the defensive end, with a Defensive OR% of 30,9%, which is good for 9th in the conference. Neither of those are extremely imposing stats.
Or put more concisely, according to sportreference.com, UNC has 963 rebounds for the entire season. Virginia Tech has grabbed a total of 675 rebounds. Clearly, this is an area that UNC can exploit.
Sharing the Wealth
If you can’t name a single player on Virginia Tech, nobody would blame you. Buzz Williams’ teams often have a blue collar work ethic with players that tend to fly under the radar. This season is no different, and thus far in year 3 of the Buzz Williams’ era at Virginia Tech, the Hokies are starting to show the toughness that is a trademark of his teams.
This is especially true on the offensive end, where they have five different players who average more than 10 points per game. While that lack of star power will probably limit the Hokies over the course of the season, it makes them dangerous on any given night. For comparison, North Carolina only has four players that are averaging double-digits.
The Hokies are able to accomplish this with unselfish ball movement that has them ranked 5th in the ACC in total assists. According to KenPom.com, 56% of their made field goals are a result of an assist from a teammate. While that’s not an astounding rate of assists, it is respectable. In this year’s ACC gauntlet, if a team is consistently solid and steady, success will follow. That’s been the case, so far, for Virginia Tech. (UNC’s assist rate is 57.9%).
Defending perimeter players have provided the most difficulty for UNC this year. Malik Monk, Ky Bowman, and Jack Gibbs immediately come to mind. For whatever reason, UNC has struggled to find defensive consistency against opposing guards. That may mean trouble for UNC against Virginia Tech.
Of the five Hokies who are averaging double figures, four are listed as guards. They are all averaging more than 27 minutes a game. These stats are courtesy of sportreference.com:
Ahmed Hill: 30.1 mpg, 13.8ppg, 3.5rpg
Chris Clarke: 28.8mpg, 12.5ppg, 7.8rg
Seth Allen: 27.7 mpg, 11.7ppg, 2.2rpg
Justin Robinson: 30.2mpg, 10.1ppg, 3.5rpg
Depending on your outlook on life, the apparent lack of depth and heavy reliance on four guards could be a good or bad thing.
If you’re an optimist, you may think Virginia Tech will get fatigued as UNC throws one of their 456 different lineups on the court.
If you’re a pessimist, you probably think it will only take a few minutes for one of them to get hot, gain confidence, and scorch the Heels for a career high.
Regardless, those stats are a testament to Buzz WIlliams and the program he is building. The very nature of the game requires guards to touch the ball for a disproportionate amount of time -whether it is the PG or SG. Getting so many guards, to play so many minutes, and still share the ball at their current rate, is impressive.
The Hokies will not be pushed around. They are going to be ready to give UNC all that they can handle. As the standings begin to take shape, the battles for those crucial quarterfinal seeds in the ACC Tournament are about to heat up.