On Wednesday, #7 Louisville visits Chapel Hill for a mid-week Top-10 matchup. The #8 ranked Heels sit alone atop the conference standings, and are aiming to gain more separation from the rest of the ACC pack. (Not to be confused with gaining more separation from the N.C. State Wolfpack. I’m not sure that’s scientifically possible).
With a victory, Roy Williams is one step closer to back-to-back regular season ACC Championships, and perhaps a valuable #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. A Cardinal victory and the last two weeks of the season become more nerve-wracking than any reasonable UNC fan would like.
You may begin twitching with anxiety and anticipation right….about….now.
While you reach for a bag to handle your hyperventilation, sit back and catch-up on three things to watch in this new, burgeoning, ACC rivalry.
Roy vs Rick
If there has been one non-negotiable positive outcome from the constant musical chairs of conference expansion, it is the influx of basketball coaching talent that now roams the ACC sidelines. Jim Boeheim was a nice addition, but Rick Pitino takes the coaching abilities to a different level. In doing so, it adds a different dimension to this yearly clash.
Rick Pitino, and therefore Louisville, is 2-2 against UNC since they joined the ACC two seasons ago. Both victories were in Louisville, Kentucky. Fortunately, that is not where Wednesday’s game will be played.
Against Roy Williams, dating back to their Kansas and Kentucky days, Rick Pitino is 3-5 in head to head matchups. While it’s a small sample size considering the longevity of their careers, it’s fair to say that so far, neither coach has truly gotten the better of the other. Bragging rights are important to coaches, regardless of how light-hearted they may seem when speaking to media.
I mean, I’m sure Tom Izzo knows his record against Roy Williams.
If you want a silver lining, here it is: Rick Pitino is only 2-7 against UNC his entire career. So, while recent history has at least been 50-50, the Heels have historically given Pitino-led teams difficulties.
Neither team holds a clear statistical advantage over the other one. According to KenPom.com, UNC’s adjusted offensive efficiency of 117 in ACC play is best in the conference, while Louisville’s AdjO of 114.5 is fourth best in the ACC.
Conversely, the Cards have the third most efficient defense in ACC play at 99.6, whereas the Heels AdjD is good enough for fourth at 103.2.
That’s an overall ACC adjusted efficiency margin of +14.9 for Louisville, and “only” +13.8 for the Heels.
You could pick almost any metric, and the Cardinals and Tar Heels are going to be closely related. Assuming neither team shoots as poorly as Virginia did this past weekend, this is going to be a tightly contested back-and-forth game. Where are close games usually decided? The foul line.
One of the biggest surprises this year has been the lack of foul shooting disparity between UNC and their opponents, especially in conference play. Against ACC teams UNC is 181-264 (68.5%) from the foul line, while the opposition is 186-256 (72.6%). Considering the size advantage that the Heels have down low, I had hoped to see a greater disparity this season.
Meanwhile, Louisville is 200-293 (68.2%) in conference play, while its opponents are 218-301 (72.4%).
Both teams are even shooting similar free throw percentages AND their opponents are almost identical!
The difference is that Louisville seems to foul (and get fouled) more often, likely due to their more physical style of play. UNC needs to take advantage of that on offense, and attack the rim with more consistency than they have this season.
Home Court Advantage
In order to win regular season championships, a team has to protect their home court. Since November of 2015, North Carolina has lost exactly one game inside the Dean Dome. That’s it.
If they win their final two home games (everyone knock on wood right now), they will be 30-1 in Chapel Hill over the previous two seasons. That does not include the Greenboro Colliseum throwback game against Notre Dame. People who are talented with statistics tell me that those numbers are a good thing. In fact, it’s historically good for a Tar Heel team, which may sound hyperbolic. It’s not.
Using the 1996-1997 as our baseline, consider the completely non-arbitrary metric of the the past 20 years. I say non-arbitrary because that was Dean Smith’s last season. Also, I only have finite time to research the entire internet.
Therefore, in the last 20 years, UNC has only accomplished a similar two-year home record one time. From 2010-2012, the Heels went 32-1, thanks to an undefeated home record in 2010-2011. A 29-game home win streak spanned those two seasons.
The only other team that was able to go undefeated in Chapel Hill? The 2005 Champions, who were 15-0. However, that season was sandwiched between records of 12-2 (’04), and 13-4 (’06). While 2005 was memorable, that’s really where the magic ended.
What does it mean for Wednesday night? Honestly, probably nothing. I just think it’s really cool.
It means that we are possibly watching one of the greatest two-year stretches of home dominance that UNC has exhibited in the last quarter century. With just two more victories, the Heels will finish with only their third undefeated season at home since Dean Smith last sat on the UNC bench.
For what it’s worth, the 1992-1993 Championship team was the last Dean Smith coached team to finish undefeated at home. According to sports-reference.com, the Heels only played 12 games at home that year. The game has certainly changed.
So, continue to hyperventilate. Try to calm your anxiety.
And then, enjoy this team.
Note: Article has been edited to reflect the correct head-to-head record between Roy and Rick. It previously stated Pitino was 3-4 against Roy. That is wrong. He is 3-5.