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UNC vs NC State: Game Preview

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The Wolfpack share the ball, while the Tar Heels...well...don’t.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a bumpy ride for the 2017-2018 North Carolina Tar Heels basketball squad. This team has all of the pieces to win games. Some of those pieces, however, are still finding their place in the puzzle. Even with the growing pains, North Carolina sits at 16-5 overall and 5-3 in the ACC.

On Saturday, after a four-day layover, the Tar Heels will return to the comfort of the Smith Center where they will host the North Carolina State Wolfpack who sit at a similar 14-7 overall record and 4-4 in the ACC.

North Carolina State Wolfpack

This won’t be a “gimme game” for the Tar Heels by any stretch of the imagination. The Wolfpack have played some excellent basketball this season. They scored a big early non-conference win over Arizona in the Battle 4 Atlantis. In ACC play, they defeated Clemson and Duke. On Tuesday night, the Wolfpack used a 13-0 run to claw their way back from a nine point deficit with just under six minutes remaining to defeat Pitt on the road.

Coach Kevin Keatts, much like Roy Williams, likes to run an up-tempo style. This leads to an abundance of scoring and the Wolfpack have the ability to score quickly and often. North Carolina State is 45th in Division I basketball in scoring per game at 80.5. The thing about this Wolfpack squad, though, is that there aren’t just one or two guys who are the major producers. There are four players averaging double-digit points (Allerick Freeman: 13.8, Omar Yurtseven: 13. 7, Torin Dorn: 13.1, Lennard Freeman: 10.0). Braxton Beverly is not far behind with 9.8 points per game. Sam Hunt, Lavar Batts Jr., Markell Johnson, and Abdul-Malik Abu are giving the Wolfpack a combined of 23 points per game.

In terms of rebounding, the Wolfpack are decent. They collect around 40 rebounds per game, which puts them just outside of the top 100 of total rebounding. Breaking it down further, they grab nearly 34% of their rebounds on the offensive glass. This is 17th in the country and just below North Carolina’s 4th ranked 36%. This is a vast improvement from the 26% they collected last season.

However, much like scoring, rebounding is also a total team effort. Dorn leads the team with seven per game. Yurtseven adds 6.6 grabs per game, while Lennard Freeman adds 5.1 rebounds per game. Allerick Freeman and Abu both grab around four rebounds per game.

Defense is another story for the Wolfpack. They are allowing opponents to score 73 points per game, which on the surface doesn’t seem too bad. However, according to sports-reference.com, they have a defensive rating of 100.7 points per 100 possessions while allowing teams to hit nearly 45% of their field goals.

North Carolina Tar Heels

The Tar Heels are coming off an ugly road loss to Virginia Tech. The Hokies “out Carolina’d Carolina” as one commentator put it. They lost in just about every major statistical category: rebounding (36-35), shooting (48%-43%), and turnovers (9-13). It was another one of those games that makes your scratch your head in puzzlement of this team. You find yourself questioning if this is in fact the same team that dominated Stanford, Michigan, and Ohio State.

North Carolina finds itself in a shooting imbalance. Joel Berry II and Luke Maye are taking an extremely high percentage of the team’s total shots. Take a look at the chart below.

UNC Percent of Total Shooting

Player FGA % of Total FGA FGM FG% % of Total FGM
Player FGA % of Total FGA FGM FG% % of Total FGM
Joel Berry 296 21.8 113 38.2 18.2
Luke Maye 291 21.5 151 51.9 24.3
Kenny Williams 187 13.8 88 47.1 14.2
Theo Pinson 135 9.9 58 43 9.3
Cameron Johnson 86 6.3 35 40.7 5.6
Sterling Manley 79 5.8 45 57 7.2
Garrison Brooks 78 5.7 44 56.4 7.1
Jalek Felton 60 4.4 23 38.3 3.7
Brandon Robinson 38 2.8 16 42.1 2.5
Andrew Platek 37 2.7 18 48.6 2.9
Brandon Huffman 28 2 15 53.6 2.4
Seventh Woods 20 1.4 7 35 1.1
Shea Rush 8 0.5 2 25 0.3
Walker Miller 6 0.4 2 33.3 0.3
Aaron Rohlman 2 0.1 2 100 0.3
Kane Ma 2 0.1 1 50 0.1

Notice that Joel Berry and Luke Maye are taking a combined total of just over 43% of North Carolina’s field goals attempted, and just under that in field goals made. The most glaring thing, though, is that while Berry is taking most of the shots, he is second to Maye in percentage of total field goals made by a wide margin. It has seemed that Berry has been driving the ball more, but out of control and always in traffic. In both categories, Kenny Williams is behind both of them and it’s not even close. From there, it drops off dramatically where everyone else on the team is in single-digit percentages in both columns.

If the Tar Heels hope to get back on a winning streak, they will need to spread the ball out more. Williams is shooting 47%, but is only taking less than 14% of the shots. Sterling Manley and Garrison Brooks barely combine to equal the numbers of Williams. Both of them are shooting well and need to get more touches around the rim to continue their progress. I’ll admit (and you know you do too) that I am fine with Theo Pinson’s Percentage of Total FGA. He is much better suited as a driver/distributor than as a primary shooter.

I feel that if Berry and Maye’s Percentage of Total FGA drop close to the 18% mark while Williams and Johnson have their numbers rise towards the 15% mark, there would be a dramatic rise in scoring.

The Tar Heels continue their reign over rebounds, even with the slow progress of the freshmen post players. They are currently 1st in Total Rebounds per game with 43.11 rpg, 2nd in Rebound margin with +11.2 rpg, 7th in defensive rebounds with 29.5 Drpg, and 16th in offensive rebounds with 13.57 Orpg. They will need to continue those numbers against the Wolfpack to maximize their number of possessions.

Prediction

The Wolfpack is an enigma of a team to figure out. They have the ability to be extremely difficult to guard. They rebound the ball well and are adept at finding a good shot. However, it’s never fun to play a team coming off of a few days rest after an embarrassing conference loss. The Tar Heels have been able to “stew on it” for a few days and I’m sure a few of those practices in between weren’t full easy walk-throughs. The Tar Heels are chomping at the bit to prove to a rival (and the conference) that the losses are the exception.

UNC - 86 — NCSU - 73