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Three Things to Watch: UNC at Syracuse

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Rebounding, second chance points, and Seventh Woods.

NCAA Basketball: Bucknell at North Carolina Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse joined the ACC for the 2013-14 season and promptly beat UNC in their first ACC clash. Since then, the Heels have reeled off 5 straight wins in the series - 2 at home, 2 on neutral courts, and 1 on the road. Those wins were by an average of 12 points.

Tomorrow night, the Heels look to extend that streak to six games. They also will look to extend their current winning streak to six games and earn their 10th RPI-Quadrant 1 victory. That would be the most in the NCAA. So, aside from winning streaks what else is there to look for?

Pound the Glass

This area of UNC’s game continues to receive attention, and rightfully so. North Carolina does not start anyone over 6’8. Only one player, Luke Maye, weighs more than 220 pounds. And yet, the Heels lead the country in total rebounds, are seventh in defensive rebounds, and 5th in offensive rebounds. They are first in the ACC in all three categories.

That trend stays consistent when looking at their rebounding percentages. According to KenPom, the Heels’ Offensive Rebounding Percentage is tops in the ACC at 42.1 OR%, and second in the nation at 38.6% against all opponents. They are almost as dominant on the defensive glass, where they rank 25th in the nation in DR% (and yes, also lead the ACC).

Of course, this has been a topic all season. So, why does this matter, specifically for this game?

Because the “famed” Syracuse zone is extremely vulnerable to offensive rebounds. In a zone, since players essentially guard an area instead of a man, it’s difficult to box out the opposition. That tendency is proven by Syracuse’s 135th ranked DR% of 73.4. A team that is adept at hitting the glass, as these Heels are, should find gaps to exploit when shots go up.

Maximizing Second Chances

Syracuse does not start anyone shorter than 6’4 point guard Franklin Howard. Their front line consists of 6’8 Oshae Brissett, 6’9 Marek Dolezaj, and 7’2 Paschal Chukwu. For as good as UNC is at rebounding, Syracuse provide their own glass cleaning services on the offensive end. They rank 13th in OR% at 35.4%.

Now, combine that offensive rebounding with the 340th “fastest” pace in the country and add a defensive efficiency of 94.2 points per 100 possessions (11th best in the nation). You have a recipe for potential disaster. If those numbers don’t do much for you, then consider that the ‘Cuse are allowing the 10th fewest point per game in the country (63.4) and second fewest in ACC play (64.1).

The zone defense and length of the Syracuse front line is going to make driving to the rim for high-percentage buckets difficult enough. Therefore, when UNC gathers those loose offensive rebounds, they have to turn those extended possession into points. Getting quick baskets off tip-ins, put-backs, and tip-outs can help the Heels steal critical points throughout the game.

Seventh Heaven

Truthfully, we likely aren’t going to see a fully healthy and confident Woods for the remainder of this season. That won’t stop him from getting playing time. Since he returned against Duke, his playing time has increased with 3, 4, 6, and 8 minutes per game. If we’re playing super fast and loose with causation/correlation, one might notice that UNC also have not lost since he returned.

You can laugh if you want, but I’m convinced Seventh Woods may be the most understated key to a deep March run for UNC. As a back-up PG, he has largely done what Jalek Felton could not do. He shows effort on defense, doesn’t turn the ball over, and hasn’t made boneheaded plays that were so common last year. If he can reach a consistent 10 minutes per game, then a more rested Joel Berry II can handle the rest of the PG duties.

Not only can he provide critical minutes to give Theo Pinson and/or Berry a breather, he also provides a new wrinkle to UNC’s constantly evolving lineups. As evidenced last game, Roy Williams at least trusts him enough to play with Joel Berry for short stretches - which also wasn’t possible as Felton learned the UNC system.

Plus, nobody else can actually break down his defender without the help of a ball-screen, create space, and get into the lane - Seventh can. While that ability has not manifested since he returned, it’s not unreasonable to expect Woods to show flashes of that athleticism if he can get acclimated before the post-season. That Syracuse zone will have plenty of space to for Woods drive, cut, and pass if given the opportunity.

Hopefully Woods gets a chance to take another important step to find his comfort level. By March, we may even see him put a spin move on a defender, get into the lane, and kick it out to a waiting JBII in the corner. If we’re lucky, we’ll see it tomorrow night.