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UNC Basketball Sixth Man of the Year: Christian Keeling

The graduate transfer finally found his shooting rhythm in February.

Wake Forest v North Carolina Photo by Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images

During this turbulent season that was marred by injuries, only one member of the North Carolina Tar Heels appeared in each game.

Christian Keeling, the lone Tar Heel to play in all 33 games, is our choice for Sixth Man of the Year. This is particularly appropriate, because Keeling’s 632 minutes played this season ranks sixth on the team.

Keeling was billed as a much-needed scorer coming into the 2019-20 season. Unfortunately, Keeling’s season did not pan out that way. The grad transfer seemed to struggle transitioning into a new system and higher level of competition. However, as the season progressed, Keeling elevated his level of play. His mid-range and deep two-pointers were his signature shot during the second half of the conference schedule.

Below is the season stat line for Keeling:

Christian Keeling 2019-20 Final Stats

Games Games Started Minutes Played Field Goals Field Goals Attempted Field Goal Percentage Two-Pointers Two-Pointers Attempted Two-Pointer Percentage Three-Pointers Three-Pointers Attempted Three-Pointer Percentage Free Throws Free Throws Attempted Free Throw Percentage Offensive Rebounds Defensive Rebounds Total Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Turnovers Personal Fouls Points Points Per Game
Games Games Started Minutes Played Field Goals Field Goals Attempted Field Goal Percentage Two-Pointers Two-Pointers Attempted Two-Pointer Percentage Three-Pointers Three-Pointers Attempted Three-Pointer Percentage Free Throws Free Throws Attempted Free Throw Percentage Offensive Rebounds Defensive Rebounds Total Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Turnovers Personal Fouls Points Points Per Game
33 9 633 86 201 0.428 70 151 0.464 16 50 0.32 24 32 0.75 25 67 92 21 16 6 37 53 212 6.4

As noted previously and covered frequently at Tar Heel Blog, Keeling improved as the season progressed.

Let’s compare the first half of the schedule to the final half. For our purposes, the first half of the season will conclude with the infamous Clemson loss.

Christian Keeling 2019-20 Split Season Stats

Portion of Season Games Games Started Minutes Played Field Goals Field Goals Attempted Field Goal Percentage Two-Pointers Two-Pointers Attempted Two-Pointer Percentage Three-Pointers Three-Pointers Attempted Three-Pointer Percentage Free Throws Free Throws Attempted Free Throw Percentage Offensive Rebounds Defensive Rebounds Total Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Turnovers Personal Fouls Points Points Per Game
Portion of Season Games Games Started Minutes Played Field Goals Field Goals Attempted Field Goal Percentage Two-Pointers Two-Pointers Attempted Two-Pointer Percentage Three-Pointers Three-Pointers Attempted Three-Pointer Percentage Free Throws Free Throws Attempted Free Throw Percentage Offensive Rebounds Defensive Rebounds Total Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Turnovers Personal Fouls Points Points Per Game
First Half 16 5 265 33 89 0.37 29 68 0.43 4 21 0.19 5 10 0.5 12 31 43 13 4 4 27 24 75 4.69
Second Half 17 4 368 53 112 0.47 41 83 0.49 12 29 0.41 19 22 0.86 13 36 49 8 12 2 10 29 137 8.06

When compared side-by-side, Keeling’s stats illustrate the story of his season. These are the highlights:

  • One of the most important stats was turnovers. Keeling committed 27 turnovers through the first 16 games of the season. Over the final 17, he had just 10 turnovers.
  • Keeling had a 10-point increase in overall field goal percentage from the first half of the season to the later half.
  • He improved by six percentage points in two-pointers, but Keeling increased a whopping 22 percentage points with three-pointers. It is important to note that he attempted eight more threes in the second half of season than first.
  • Keeling more than doubled free throw attempts when splitting the season. The good news is that his free throw percentage went up as well, from 50 percent in the first half of the season to 86 percent in second half.
  • He had eight more steals when comparing halves of the season. Keeling had a slight improvement in rebounds and a drop in assists.
  • Keeling did not quite double his scoring average, but he improved it by a factor of about 1.7. He was averaging 4.69 points through the first 16 games, then 8.06 over the final 17.

Through the first 21 games of the season, Keeling had just one game in double figures, a 12-point performance at Gonzaga.

In the final 12 games, he scored double digits in half of them. This includes a streak of four games scoring in double figures in early February, then back-to-back season highs of 16 against NC State and 18 at Syracuse.

Unfortunately with just one year of eligibility, Keeling will not be able to continue his progress next season.

The question now is if Head Coach Roy Williams continues with grad transfers. The Cam Johnson situation was unique due to his two years of eligibility. Outside of his obvious talent, did this make a big difference in his success? That’s a question to ponder as we look to the future of this program, leaving this season behind us.