Yesterday, the Tar Heels’ three-game win streak was snapped on their road trip to Tallahassee. A combination of poor defense, turnovers, and an inability to exert their will inside the paint led to a close loss in conference play. It’s been an all-too-familiar sight in UNC’s losses over the past two seasons.
So, while the eye test showed some clear issues, let’s try and dive a little deeper into what we learned.
Credit Florida State
UNC averaged 1.07 points per possession. That’s the second best offensive output on the season, trailing only Tuesday’s 1.14 PPP showing against Syracuse. In other words, the offense is showing some signs of growth. The offense kind of, sort of, played well enough to win.
Defensively, though, the Heels allowed 1.14 PPP against the Seminoles. It was the fifth time in the last six games that UNC’s opponent scored 1.0 PPP or greater. It’s easy to look at those numbers, let out a huge sigh and curse whatever issues you have with Roy Williams’ defensive principles. There are plenty of (increasingly) valid complaints in that department. That’s a topic for another day. For yesterday’s game, those complaints are slightly misguided.
So, what gives?
Florida State was 25-26 from the free throw line and had 18 fast break points. The majority of those came from the 22 points scored off UNC’s 14 turnovers. In other words, 47 of Florida State’s 82 points came off Tar Heel giveaways and/or foul shots.
Game. Set. Match.
It’s easy to bemoan other defensive issues, like allowing the Seminoles to go 8-16 from three or shoot 48% from the floor. In this case, that’s misplaced frustration. Florida State deserves credit for converting at the foul line and capitalizing on UNC’s unwillingness to value the basketball.
(Note: Our formula to calculate possessions is FGA+(.475xFTA)-OReb+TO. Other sites use a slightly different variation, but they all are close enough that the overall point is unchanged.)
(Lack of) Inside Presence
This cannot be said loud enough or often enough. This team is too damned big to play so damned small. Period. Full Stop.
In six ACC games, UNC has only outscored opponents in the paint 186-164. Five of those six opponents shot over 45% inside the arc, whereas UNC has only done so three times. The breakdown of games are as follows. The first number in both sets of numbers is UNC’s production.
Loss @ N.C. State: 52-36 (paint pts) and 50.0% vs 46.8% (2P%)
Loss @ Georia Tech: 22-24 and 47.2% vs 58.6%
Win vs Notre Dame: 24-24 and 34.8% vs 60.0%
Win @ Miami: 24-32 and 29.3% vs 40.4%
Win vs Syracuse: 42-24 and 49.0% vs 58.1%
Loss @ Florida State: 22-24 and 44.7% vs 47.1%
There are a number of factors that go into wins and losses. If this was a sole indicator of results, then NC State should have been a traditional beatdown. However, these numbers certainly aren’t indicative of one of the best frontcourts in America, which UNC supposedly has. Or had. Or maybe never had. It’s at least probably time for that debate.
After the victory over a now 4-8 Kentucky team, Armando Bacot was adamant that UNC would not get pushed around like last year. Since then, the Heels have indeed been pushed around in the paint. Mostly by a combination of smaller, less talented, less-heralded big men.
In 60 combined minutes of action, FSU’s inside duo of Raiquan Gray and Balsa Koprivica dominated the interior with 29 points and 13 rebounds. UNC’s non-fearsome foursome combined for 27 points and 12 rebounds in 70 minutes of action. In the second half, the Heels only managed 11 points and 6 rebounds from Bacot, Brooks, Sharpe, and Kessler.
Everyone is focused on the shiny object - three point shooting. It’s encouraging to see the Heels hit a barrage of deep threes. Yet, the Heels are 1-3 when they hit 40% from behind the arc. Yesterday was one of those games.
Sometimes the offense stagnates and stops looking down low. Other times, the big men get lazy and/or play soft. Indeed, some games the shots just aren’t falling. Maybe there are other reasons that require deeper analysis. Regardless, I’m unconvinced that’s just due to a small sample size.
This team was built to dominate in the post. Yesterday, they once again faltered in that area.
Spark to the Lineup
Anthony Harris has deservedly received praise in his return to action. Providing a spark off the bench, the Heels were +10 with him on the court. His play reminded fans of his two-way potential and served as the vital stop-gap to what has been a glaring hole on the wing.
However, aside from his stats, his return to action brings both lineup versatility and stability to what has been an infuriating hodge-podge of lineups. None of the Heels have shown a desire to grab their teammates and put them on their back. Youth and inconsistency has led to some creative arrangements.
Despite being an additional available body, Harris’ return to action may just help solve that problem. Even with just six games of experience, Harris excels on both ends of the court and has been with the program for 18 months. He understands the system and expectations. Most importantly, he possesses the exact skillset that this UNC team lacks: An athletic wing who can shoot, defend, dribble, and pass.
There will be hiccups once teams scout against him. It will take a few more weeks to get in true playing shape. Integrating midway through the season may disrupt whatever chemistry is forming. That will work itself out.
Up until now, certain matchups and opponents have forced choosing between Andrew Platek’s positional defense and outside shooting, Leaky Black’s length and rebounding, or Kerwin Walton’s scoring and barely passable defense. With Harris back in the lineup, he solves almost all of those problems with a sum-is-greater-than-his-parts skillset.