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UNC vs Long Beach State: Three Thing to Watch

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A few trends have started to emerge as UNC prepares for their third game in five days.

NCAA Basketball: Chattanooga at North Carolina Evan Pike-USA TODAY Sports

Two games into the men’s basketball season, UNC has raised a few eyebrows. Yes, Tulane and UT-Chattanooga were always expected to fall victim to UNC’s superior talent. However, the way it has transpired has been a little surprising. Nobody truly expected the explosion of perimeter shooting success, increased production from Kenny Williams, and poised court awareness of Tony Bradley would be on display quite yet. Many fans HOPED that these would all manifest on the court. Few, if they were being completely honest with themselves, believed it would happen this early in the season.

Even more surprising is that, so far, every positive scenario has seemingly all happened at one time. Kennedy Meeks is averaging a double-double, Joel Berry as a 4.5:1 assist to turnover ratio, and Justin Jackson is shooting 60% from three. I fully realize the sample size is tiny and I refuse to get overly excited over two games. UNC was supposed to dominate. But, it’s important to note that a 40-point drubbing of UT-Chattanooga, a senior-laden NCAA tournament team who had just defeated Tennessee, is not completely insignificant. With that in mind, here are three things to watch against Long Beach State tonight.

Shooting Guard Hunger Games

Kenny Williams started at shooting guard against Tulane. Nate Britt started against UT-Chattanooga. Coach Williams could throw Brandon Robinson out there against Long Beach State, and at this point UNC fans would just shrug their shoulders. This is the current state of affairs for Tar Heels basketball.

After 80 minutes of competition, Kenny Williams has impressed with his defensive tenacity (2.0 steals per game), and his ability to grab loose balls (5.5 rpg). Robinson has proven that he is completely unaware that he weighs 160 pounds as he sends his body careening off other humans with reckless abandon. Britt has continued to be the smooth and confident senior who can shoulder the burden of both PG and SG (4.0 assists per game).

For the foreseeable future, constant changes in lineup rotations are expected to be the norm. They will also gain even more importance this month, as UNC will have played seven games in 13 days, between Nov. 11 and Nov 23. Expect continued experimentation in order to stay fresh and provide plenty of opportunity to grab the starting 2-guard spot until Theo Pinson reaches 100% and returns to reclaim his spot.

So, buckle up folks. Sit back, grab an adult beverage of choice, and enjoy the show. The UNC Shooting Guard Hunger Games have already begun.

Sharing is Caring

UNC has made 68 field goals in the past two games. 49 of those came courtesy of a teammate’s pass, which resulted in an assist. That is a ridiculous assist rate and will regress a little. Nonetheless, opponents should take notice. The willingness to share the ball makes every single member on the court a danger to get buckets. This helps explain why Justin Jackson only scores 11 points two days after setting a career high with 27 points, while the UNC offense doesn’t skip a beat.

Even more impressively, it isn’t just one player racking up the majority of the assists. Berry, Justin Jackson, and Kenny Williams all are averaging 4.5 assists per game. Britt, is right behind them with 4.0 apg. Heck, 11 different players have already recorded an assist for UNC this season. Those numbers will also eventually settle a little to more traditional numbers respective to their positions, but it is still encouraging.

What does this all mean?

So far, this team has bought in 100% to a total team concept. Gone are the days of deferment to Paige or Johnson. At this point, any given player can step and produce any given night, perhaps most similarly to the 2012 National Championship Elite Eight team (DAMN YOU CREIGHTON!). Time will certainly determine a “go-to” player, but the reality is, UNC may have three or four of those this year. That ain’t bad folks.

Defense as Offense

According to Ken Pomeroy at KenPom.com, UNC’s “AdjD” (defensive efficiency when adjusted to their opponent) is 90.7. This means that per 100 defensive possessions, UNC only gives up 90.7 points. That’s better than last year’s average of 93.5, and good enough for 10th in the nation after a whopping two games.

The actual ranking does not mean much now, but the intensity with which UNC has achieved that success certainly invites some optimism. For the past few years, Roy Williams has implored his team to get tough, dirty, and physical. The recent UNC teams have been much tougher than some in the media have suggested (everyone wave to Dan Dakich), but they have struggled to bring defensive intensity with any noticeable consistency. That has not been the case this season (yet).

That intensity has directly influenced the offensive outbursts during the first two games. UNC has forced 39 turnovers while accumulating 21 steals. Against UT-Chattanooga, the Heels scored 33 points off of 26 turnovers, as they got the patented UNC fast/secondary break into high gear. Opponents are also shooting just 34.8% from the floor, resulting in 31.5 defensive rebounds a game - another avenue for UNC to begin their fast/secondary break.

The good news for UNC? Long Beach State is coming off a 21 turnover, 31.3% shooting performance against the constant defensive juggernaut that we have come to know as WichitaState (#1 in AdjP last season, #4 this season). UNC should have the opportunity to continue their current defensive dominance.

If they do, fans can reasonably expect triple digits and a fresh batch of biscuits waiting to be baked.