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UNC vs Stanford: Three things to watch

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Banging in the paint. UNC’s depth at point guard. Turnovers.

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

Tonight the Heels visit Maples Pavilion in Palo Alto, California. Their opponent, the Cardinal of Stanford await in what will be each team’s first game against a Power 5 opponent. Both programs are trying to find their rhythm in the early parts of the season, and the Heels will be testing their sea legs out on the West Coast as they prep for the Phil Knight Invitational. For this particular game, there are three key areas we can focus on.

Battle in the Paint

This is not a cop-out where we say, “Can the young post players continue their surprising production?” We all know that will be a constant development.

Instead, this is where we point out that through four games, Stanford has earned over half (50.5%) of their points from two-point field goals. They are 76-156 inside the arc, for a 48.2% success rate. This is not a team that relies heavily on outside shooting. In fact, only 69 of 301 total points, or 22.9%, have come from three.

That’s a departure from UNC’s first two opponents, where Northern Iowa scored 39 of its 69 points (56.5%) from three, and Bucknell scored 33 of it 81 points (40.7%) from long range. Both of those opponents attempted 28 threes against the Heels. Stanford is averaging only 17.5 three point attempts per game.

Some of this may have been caused by matchups against smaller/inferior competition or one very bad shooting night (2-16) against Eastern Washington. However, last season’s numbers were almost identical through 31 games, so it could just be the style of play that former Roy Williams assistant Jerod Haase prefers. If those trends continue, UNC could find itself in foul trouble as the Cardinal attack the youthful Tar Heel front line.

Berry’s Back(up)

Joel Berry is back and has returned to his rightful place as UNC’s starting point guard. Despite his cold shooting night against Bucknell, he displayed an attacking and playmaking mentality that has sometimes been missing from his repertoire. His six assists and six free throw attempts. are evidence of that. For his career, Berry has only averaged 2.7 free throws per game. Last season, his first as the primary and undisputed point guard, that number ticked up slightly to 3.6.

However, Jalek Felton or Seventh Woods have not shown any consistent performance to indicate either one of them should be the first point guard off the bench. See below.

Felton: 18.5mpg, 4.5 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1 steals, and 1 turnover.
Woods: 14.5 mpg, 5.5 ppg, 1 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1 steal and 1 turnover.

Almost identical numbers. Woods has displayed some improved shooting and is the better defender at this point in time. Felton has shown flashes of the elite athleticism that the Felton bloodline is well known for in Chapel Hill. With Cam Johnson out for 4-6 weeks, the back-up point guard takes on even greater significance if the Heels continue to experiment with pushing Berry to the wing for defensive rest and/or extra offense.

One for You. One for Me.

Against the powerhouses of Cal Poly, Pacific, Eastern Washington, and Northeastern, Stanford have exactly 50 turnovers. They have only forced 47 turnovers. The Cardinal turn it over as much as they take it away, and they have done so against what most would consider inferior competition.

To be fair, averaging 12 turnovers a game, as an offense, isn’t shabby. North Carolina averaged 11.95 turnovers per game last season. You may remember how that turned out.

However, one would expect that the defense could help be a little more productive on that end of the court. If you can’t consistently win the turnover battle, victories are hard to come by. Stanford has more turnovers than its opponents twice out of the first four games.

In comparison, North Carolina has committed 20 turnovers while forcing 27. For what it’s worth, Garrison Brooks (5) and Kenny Williams (4) have combined for 9 of those, so it’s not exactly an epidemic among the team at the moment. In both games the Heels had fewer turnovers than their opponents. They’ll look to continue that trend tonight.