clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A Look Back at the five keys for the 2016-17 UNC basketball season

Assessing the preseason keys for success

Gonzaga v North Carolina Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

In October, Tar Heel Blog looked at the necessary factors for the North Carolina Tar Heels to return to the Final Four. The Tar Heels won the National Championship, but did everything that needed to happen actually happen? Let’s re-examine the preseason five keys for the 2016-17 team.

1. Take Care of the Basketball

The 2015-2016 squad had the best turnovers per game average out of any squad in the Roy Williams era. The 2016-17 regressed slightly, tacking on one point to the average from the year before. Their 11.8 turnovers per game average ranked 68th in country.

Two players on the watch list for this key point were Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks. The year before, their turnovers-per-40-minutes averages was 2.7 for Meeks and 2.6 for Hicks. Meeks finished the 2016-17 season at 2.0 turnovers-per-40-minutes, while Hicks finished slightly above last year at 2.8.

2. Rebound at a High Level

This one can certainly be marked as a success. The 2016-17 Tar Heels set a program record with the most rebounds in a season at 1,749, breaking the previous record of 1,711 set by the 2011-12 team. Six Tar Heels had over 100 rebounds this year, with Kennedy Meeks leading the way with 378, an average of 9.5 per game. That rebounding total places him sixth-best in a single season at Carolina. Meeks was one rebound away from tying Billy Cunningham at number five on the all-time single season list. With 1,052 career rebounds, Meeks is in an exclusive group in program history as just one of nine Tar Heels to grab at least 1,000 rebounds in college.

3. Hot Start to ACC Play

The ACC opener was certainly a dud for the Tar Heels, and they risked starting out 0-2 in league play if not for a career night from Joel Berry II at Littlejohn Coliseum.

The snow-delayed Sunday slaughter of State sparked a streak of solid basketball for the good guys. A seven-game winning streak propelled Carolina to the top of the league standings. The Tar Heels went on to earn another regular season ACC championship, the 31st in program history.

Perhaps more influential than starting league play at 7-1 was UNC’s unblemished record at home. The Tar Heels were undefeated, 16-0, in the Smith Center during the 2016-17 season. Those nine conference wins at home were especially important as the next two teams in the standings, Florida State and Louisville, were also undefeated at home.

4. Meaningful Minutes from the Young Guys

A deep bench was critical for success this season. Case in point: Look at the box score from the one-point victory over Oregon in the Final Four to advance to the National Championship game. Coach Williams played five reserves in that game. Of those five reserves, there were two freshmen and one sophomore. His bench was shorter than it was at some points in the season, but still longer than most Final Four contenders.

Jake Lawrence dove into the impressive stats behind Tony Bradley’s freshman season and the reasoning behind Tar Heel Blog naming Bradley as UNC’s best freshman. Sophomore Kenny Williams was a starter for 22 games before his season-ending injury. He was consistently one of the team’s top defenders and showed flashes of his three-point scoring ability. Sophomore Luke Maye emerged as a versatile player, stretching from the low-post to beyond the arc, and ended up inscribing himself into Carolina lore.

Any amount of playing time outside the last minute of a sure victory is beneficial for a player’s progress. Bradley, Williams, Maye, Seventh Woods, and Brandon Robinson all received minutes this season during conference and/or tournament play. Carolina’s quality depth remains an asset.

5. Sustain the Emotion

In Joel Berry’s statement to return to Carolina for his senior season, he said, “I love being a Tar Heel and love playing for Carolina and Coach Williams.” This bond between Coach Williams and the team is evident, and if you need an answer for the Sustain the Emotion key point, just watch the video below:

This Year vs. Last Year

It is interesting to compare the team’s statistics in the NCAA Tournament from this year with those from 2015-16. Below are the team offensive statistics:

UNC Team Offensive Statistics - 2016 and 2017 NCAA Tournaments

Game Points FG% 3PT% TOs Rebounds
Game Points FG% 3PT% TOs Rebounds
FGCU 83.0 42.5 33.3 7.0 41.0
Prov 85.0 52.5 28.6 15.0 42.0
IU 101.0 51.6 55.0 9.0 37.0
ND 88.0 61.5 30.8 6.0 32.0
SU 83.0 53.8 23.5 12.0 43.0
VU 74.0 42.9 64.7 11.0 36.0
2016 Average 85.7 50.8 39.3 10.0 38.5
TSU 103.0 50.7 36.4 10.0 54.0
ARK 72.0 38.1 29.4 17.0 45.0
BUT 92.0 54.4 37.5 10.0 38.0
UK 75.0 46.6 20.0 16.0 44.0
ORE 77.0 36.8 38.1 11.0 43.0
GONZ 71.0 35.6 14.8 4.0 46.0
2017 Average 81.7 43.7 29.4 11.3 45.0

In four of the five category averages, the 2015-16 team have the edge. The key category is rebounds. It was known far and wide that the 2016-17 Heels were a prolific rebounding squad, and with each team offensive category lacking from last year, their rebounding ability was much more important to their run to the Final Four.

Below are the defensive team statistics:

UNC Team Defensive Statistics - 2016 and 2017 NCAA Tournaments

Game OppoPts Oppo FG% Oppo3PT% OppoTOs OppoRebounds
Game OppoPts Oppo FG% Oppo3PT% OppoTOs OppoRebounds
FGCU 67.0 43.1 18.2 14.0 43.0
Prov 66.0 40.4 26.1 11.0 24.0
IU 86.0 41.0 41.9 12.0 32.0
ND 74.0 55.1 50.0 8.0 15.0
SU 66.0 40.9 32.0 10.0 31.0
VU 77.0 58.3 57.1 10.0 23.0
2016 Average 72.7 46.5 37.6 10.8 28.0
TSU 64.0 36.7 25.9 13.0 27.0
ARK 65.0 43.3 38.1 19.0 32.0
BUT 80.0 43.5 28.6 9.0 26.0
UK 73.0 41.5 36.8 9.0 34.0
ORE 76.0 37.9 26.9 16.0 43.0
GONZ 65.0 33.9 42.1 14.0 49.0
2017 Average 70.5 39.5 33.1 13.3 35.2

When looking at this table, the situation is reversed, as the 2016-17 team has the advantage in four of the five category averages. The most glaring statistics are opponent field goal percentage. There is a seven percentage point difference between the two teams. No team shot better than 43.5 percent from the floor against the 2016-17 Tar Heels.

The biggest difference between the two teams is in the National Championship games. In 2016, the Tar Heels gave up the highest opponent field goal percentage of their NCAA Tournament run (58.3 percent). In 2017, the Tar Heels forced the lowest opposition field goal percentage in their NCAA Tournament run (33.9 percent).

Of course, overall team statistics do not necessarily show the influence of individual performances in games. Additionally, they can cannot adequately show offensive or defensive efficiency. However, they can provide general insight into overall trends over a stretch of games.

What were your key takeaways from the 2016-17 basketball team? What team factors contributed most to their National Championship?