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UNC Basketball: Fact checking Roy's comments on the defense

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Is this really his worst defensive Tar Heel team?

North Carolina v Virginia Tech Photo by Lauren Rakes/Getty Images

In advance of North Carolina's Tuesday night matchup with Clemson, Roy Williams was asked about his team's defensive struggles. His response: "We’ve been sorry. I mean we’ve just been one of the worst defensive teams, if not the worst defensive team I’ve ever coached."

UNC's disastrous first half performance on the defensive end two nights ago likely did nothing to change Coach Roy's opinion. But let's take a moment to examine that claim: Are the 2017-18 Tar Heels really Roy's worst defensive team at UNC? (For the purpose of homerism, we'll leave the Kansas analysis to the Jayhawks)

First, we must remember what it means to be the best defensive team before we determine whether or not this team is the worst one. The three major statistics to take into consideration are Defensive Efficiency, Opponent Points per Game, and Opponent Field Goal%. Case in point, the two teams currently acclaimed to have the best defenses in America are Virginia and Cincinnati. They are either #1 or #2 in all three categories. Hence, Good Defensive Team.

The 2018 Tar Heels currently rank 97th in Defensive Efficiency, 187th in Opponent Points per Game, and 28th in Opponent FG%. At face value, these numbers aren't good, but don't jump out as being woefully bad. The low ranking in Opp. PPG can easily be attributed to the up-tempo style the Tar Heels play, and 28th in FG% seems respectable enough.

But let your mind, if you dare, drift back to those last two defeats to NC State and Clemson. What was it that made you yell at your TV screens and hurl your water bottle across the room so that it bounced off your roommate's door? (or was that just me?) That's right. The perimeter.

The Tar Heels rank 348th in the country in Opponent Points from beyond the arc. They are giving up 31.3 ppg from three. Opposing teams score 42.8% of their points against Carolina from three. That puts the Tar Heels at 351st in the nation. The number of DI teams in America? 351. Hot take: UNC isn't very good at guarding the three.

With all this in mind, let's see how these Tar Heels match up against Roy's past UNC teams:

UNC Defensive Stats

Year Def. Efficiency Opp. PPG Opp. FG % % of Pts. from 3
Year Def. Efficiency Opp. PPG Opp. FG % % of Pts. from 3
2003-04 0.974 74.8 45.9 30.6
2004-05 0.908 70.3 42.5 32.8
2005-06 0.928 68.6 43.9 28.2
2006-07 0.922 68.6 43.7 29.2
2007-08 0.931 72.5 43.8 29.5
2008-09 0.931 72 43.7 29.9
2009-10 0.964 71.9 44.8 32
2010-11 0.924 68.8 43.2 31.5
2011-12 0.9 67.1 41.8 32.4
2012-13 0.945 69.2 44.5 29.1
2013-14 0.966 69.8 46.9 26.7
2014-15 0.962 68.8 46.1 28.3
2015-16 0.976 70 45.5 33
2016-17 0.954 70.8 44.3 33.6
2017-18 0.979 73.1 43.7 42.8

A lot to unpack here. One thing worth noting is that perception does not always match the numbers. Take the 2012 team for example. The perception of that team was that they struggled defensively at times because they lacked the speed to defend on the perimeter. However, they ranked #1 in all three major defensive categories. Yes, they gave up a lot of threes but the interior defense of Henson and Zeller more than made up for that.

The other thing that stands out is the consistency of the statistics. The most PPG a Roy team has given up was 74.8 in 2004, while the least was 67.1 in 2012. Excluding this season, the highest percentage of opponent points from three was 33.6% in 2017 and the least was 28.2% in 2006. That is a decidedly low range for 15 different seasons. Hmmm, Ol' Roy must like having his team play a certain system...

That brings us to this year's team. Of the 15 Roy Williams UNC teams, this current squad ranks last in Defensive Efficiency, 14th in Opponent PPG, and 5th in Opponent FG%. And then there's the 3-pt line. The Tar Heels give up 42.8% of their opponents' points from beyond the arc. In a chart that generally has quite a bit of consistency, this is the single massive outlier. The Tar Heels aren't just Roy's most vulnerable team on the perimeter, they are his most vulnerable team by a WIDE margin.

The only other team that can make a case for being Roy's worst defensive team is his first: the 2004 squad. That team gave up the most points per game of any Roy team, and did so at a higher opponent FG% than this current squad. But, let's remember that the 2004 team played in a series of close games, three of which went to Overtime (including the 3-OT marathon against Wake Forest), which pads that stat number. In addition to that, the college game has become more and more reliant on the three, much more so than it was in 2004. This current team plays the worst perimeter defense at a time when the perimeter matters more.

So to answer the question: Is this Roy's worst defensive Carolina team? Right now, yes. But there's still time to change that.