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UNC vs. NCSU: Beyond the Box

With yesterday’s thrashing of the Wolfpack, and the completion of a 6-1 January, the Tar Heels now sit alongside Duke atop the ACC mountain.  More importantly, after losing 3 games in November, the Heels have now gone two straight months with only 1 loss.  Is it too early to start thinking about March?  Absolutely, but should the Heels make their way through February the same way they progressed through December and January (i.e. with only 1 loss), then the Heels will enter the last full month of the season at 22-6 (12-2), playing for not only a high seed, but also a shot at the ACC regular season crown.

Getting back to yesterday, the game against the Wolfpack was clearly UNC’s best overall performance of this ACC season, as the Heels’ were able to carry over some of the progress on offense that was made against Miami, while getting back to the defensive production that essentially won them their games against Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Clemson.  It still wasn’t perfect, as was evidenced by their 6-point output over the last 8 minutes of the first half, but if the Heels can continue to learn how to at least minimize the impact of their dry spells, then the next six weeks should ended up being very rewarding.

Four Factors

All season long, the Heels consistency (or lack thereof) on offense has been a primary concern for both team and fans alike, and while there are still some issues within individual games, from game t0 game, the Heels are starting to show some measure of consistency in their overall performance.  The Heels ended yesterday’s game with an eFG% of 50.0, the third straight game in which they have reached the 50.0%-plateau.  While that may not seem like that big of a deal (and for past teams it would not be), this the first time all season that the Heels have done so.  Furthermore, in each of the last two games,  the Heels offense has produced an offensive efficiency over 110.0 (110.5), an OR% over 40.0 (44.4), and an A/T over 1.2 (1.27).  These are winning numbers, and while the fact that it took 20 games for the Heels to reach these levels in back-to-games probably says more about the way UNC played to start the season, if they continue to consistently reach these levels, then a third straight 1-loss month is a distinct possibility.

Defensively, North Carolina was dominant, especially in the first-half, when the held NCSU to an offensive efficiency of 55.3 and an eFG% of 25.0.  For the game, UNC held the Wolfpack to an OE of 84.2 and and eFG% of 38.6, both of which are conference bests, and allowed the Heels to produce an efficiency margin (EM = offensive efficiency - defensive efficiency) over 25.0 for the first time in 26 games against a conference opponent .

Statistical Highlights

  • In addition to the progress on offense that UNC has made over the last 3 games, they have also produced a block% over 10.0 in each of those games, including an in-conference best, 12.1% against the Wolfpack.
  • John Henson has now hit 9 of his last 16 free throws (56.3%).  While this is still nowhere near good, it is a tremendous improvement from where he was, and at least represents a level that makes fouling him less of an automatic strategy.
  • Dexter Strickland had a career-high 8 rebounds and was second on the team with a defensive rebounding percentage of 19.6.
  • The spread on the Roland Ratings was somewhat staggering, as Tyler Zeller had an incredible score of +52, while Reggie Bullock’s team-low score was -44.

Beyond the Box Player of the Game

Before naming the POG for the NC State game, let’s first take a look at the top five ORtgs for the Tar Heels (minimum possession percentage: 10%):

T. Zeller
H. Barnes143.71271.871.738
J. Henson115.91260.057.924
D. Strickland106.8842.840.616
L. McDonald86.4430.030.0-22

This game was expected to be dominated by the frontcourts, and as it turns out, that expectation was only half right, as UNC’s frontline absolutely owned the game, and for the first time all season, the Tar Heels 3 starters in the frontcourt where also the team’s three leaders in ORtg.  Tyler Zeller certainly deserves kudos for his excellent ORtg of 151.4 and freakish Roland Rating (not all due to him, of course), when it comes to naming a POG, it is pretty obvious that John Henson and Harrison Barnes are the only two candidates, and in fact, are the co-Players of the Game.

Barnes was terrific on offense, producing a career-high in ORtg (143.7) on the way to the type of 25 point, 6 rebound-performance that many imagined would be commonplace this season.  After hitting only 18 of his first 51 field goal attempts in ACC play (35.3%), Barnes has now hit 12 of his last 18, which gives hope to the idea that this type of performance may still be commonplace this season.

As good as Barnes was on offense, John Henson’s overall performance may have been better.  While his overall numbers of 16 points (eFG%: 60.0), 16 rebounds (DR%: 34.0), 7 blocks (BLK%: 17.2), and 3 assists (AST%: 16.0) were nothing short of spectacular, the fact that they came against one of the league’s best low-post players (Tracy Smith) and a team that relies heavily on an inside game only increases their value.

While John Henson may be the team’s most irreplaceable player, scoring performances (especially with this current team) like that which Harrison Barnes provided yesterday are every bit as crucial.  Barnes and Henson were the crown jewels on UNC’s last two, highly-rated recruiting classes, and this game against the Wolfpack is Exhibit A as to why.  In general, a basketball team can only go as far as its best players are capable of carrying them, and based on what was put on display yesterday, Carolina’s ceiling is very, very high.

Note: For reference, a full stats glossary can be found at StatSheet.com.

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32 comments to UNC vs. NCSU: Beyond the Box

  • william

    Nicely done, C. Michael.

    UNC has mostly fed upon the bottom dwellers up to this point, with the exception of the Clemson win at home. I am hoping that the BC game will be a break-out win on the road, unlike our struggles at UVa and Miami, who are hardly world-beaters.

  • AZACCFan

    The really positive thing about this team is there are many ways for them to get better. There is no one star that has to carry the team.

    Yet improved guard play is going to be a requirement moving past the ACC tournament.

    Especially with Duke’s vulnerability, and this has been obvious for a while, UNC is going to be in a traditionally strong position for post-season play.

    Plus they are overall playing solidly at every position. It is just up to the coaching staff to figure out which players can produce on a given night. Because it has been a changing cast of characters.

    But they are fun to watch!

  • nathan

    In order to go through February with only one loss we will have to play much, much better than we did in January, simply because the schedule gets much, much harder. Its too early to be talking about 12-2.

  • william

    They are becoming more fun to watch, but the turgid offensive games against VPI, UVa and GIT are not that far in the rear view mirror.

    Didn’t we go like 12 minutes without scoring against UVa?

    Didn’t GIT torch us down the stretch? Didn’t we almost lose to Miami, who is 1-5 and tied with Wake for last place?

    We have had two pretty good games our last two home games, but I think we still have a ways to go before we are truly fun to watch on offense.

  • jtchill84

    NCSU seemed as if they were in a daze during this game, and I’m not sure how good they are even on their good days. A win is good, but inconsistency is still a big problem. And I can’t figure out why Z has not progressed more. He needs to take a ‘Go Ahead and Dunk it’ pill. (Hopefully that wouldn’t mess up his free-throw shooting.) But the team is more fun to watch, seems like a collection of excellent parts in search of an excellent blueprint.
    As noted by Nathan, the next stretch of 4 games will tell us a lot. Going 2-2 would be good, 3-1 outstanding. If we go 4-0, I’ll never mention the word ‘inconsistency’ again.

  • Big Chief

    If this team can keep getting off to good starts and hitting FTs like they did in this last game, then I have a lot of hope. Especially since getting off to slow starts coupled with poor FT shooting seems to be what has killed us in our losses.

    I’d still like to see Roy start an outside shooter at SG.

  • BoyWilliams

    Check out http://home.roadrunner.com/~unc92sax/2011ratings.html. Some kind fan ‘grades’ the UNC players (via conventional per minute stats) for each game & over the whole season…PLUS it gives grades for all seasons back to 1980. Good stuff.

    Here are the grades for the NC State game:

    Barnes      1.286 A+
    Henson      1.105 A+
    Zeller       .773 A
    Strickland   .754 A
    Knox         .519 B
    McDonald     .247 D
    Drew II      .204 D
    Bullock      .108 D
    Marshall    -.014 F

    The highest ranked players so far this year?

    Henson       .736 B
    Zeller       .690 B
    Bullock      .687 B
    Marshall     .655 B
    McDonald     .556 B
    Barnes       .518 B
    Strickland   .502 B
    Drew II      .418 C
    Knox         .410 C
    Watts        .376 C

  • TheUNCFan

    Playing State was the cure for a lot of problems last year, too. I think the 2 best ACC games were against them. The Heels may have had their stats inflated by State’s “collapsiveness” tendency (to coin a word). I don’t know if you can quantify collapsiveness, but it’s like a multiplier for the other team’s stats.

    Still, you have to be doing something right when you blow out the teams you’re supposed to blow out, and find a way to beat the others. I’m looking forward to success feeding on success, and this winning to become a trend.

  • william

    That is a good point about State being a cure for us, even in our most challenged years. I remember back in 2006 when conference play started thinking we wouldn’t have much chance against them, even at home, but with the exception of that road loss in 2008, we have had State’s number since Roy returned.

    I do think UNC has had positive returns due to the shedding of players associated with last year’s debacle. Henson always seemed to have a great attitude as a freshman, but most of the rest of the team seemed uninterested, uninspired and lackadaisical. I remember many television shots of some of our guys sitting on the bench and looking unconcerned as we went down in flames, game after game.

    Now, the Wears are gone.

    I think Ed Davis, Jr. as a sophomore, wanted no part of being the “man”, the way that Hansborough and May had been. Davis’s stats weren’t that bad but seemed deceptively good. It is indisputable that UNC’s mini-blip up at the end of the year, took place with Davis on the bench and seemingly disengaged.

    Will Graves is gone. I don’t know all the particulars, but he apparently had problems following team rules, which is never good for morale.

    Marcus Ginyard is gone. Ginyard seemed to be a very decent sort, who tried to give his all, but for some reason, appeared to most fans, to be in over his head and receiving far more playing time and offensive opportunities than his play seemed to call for. While it was no fault of Ginyard’s, I think having that distraction gone, has been a big positive.

    Most of the same could go for Deon, except for the fact that Deon’s playing time during his career generally was merited, regardless of whatever shortcomings he had. Still, Deon seemed a bit laidback, which is not the kind of leadership young teams’ need most likely.

    That basically left Drew as a lightning rod for criticism, and Drew’s play (and some would say, manner) did seem to be a drag on the team until the switch to Marshall. Since then, Marshall has played a bit worse, and Drew has played a bit better, with perhaps the level of the position going up a bit over all. Drew may not be the type of guy, either, who wants to be the leader at point guard. I am guarded but I think we may continue to see improvement from Drew the rest of the season, something that seemed highly improbable after the GIT loss.

    I haven’t said much about Zeller because in spite of the limits in his game, he has generally played pretty well when he has been healthy all three years, and I think he proved his gumption by refusing a red shirt in 2009 and by coming back and playing effectively last year. For whatever reasons, Zeller never got the criticism that the Wears got.

    The new guys, Knox, Marshall, Bullock and Barnes seem to be exactly the kinds of personalities you want on a team. Knox’s backstory is compelling and he is a much better fit as a reserve than Travis Wear was. I am very impressed by the way that all four new guys carry themselves, without trash talking or calling attention to themselves, while simply trying to do their jobs, and the sophomores have all shown marked improvement.

    We still are not shooting the way we need to, to really make some noise, but this is turning into a team that not only has different personnel from last year, but with the exception of being offensively challenged, a completely different vibe. That is why tomorrow night is so key to keep this thing rolling.

  • SwankyRoberts

    This team has enough talent to compete with any team in the nation. But talent only gets you but so far if you dont have confidence. I think this teams confidence took a hit at the beginning of the year and its been a rebuilding process ever since.
    Now I’m not saying that the NC State game was a big time victory, we have to win those games, but it certainly was a confidence builder and that’s exactly what this team needs at this time.
    Big games from Henson and Barnes.
    By the way I like Henson’s fresh new hair cut.

  • carolinablue74

    ^ I think the thing that hurts Marshall’s game the most is his unwillingness to lift his game to a scoring PG. He needlessly passes up on a number of open shots and drives. This tendency has not gone unnoticed even by ESPN commentators, I think it was Len Elmore, who said that when the PG is not a scoring threat it is easy to back off him on the perimeter and guard his passing lanes and intended recipients. That’s what the wuffies did on a number of occasions. Both our PGs need to develop as scoring threats for this team to have any offensive consistency.

  • “Both our PGs need to develop as scoring threats for this team to have any offensive consistency.”

    Exactly. You can cite a lot of things that changed from 2004 to 2005, but arguably the most important was Raymond Felton going from a 31% 3-point shooter to a 44% 3-point shooter. His overall production really didn’t change that much, but he did it much more efficiently.

  • chapelhillfan

    One made three a game from KM would go a long way to opening up the offense even further. Sort of like an offense in football needing to throw downfield a few times a game, even if incomplete, to open up the defense and get the safeties back off the line, KM needs to fire at least a few threes a game just to keep the defense honest. He has shown the ability to make them.

    I am excited and overrall pleased — not holding this team to normal Carolina basketball standards, of course — at where this team stands, especially compared to last year. William is correct that last year had a really poor set of players mashed together on one team. Also, Roy basically appeared to quit on the team in January and early to mid-February only to get energized again when Henson broke out in February.

    But, the enthusiasm could all come crashing back to earth if they lay an egg against BC. Others have said it, and I will echo it, the next two weeks will make or break this season in terms of whether an NCAA tournament berth is easy or a struggle. I think 12-2 is probably very unrealistic, but 10-4 is highly reasonable to expect.

  • LarryS

    Good points, CM & cb74, about the PG shooting.

    Again, just a little help, scoring-wise, from that position will yield a great bang for the buck for a team that potentially has a lot of scoring options.

    The most interesting thing, to me, is how we are monitoring the emergence and progress from so many different angles.

    A lot of times you’re just looking for that one player, who hasn’t really come around yet, to help take you to the next level. With this team, we are basically looking at 4 or 5 players playing closer to their potential, and doing the things they have shown signs of being able to do. Considering that they’ve done decently so far, that’s actually kind of scary to think about.

    On a side note, and to show how much emphasis is put on SOS in the RPI ratings (and probably as it should be……teams do deserve credit for playing better teams), Duke got clobbered on the road by St. Johns, yet their RPI (#12) was not altered.

    Why? St. Johns has a #21 RPI and a #2 SOS.

    I’ll tell you, St. Johns looked pretty darn good for a team that is struggling to make the NCAAT.

  • carolinablue74

    Aside from Felton, I would also say look at Lawson. I know it is unfair to ask any of our PGs to be like Lawson, but I think he was the main reason why the Heels won the NC in 2009. There were many games when the other floor players could not buy a bucket and Lawson would take over and tear up the opposite team’s defense in every way possible. This team has a very balanced roster, but the primary ball handler must be a scoring threat to keep the opposing team’s defense honest. They don’t have to be a one-man demolition squad like Lawson, but their points production has got to be more than 4 points a game and the occasional 3 point shot.

  • scl11

    The past 3 games were nice to bring out the warm fuzzes and distance the memories of Atlanta and last year for the time being, but the next 2 weeks is where the rubber meets the road.

    The next 4 games will tell us a couple things:

    Is this team just better than last year (which isn’t hard to do) or have they developed enough to actually be a serious ACC and National contender this season?

    Was the debacle in Atlanta an outlier or are some of garbage and problems from last year still manifested in the program?

    Is this the taking off point for Henson and Barnes, where they consistently play like top 5 recruits?

    Is the PG position better and making progress or just being masked by improvements by the team in other areas?

    The next 4 games can be viewed as a redemption road for last year:

    @ BC - last year lost to a bad BC team in a game they should have won, this year can this team win a game that they should win on the road

    FSU - got flogged last year at home, and Singleton out talented Carolina by himself, can they beat a quality team at home against a team that has as much length, talent, and athleticism as itself (maybe more)

    @ Duke - return to the site of the pinnacle of debacles last year, and can this team play poised basketball in a hostile environment against arguably the best team in the ACC, measuring stick game

    @ Clemson - return to the site where reality set in last year that this was going to be a very long year, can they beat an evenly matched opponent on their home floor in a place where many of the current players probably still have nightmares

    So as many have stated there is no doubt the next two weeks are the tipping point for this season…….

  • chapelhillfan

    What is our barometer of success for these four games? 3-1 or 4-0, certainly, to me. I will be pleased with 3-1, although any loss to Dook is tough to take if that is the “1″. 1-3 or 0-4 would have to be considered unacceptable, even with the growing pains of this team, in my opinion. They should hold serve against FSU against home and should be capable of splitting on the road against BC and Clemson.

  • NativeMTNHeel

    A 3-1 mark would be very good and is certainly doable. I would consider that success. I think 2-2 is acceptable, with one of those wins being at home against FSU. Although, 2-2 with two wins on the road, one of them being Dook, and losing to FSU at home would also be OK.

  • plibt

    aaaaand we have AP ranking.
    Would have coaches ranking if illinois and vandy weren’t tied for 24.

  • nativeheel

    Next 4 games?
    4-0, beyond expectations and fantastic!
    3-1, doable IF played to their full potential.
    2-2, not good but understandable.
    1-3, not acceptable.(unless the 1 is vs Dook)
    0-4, disaster and a season killer!
    Go Heels!!

  • scl11

    4-0 = National Contender (maybe top 15 good)
    3-1 = ACC Contender and still potential threat Nationally
    2-2 = about where we are today, better than most of ACC off National radar
    1-3 or 0-4 = skeletons return

  • Heel in Purple

    1-0= Better than 0-1. I have the players’ perspective. Just win vs Boston College. Jackson is good enough to carry them to a win. Plus another road win will do wonders. Continuous improvement while taking only one game at a time.

  • LarryS

    I would actually look at 2-2, over the next 4, as being OK, and possibly even advancing the Heels’ progress if it met certain conditions.

    If they played good basketball, in some closely contested matches, splitting the next 4 would not be bad at all. In fact, splitting is pretty much how I think it will play out though I hope I’m dead wrong.

    This is a big increase in competition, 3 of 4 are on the road, and Clemson will be ready for some revenge. So where does 7-3 put them, coming back to the Smith Center to play Wake? In a pretty good spot.

    Three of that next five will be at home. If they can protect home court at the Smith Center, and split the last two road games (highly likely since one of them is against State), then they would host Duke with a 11-4 conference record.

    And at that point, as C Michael said earlier, anything can happen.

  • rathskellar68

    scl11 -

    Nailed it.

  • NativeMTNHeel

    I concur Larry. Also, while a prospect of 1-3 (or maybe even 0-4) may seem like a season killer, I wouldn’t be so rushed to see it that way. If they can win all of the following games aside from @FSU or vs Dook, then they’d still be 11-5 (or 10-6) and closing out the conference season winning 5 of 6 going into the ACC Tourney and pretty much guaranteed a spot in the NCAA.

    If they’re going to lose some games, then it might as well be during a rough stretch. I’m certainly hoping against all of this, but I think some level of perspective is important considering where we are and where we’ve been. I was not expecting to be 5-1 in conference at this point when the conference play started. How many of you felt sure we’d be here?

  • chapelhillfan

    I think I expected this team to be right around this record, give or take one or two losses, at this point in the season. I agree that “how” the team plays in the next four games is important too. 2 close losses, for example, are different than a Tech debacle. But, I agree that from my perspective it is “one game at a time”. I was just tossing it out for discussion purposes. I don’t care if this team wins 4 in a row though, I can’t consider them a national title contender.

  • william

    The site has been down all afternoon, so I took a look at the in-conference and out of conference ACC statistics for UNC, and it was not pretty.

    I was actually surprised to see just how mediocre we are in pretty much all the listed statistics, with the exception of rebounding and blocked shots. I looked for a trend but we didn’t seem to have much of one, outside of what we already know, that we have won our last three games. Particularly troubling is the fact that UNC is only fifth in the conference in scoring margin, and this is after winning our last game by 20 points. We are 5-1, but we could pretty easily be 2-4, and that is against pretty much the dregs of the conference, except for the home wins against VPI and Clemson.

    Here are some examples. UNC is next to last, above only Wake Forest, in field goal percentage, and we are dead last in three point shooting percentage. While our over all FG percentage defense is decent, coming in third, we are next to last in three point field goal percentage defense, which probably surprises none of you. Wake kept us out of the cellar in this category as well. We are, however, dead last in three point field goals made, even after Saturday.

    We are only in the middle of the pack, in a host of other stats such as assists, turnovers, and steals.

    In terms of individual stats, things are not much better. Our highest scorer, Barnes, is only number 11 over all in conference. Henson is 19th. Aside from Henson, who leads the league in FG percentage, UNC has no one even remotely close to shooting 50% from the floor. Henson also leads the ACC in blocked shots, but is only tenth in offensive rebounds.

    Kendall Marshall is only in the middle of the pack in assists, while Drew is in the middle of the pack in steals.

    We have no one who qualified for the three point field goal categories, and sadly even making 1/3 would have been enough to qualify.

    Somewhat mitigating the above, is the fact that UNC has no player ranked among the top ten in minutes, but these numbers also indicate just how pressing the need for Barnes to step up is, because UNC has, at this point, no reliable go to guy who can either create his own shot, or reliably make an open three.

    So, I guess like many of you, I am sort of on a bi-polar ride with these guys, swinging back and forth between the idea that they could be building something special, to the notion that we have been very fortunate given our lackluster play. Take a look at the stats at TheACC.com and see what you guys think.

    At this point, we probably should be thrilled to be 5-1, and I think we are.

  • LarryS

    ^^That’s a very good point about jumping too far ahead on the basis of 4 straight wins.

    Usually, the last ten games are looked at to see who’s hot and who’s limping to the finish line. And sometimes even that’s not necessarily a strong indicator.

    So the time to realistically look at their national viability is after the Duke game at the Smith Center.

  • LarryS

    ^^Some of your thoughts ties in to what I was saying earlier about the fact that the record UNC has accumulated, with so much inconsistency (lackluster play, as you described), is really not bad when you consider this teams’ upside.

    They may be fortunate to be at 5-1 with the way they’ve played, but their opponents, throwing out the high and low points of State and Ga. Tech, might be fortunate they didn’t lose by more than they did.

    Now if this was an upperclassmen- laden team, I would be very concerned with the trend. With a developing team though, those ugly, early-conf. stats will hopefully not predict their future.

  • CarMichael

    A few thoughts-

    1. Just make some jumpshots, baby. That’s all we need to be a top 15 team.

    2. We did OK with non-scoring point guards in ’82 and ’93 and with Cota. We have good point guards. What we need is for our free-shooting wings to make jumpshots.

    3. When people say, “X is not acceptable,” what exactly do they plan to do about it? Wouldn’t it be better to choose another phrase?

  • carolinablue74

    ^ The game of basketball has evolved and Dean Smith is no longer the coach, and has not been for the past two decades (nearly).

  • Racerman27410

    Well its hard to argue facts but to me the dark cloud of statistics has a silver lining…. WINS!

    Sure the numbers say there is no way the Heels are 5-1 in conference……can’t shoot, can’t defend the three, soft inside….. yet here they are…. 5-1

    5-1 while almost sucking hind teet makes me ridiculously happy!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I believe the Boys are only going to get better….sure there is a chance the wheels could fall off completely but I have seen flashes of brilliance from every single guy on the floor (and bench) so I know the capabilities are there… these boys CAN play….. they would not be wearing that God loves Carolina Blue uniform if they didnt have any talent.

    Now the chemistry is happening and i’ve got a good feeling about it….talented players having fun = wins

    Go Heels!