Browsed by
Month: December 2016

Four Factor Friday: Non-Conference Recap (Dec. 30)

Four Factor Friday: Non-Conference Recap (Dec. 30)

It’s Four Factor Friday and as the Tar Heels head into ACC play, we’ll take a look back at the 14 non-conference games.

What went well?

Carolina is 12-2 overall. The Tar Heels are one of five teams that rank in the top 10 in both offensive (118.6) and defensive (90.5) efficiency according to Ken Pomeroy.

The reason why is UNC’s performance across the four factors—the building blocks of efficiency. Here is how the Tar Heels shape up in those metrics through 14 games:

|        | Offense | Defense |
|   eFG  |   53.2  |   45.5  |
|   TO   |   17.0  |   20.6  |
|   OR   |   42.0  |   26.2  |
| FTRate |   40.8  |   27.1  |

If you’re curious of a game-by-game breakdown and points-per-possession data, find a table you can sort here.

On offense, Carolina posts its highest effective field goal percentage and offensive rebounding percentage since the 2007-2008 season. That’s encouraging because the 2007-2008 season ended at the Final Four (40-12 never happened, not sure what you’re talking about).

A major reason why Carolina is posting a higher effective field goal percentage is improved three-point shooting. UNC shot 32.7 percent a year ago, the record for the lowest percentage in school history. The Tar Heels are shooting 37.6 percent from behind the three-point line this season.

Justin Jackson is shooting 40.7 percent from three, and already has knocked down 33 three-point shots this season. Jackson has made quite the leap his junior year. He made 28 threes as a freshman, and 35 threes all of last season for some evidence of that leap.

Justin Jackson has lots of confidence, knocking down 40.7 percent of his three-point shots.

Offensive rebounding is always a strong suit of Roy Williams’s teams, and this Carolina team is no exception, pulling down 42 percent of its missed shots. UNC has recorded a higher offensive rebounding percentage in every game this season but Kentucky, when the Wildcats out-rebounded the Heels 39-35.

What might come as a surprise is Carolina is doing a much better job overall on the defensive boards this season. This was an area that needed to be addressed because Brice Johnson graduated and he pulled down 28 percent of UNC’s defensive rebounds last season.

The Tar Heels only allow their opponents to rebound 26.2 percent of their shots. This is the best mark under Roy Williams at UNC. The next lowest was 27.2 percent in the 2011-12 season.

Credit the upperclassmen—Kennedy Meeks, Justin Jackson, and Isaiah Hicks. This trio each has 50 or more defensive rebounds thus far. Meeks is Carolina’s top rebounder, and has 10 or more rebounds in three out of 14 games this season. The senior only had double-digit rebounds in four games all of the 2015-16 season.

Kennedy Meeks is coming into his own in his senior season.

What can improve?

One concern for the Tar Heels is avoiding turnovers. UNC turns it over on about 17 percent of their offensive possessions this season. Carolina has 10 or more turnovers in 12 out of 14 games, and the Heels are coming off a season-worst 17 turnovers against Monmouth.

If you want to spin it the other way, UNC does have a lot of the same personnel as it did from a season ago when they only turned it over on 15.4 percent of their possessions, the best mark for any Carolina team directed by Roy Williams. We’ve all seen Joel Berry take care of the ball in big games.

Perhaps the biggest concern is playing smarter because the competition is about to crank up in conference play. Smarter means avoiding empty possessions—low-percentage mid-range shots, foul trouble, and turnovers.

In each of UNC’s losses, Carolina trailed for the majority of the game. The Tar Heels took some poor shots against Indiana and found themselves down 17 points in the first half. Against Kentucky, seniors Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks only played a combined 35 minutes due to foul trouble.

Carolina needs to avoid long two-point shots like this one from Nate Britt.

Non-Conference Strength of Schedule

Although there’s an element of randomness involved (pre-season tournaments draws, ACC-Big Ten match-ups, etc.),  teams do primarily control their non-conference schedules (including whether to play at opponents’ home gyms and/or in a neutral-site pre-season tournament).

If we stick with Pomeroy’s ratings, UNC had the strongest strength of schedule in the non-conference amongst ACC teams, ranking 34th in the nation.

Here’s a full breakdown from KenPom as of December 29:

|        Team        | Non-Conference SOS |
|   North Carolina   |         34         |
|     Louisville     |         55         |
|     Wake Forest    |         71         |
|       Clemson      |         88         |
|        Duke        |         137        |
|     Pittsburgh     |         140        |
|      Virginia      |         148        |
|      Syracuse      |         234        |
|     Florida St.    |         258        |
|      Miami FL      |         276        |
| North Carolina St. |         285        |
|     Notre Dame     |         288        |
|    Georgia Tech    |         324        |
|   Boston College   |         333        |
|   Virginia Tech    |         341        |

Carolina played a balanced non-conference slate. It offered some good opportunities to play against different styles of teams.

In the Maui Invitational, UNC throttled Oklahoma State by 32 points in a game that featured about 79 possessions. And the next day, the Tar Heels handled Wisconsin by 15 points in game with 68 possessions.

This Carolina team can run with anyone as seen against Kentucky (81 possessions) and Monmouth (89 possessions). And it can win slow, too, dominating a Northern Iowa team in a 65-possession grinder.

The Tar Heels have won a couple games where they shot worse than their opponents. Without Joel Berry, Carolina shot a lower percentage than both Davidson and Tennessee, and still picked up a couple victories by controlling other Four Factors categories (rebounding and free throws vs. Davidson, and rebounding and turnovers against Tennessee). UNC also played a couple of true road games at Hawaii and Indiana.

All this being said, Carolina is going to be tested more in ACC play—a whole lot more. UNC last eight games of the season feature Duke (twice), Virginia (twice), Louisville, NC State, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame.

Remember the Tar Heels being one of five teams that rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency? Three of the five are ACC teams (UNC, Duke, Virginia).

It’s possible the ACC regular-season champion might be 13-5 or 14-4. The league is that competitive.

So is the ACC the nation’s best conference?

Short answer. Yes, yes it is.

Long answer is that many believe the ACC to be the nation’s best conference with the potential of over half the conference making the NCAA Tournament. Some publications and people that cover college hoops, including Pomeroy, put the ACC slightly behind the Big 12 at this point in the year.

As of December 29, Pomeroy’s rankings have 11 ACC teams and eight Big 12 teams in the top 50. The ACC has four top 10 teams, while the Big 12 has three in the top 10.

How does the rest of each league rank?

This is where it gets confusing, because the Big 12 only has 10 teams. It has Texas (75th) as its lowest-ranked member in Pomeroy’s rankings. The ACC has 13 of its 15 teams ranked in the top 59, while Georgia Tech (152) and Boston College (196) are the ACC’s lowest-ranked teams.

So, yes, the Big 12 might be stronger top-to-bottom in than the ACC due to having fewer teams. But it’s not all that important or worth the energy to debate which conference is superior. Both conferences are strong, and the Tar Heels will play a tough ACC slate.

It starts with three games over the next eight days—at Georgia Tech (Dec. 31), at Clemson (Jan.3), and home against NC State (Jan. 7).

Can this team keep up its shooting from the outside? Can it avoid turnovers and foul trouble? Will Theo Pinson’s return make everything better?

We’re going to find out.

The Understated Elegance of Justin Jackson

The Understated Elegance of Justin Jackson

Justin Jackson’s game has never been flashy. Rather than explosive leaping ability or a lightning-quick first step, he relies on quick-release, odd-angle craftiness to score in the paint. Instead of blowing by or powering through to get to the rim, he’s more likely to use a subtle cut or baseline flash to receive a pass for a close score.

That said, as Jackson continues to add legitimate 3-point range to his scoring arsenal, he’s now too good offensively to fly under the radar. He’s developed into a legitimate alpha scorer, but the rarest of alphas who can dominate a game without dominating the ball. Let’s break down Jackson’s 28-point, 5-assist masterpiece against Monmouth to see how he’s creating his opportunities.

These are listed chronologically—video would be great here, of course, and hopefully I can go back (when I have more time) and edit some of these posts to include video clips.

1st Half: 6-9 FGs, 5-7 3Pt, 0-0 FTs, 17 points, 3:0 A:TO

  • Missed 2-pointer: With the Heels focusing on pounding the paint early, Jackson didn’t get his first look until UNC’s seventh possession. A contested catch-and-shoot 18-footer from the left-elbow extended, it came in the freelance passing game after he set a back-screen for Isaiah Hicks, then curled to receive a pass from Kenny Williams. Jackson was falling away a bit on this shot, and mid-range jumpers (of the non-floater variety) remain the one glaring weakness of his offensive game. He’s now 0-of-3 on catch-and-shoot mid-range jumpers, and 0-for-7 on off-the-dribble mid-range jumpers. Overall, Jackson’s just 1-13 (7.7%) from between 10 and 20 feet this season.
  • Assist: Jackson’s first assist came on a secondary break lob to Kennedy Meeks, who received a Nate Britt back-screen after reversing the ball to Jackson on the left wing. Good Britt screen, and a typically well-delivered pass by Jackson.
  • Made 3-pointer: It took five minutes of game time for Jackson to crack the scoring column, but he did so by hitting a secondary break 3 from the left wing (his sweet spot—now 16-31 (51.6%) on left-wing 3s this year). This one was set up by a Meeks ball screen, and Jackson knocked it down off the bounce (he’s now 4-of-5 on off-the-dribble 3s this year). The ability to hit 3s off the dribble when defenders go under ball screens is a big addition to his offensive repertoire. Jackson passed Brian Reese for 63rd on UNC’s all-time scoring list with this hoop.
  • Made 3-pointer: Two possessions later, Jackson hit another 3—this time after receiving an inside-out diagonal pass from Luke Maye in UNC’s freelance motion. Britt threw the entry pass to Maye on the left block to earn the hockey assist. Jackson’s now just 6-22 (28.6%) on right-wing 3s this year. Monmouth didn’t double the post, but Jackson’s man sagged/over-helped on the weak-side to allow the diagonal pass when Maye looked opposite. Over-helping in the paint at the expense of defending the 3: must have been something that King Rice picked up in his Carolina days (just kidding… kind of).
  • Assist: Following a BLOB ball reversal, Jackson hit Tony Bradley (who created a strong seal in the post) with a tough-angle, bounce-pass entry. This was a really good (and subtly tricky) post delivery, and led to an “and-1” when Bradley hit a contested jump-hook. Jackson’s been UNC’s best post entry passer all season (8.9 entries / 40 with a Success:Failure of 1.68 entering the Monmouth game), and this pass was a terrific example of why.
  • Made 3-pointer: This entire defense-to-offense sequence showed the value of Jackson. After making a good help-the-helper rotation (after Bradley helped when Hicks allowed dribble penetration) to force a steal, Jackson pushed the break himself. After hitting Bradley (the trailing big) in secondary, Jackson immediately received a handoff and knocked down a deep (24′ or so) top-of-the-key 3. He’s now 5-13 (38.5%) this season on 3s from this location. For those keeping track, within a 5-possession span, Jackson hit: a 3-pointer from the left wing, the right wing, and the top of the key. He also hit one off the dribble, one off a handoff, and one following an inside-out pass.
  • Missed 3-pointer: After resting for a couple minutes, Jackson immediately launched a 3 in his first possession back on the floor. Cory Alexander correctly identified this one as a “heat check,” and it was created via a routine BLOB entry by Berry to the right corner. This one was well-contested, and Jackson was again leaning back/falling away a bit on the release. He’s shooting 2-7 (28.6%) on right-corner 3s this year.
  • Made 2-pointer: As the small-ball 4 against a zone defense, Jackson was working the baseline/low post with Meeks operating in the high post. As he does so well, a cutting Jackson found an opening near the rim to receive a right-block entry from Berry for an easy 4-footer. A good Carolina possession against the zone defense.
  • Made 3-pointer: On the very next possession (still as a 4), Jackson created a Berry 3-pointer with a drive-and-kick pass. After the Berry miss, Williams tipped out the rebound which was saved by a Britt hustle play on the floor. As the loose-ball scramble was won by Britt, Jackson re-located to his favorite spot (the left wing) and hit a 3-pointer following a Berry pass. Jackson moved by John Henson for 62nd on UNC’s career scoring list with this basket. He also passed Ed Cota into 28th place with his 94th career 3-pointer.
  • Made 3-pointer: On the next possession (still as a 4), Jackson, the trailing big, received a simple secondary break reversal pass from Britt and drilled a clean top-of-the-key 3. This is why Jackson is such a dangerous offensive weapon as a small-ball 4. He can hit that 3 when trailing, or get to the rim off the dribble if an opposing 4 closes out on him to deny it. The three possessions just described were literally the only ones in which Jackson played the 4 versus Monmouth. And he scored eight points on them! The 8-0 Jackson run stretched UNC’s lead to 19 at 41-22. On the season, Jackson has now scored 65 points (including 9-21 on 3s) in 78.9 minutes as a small-ball 4—that’s an incredible 33.0 points / 40 minutes. With this basket, he moved past Jeff McInnis on the career scoring list.
  • Assist: In his first possession back at the 3 after a quick stint on the bench, Jackson found a screen-slipping Hicks for an open dunk. This slip-screen action has been a staple of Carolina’s secondary break for decades, and several of Jackson’s team-high seven assisted dunks have come on this very option.
  • Missed 3-pointer: Monmouth was back in its zone on this possession, and Jackson received a pass on the right wing from Hicks during the secondary ball reversal. After shot-faking to get the defender to fly by, Jackson created a clean 3 with one hard dribble to the left but was unable to knock it down (his first missed 3 off the dribble of the season).

2nd Half: 3-5 FGs, 1-2 3Pt, 4-4 FTs, 11 points, 2:2 A:TO

  • Made 2-pointer: Jackson’s only floater of the game, this one was created following BLOB freelance action. He curled off a Meeks screen to receive a Williams pass, then took two hard dribbles with his left hand before hitting a righty floater from about 8 feet. It was attempted from the left side of the court, an area where Jackson’s made 10 of 15 shots this year (almost all of them floaters). From the analogous location on the right side, Jackson’s made only 5 of 13. Overall, he’s connected on 46.7% (14-30) of his patented floaters on the season.
  • Made 3-pointer: Following a missed Meeks foul shot, Hicks tapped out the rebound and Berry found Jackson open in the left corner against a scrambled defense. He’s now 4-8 (50.0%) on left-corner 3s this year. Jackson had now attempted around-the-horn 3s (both corners, both wings, and the top of the key) against Monmouth, hitting one from each spot except the right corner. This basket capped off a 6-point possession (2 Berry FTs on the technical, followed by a Meeks FT, then the Jackson 3 on the tip-out). After a defensive stop, UNC scored 5 points (4 Berry FTs, plus a Meeks FT) on its very next possession. This rapidly extended a 10-point Carolina lead (56-46) to 21 points (67-46), effectively ending Monmouth’s upset bid. Jackson tied Wes Miller for 27th in UNC history with his 96th career made 3-pointer.
  • Missed 3-pointer: After a Hicks high-post touch against Monmouth’s zone, Seventh Woods whipped a perimeter pass to Jackson in the right corner. Jackson tried a jab step to create space, but it was well-guarded as the defender didn’t bite on the fake. This led to a contested corner 3. But even Jackson’s misses were turning out well on this night, as Williams crashed from the weak-side for an easy tip-in. Zone the Heels at your peril; even if you get initial stops, the offensive rebounds will kill you.
  • Assist: Jackson threw a simple secondary break entry pass from the right corner to Meeks on the right block, who finished strong with a power dribble through contact. This type of entry is as routine as it gets in Carolina’s system, but Jackson’s ability to consistently execute these plays perfectly (and quickly—rarely being a ball-stopper) is a big part of why the Heels are so offensively efficient.
  • Made free throws: In UNC’s halfcourt freelance passing game, Jackson capitalized on an opportunity created when a Monmouth defender over-played a passing lane/took a poor angle around a Hicks screen. Jackson recognized this advantage immediately, and drew the foul on the rotating help-side big upon entering the paint.
  • Assist: Another secondary break set, another assist for Jackson. This time, after throwing the reversal pass to Jackson on the wing, Hicks set a ball screen and rolled to the rim. Jackson lobbed it in to Hicks for an easy layup. This play wasn’t really open (or executed well—the spacing on the back-screen from Williams was poor), but the Heels were able to take advantage of a smaller defender on Hicks. This type of pass won’t work against many ACC-caliber opponents, but luckily Jackson is too smart to attempt it in those situations. To summarize, Jackson had four secondary break assists out of four different actions (slip to trailing big, lob to trailing big after back screen, lob to trailing big after pick-and-roll, and routine entry pass to non-trailing big). All five of his assists were to Carolina bigs (2 to Hicks, 2 to Meeks, and 1 to Bradley). They resulted in a dunk, three layups, and an “and-1” hook in the paint.
  • Turnover: After getting trapped immediately upon crossing halfcourt, Jackson threw the ball out of bounds when attempting a skip pass to Berry. He needs to be stronger with the ball here, but even this could have been much worse (i.e., a live-ball turnover).
  • Missed 2-pointer: With the shot clock down to single digits, Jackson attempted to create his own offense off the bounce. His mid-range jumper from the short left corner was blocked; as mentioned earlier, the (non-floater) mid-range remains Jackson’s biggest offensive weakness right now.
  • Made 2-pointer: An immediate BLOB lob (Bob Loblaw?) entry from Berry to Jackson resulted in a quick and easy layup. With a smaller defender on Jackson, this was good awareness/communication/chemistry from the Berry-Jackson duo to recognize and capitalize on the opportunity.
  • Turnover: After a Williams hit-ahead pass in transition, Jackson tried to hit a cutting Meeks at the rim. The pass was too high and hard (although it probably would have worked if thrown to either Hicks or Bradley), sailing out of bounds. Although a poorly-executed pass, this is the type of turnover that Roy Williams can live. It’s the cost of doing business in Carolina’s high-octane, up-tempo system.
  • Made free throws: Jackson received a right-wing ball screen from Bradley in UNC’s freelance motion, using it to get a right-elbow jumper on which he was fouled. The official scorer mistakenly credited Jackson with both a missed field goal and two made free throws here. It should have only been the free throws (and, thus, I had Jackson at 9-14 from the field rather than 9-15).

So UNC didn’t run a single set to get Jackson involved against Monmouth. Much of his offense flowed naturally out of the secondary break, and he also took advantage of some routine freelance passing game options. Throw in a couple of 3s following offensive rebound-related defensive chaos, plus a BLOB chance or two, and it adds up to 28 easy points for Jackson. He won’t always hit 6-of-9 threes, but he will usually be able to get these types of scoring opportunities in Carolina’s offense.

The 10 Best Lineups of the Roy Williams Era

The 10 Best Lineups of the Roy Williams Era

With both the Joel Berry-Kenny Williams-Justin Jackson-Isaiah Hicks-Kennedy Meeks lineup (Efficiency Margin of +61.1 in 85 minutes) and the Berry-Williams-Jackson-Hicks-Tony Bradley one (Efficiency Margin of +64.8 in 28 minutes) off to ridiculously good +/- starts this season, let’s take a look at some historically strong Williams-era combinations.

To qualify for this list, a lineup needed to play at least 50 minutes together in a given season. These aren’t strictly ranked by raw net efficiency; it’s a combination of +/-, total usage, and some “eye test” considerations (and probably some personal biases of mine, too, if we’re being honest). We’ll count them down from No. 10 to No. 1. No current combos are included on the list, although, if they can maintain anywhere close to their current pace, the two mentioned above are serious candidates to join it.

Honorable Mention:

  • Joel Berry-Marcus Paige-Justin Jackson-Isaiah Hicks-Brice Johnson (2015-16)
    • 142 minutes, Offensive Efficiency: 127.6, Defensive Efficiency: 103.8, Efficiency Margin: +23.8
    • After being terrible as a defensive combination in 2014-15, the Hicks-Johnson frontcourt improved to average the next season. Those lineups were always explosive offensively, though, and this became RoyW’s go-to crunch-time lineup (along with the Pinson-at-the-4 small-ball unit) during last year’s postseason run (it was the quintet on the court for the final 5:21 against Villanova, outscoring the ‘Cats 17-10 in that time).
  • Ty Lawson-Wayne Ellington-Danny Green-Brandan Wright-Tyler Hansbrough (2006-07)
    • 71 minutes, Offensive Efficiency: 112.2, Defensive Efficiency: 81.8, Efficiency Margin: +30.4
    • An all-underclassmen lineup (3 FR/2 SO), but five guys who stuck around the NBA for a long time. Green was still raw and mistake-prone as a sophomore, but this was a successful and disruptive defensive unit.
  • Kendall Marshall-Leslie McDonald-Harrison Barnes-John Henson-Tyler Zeller (2010-11)
    • 67 minutes, Offensive Efficiency: 122.3, Defensive Efficiency: 97.3, Efficiency Margin: +25.1
    • This lineup played way fewer minutes than the 2010-11 starting 5 (Dexter Strickland in for McDonald), which logged 321. Though it was a bit worse defensively than the starters (97.3 vs. 92.8), the spacing benefits of having a shooter at the 2 more than made up for it on the offensive end (122.3 vs. 111.3).

10.) Ty Lawson-Wayne Ellington-Reyshawn Terry-Brandan Wright-Tyler Hansbrough (2006-07)

  • 279 minutes, Offensive Efficiency: 121.0, Defensive Efficiency: 94.3, Efficiency Margin: +26.7
  • The 2006-07 starting 5, this lineup was solid on both ends. This team was super-deep, of course, and didn’t really miss a beat when subbing in Marcus Ginyard or Danny Green for one of the wings.

9.) Marcus Paige-J.P. Tokoto-Justin Jackson-Isaiah Hicks-Kennedy Meeks (2014-15)

  • 69 minutes, Offensive Efficiency: 130.0, Defensive Efficiency: 80.9, Efficiency Margin: +49.1
  • This lineup actually has the highest net efficiency of any on the list, albeit in only 69 minutes. Meeks, at his healthiest as a sophomore, was a +/- monster in 2014-15. From that perspective, the Hicks-Meeks frontcourt (Efficiency Margin of +33.7 in 226 minutes) was the Heels’ most successful (Johnson-Meeks was +15.3 in 591 minutes; Hicks-Johnson was -23.9 in 87 minutes, including an abysmal defensive efficiency of 139.1).

8.) Kendall Marshall-Dexter Strickland-Harrison Barnes-John Henson-Tyler Zeller (2011-12)

  • 247 minutes, Offensive Efficiency: 115.6, Defensive Efficiency: 79.6, Efficiency Margin: +36.0
  • Although this lineup actually has a higher net efficiency than the post-Strickland-injury lineup (with Reggie Bullock at the 2), it is aided by playing against a much softer strength of schedule. This lineup had better (unadjusted) defensive numbers than the post-Strickland version, but I preferred the length with Bullock at the 2. Both 2s were excellent defenders, though.

7.) Raymond Felton-Rashad McCants-Jackie Manuel-Marvin Williams-Sean May (2004-05)

  • 70 minutes (note: I’ve only charted 21 games in 2004-05), Offensive Efficiency: 125.0, Defensive Efficiency: 94.3, Efficiency Margin: +30.7
  • As noted, my charting for 2004-05 is incomplete—it includes the Maui games, the NCAA Tournament games, and about 10 of the conference games (among the 21 I’ve charted). It’s a pretty representative sample across the season, and I’m fairly confident in concluding that this was UNC’s best offensive lineup in ’05, but the Jawad-at-the-4 combo was UNC’s best defensively. This was obviously the crunch-time lineup that RoyW was leaning on by the end of the season; I reserve the right to move this one up (maybe way up) once I finish my 2005 charting project.

6.) Kendall Marshall-Reggie Bullock-Harrison Barnes-John Henson-Tyler Zeller (2011-12)

  • 283 minutes, Offensive Efficiency: 126.1, Defensive Efficiency: 93.0, Efficiency Margin: +33.1
  • As discussed in 8.), this lineup played against a much tougher average opponent than the version with Strickland at the 2. While it’s debatable which 2011-12 lineup was stronger defensively, the evidence is pretty unambiguous that having a shooter/floor spacer at SG helped offensively. Wrote about this over five years ago (!) at Shane Ryan’s old site. Ha.

5.) Ty Lawson-Marcus Ginyard-Reyshawn Terry-Brandan Wright-Tyler Hansbrough (2006-07)

  • 72 minutes, Offensive Efficiency: 125.5, Defensive Efficiency: 83.0, Efficiency Margin: +42.5
  • Smallish sample size here, but this was actually my favorite of the 2006-07 lineups (and there were hundreds and hundreds of them that year!). Although Ellington (even as a freshman) was undisputedly a better talent, I thought Ginyard fit in perfectly with this unit. Alongside four high-usage scoring options, Marcus was free to do what he did best—play lockdown wing defense, crash the offensive glass/make smart cuts to the hoop, and get out in transition for easy buckets. And, personally, I thought the sophomore-year version/role was peak Ginyard—I liked him a lot more as an instant-energy, high-motor bench guy (for 15-20 MPG) than a 30+ MPG starter.

4.) Ty Lawson-Wayne Ellington-Danny Green-Deon Thompson-Tyler Hansbrough (2008-09)

  • 351 minutes, Offensive Efficiency: 127.6, Defensive Efficiency: 94.4, Efficiency Margin: +33.2
  • The ’09 starting 5, this was a really effective offensive unit that could lock down on defense when motivated (see the NCAA Tournament run). It had a slightly worse net efficiency than the Davis-for-Thompson version of this lineup, but both were consistently dominant. If you’d like to move this one up solely for how well they started the ’09 title game against Michigan State, I won’t object!

3.) Ty Lawson-Wayne Ellington-Marcus Ginyard-Danny Green-Tyler Hansbrough (2007-08)

  • 119 minutes, Offensive Efficiency: 131.4, Defensive Efficiency: 99.1, Efficiency Margin: +32.3
  • The only small-ball combo on the list, this was Carolina’s crunch-time “Death Lineup” during its 36-3 season in 2008. As usual, playing small meant sacrificing a bit of defensive efficiency. But, when protecting a lead, this unit was so offensively efficient (and so good at the foul line) that teams were unable to match them score for score.

2.) Raymond Felton-Rashad McCants-Jackie Manuel-Jawad Williams-Sean May (2004-05)

  • 123 minutes (note: I’ve only charted 21 games in 2004-05), Offensive Efficiency: 113.9, Defensive Efficiency: 75.7, Efficiency Margin: +38.1
  • From a pure +/- perspective, this was one of the best defensive units of the Roy Williams era— five upperclassmen playing excellent team defense fueled by a great on-ball guy in Felton and a lockdown wing stopper in Manuel. I can’t put it first simply because RoyW had moved to Marvin over Jawad in March close-and-late situations (although still mixing in Jawad situationally in crunch-time).

1.) Ty Lawson-Wayne Ellington-Danny Green-Tyler Hansbrough-Ed Davis (2008-09)

  • 120 minutes, Offensive Efficiency: 135.9, Defensive Efficiency: 100.1, Efficiency Margin: +35.8
  • As good the the ’09 starting 5 was offensively, it actually got stronger on that end with Davis in the lineup (for Thompson). Even though Davis was a better rim protector with a higher 2009 Stop% than Thompson (63.1% vs. 60.3%), this quintet had a (slightly) worse defensive efficiency than the starters. It’s probably safe to say that lineups 1.) and 4.) were very close on both ends—I’ll take the Davis version just for pure rim protection/offensive rebounding reasons.


The Blueprint of a Great Carolina Offense

The Blueprint of a Great Carolina Offense

Yesterday, I had a post comparing the 2009 Tar Heels to the current team. Today, I’ll briefly extend that comparison to include a side-by-side look at the two offenses in general.

As seen in the table below, the 2009 version of Carolina looked exceedingly similar to the modern-day version—at least the first 13 games of it. And that’s the huge caveat in this analysis: I’m comparing whole-season numbers in 2009 (including an entire ACC campaign, plus a dominant six-game run through the NCAA Tournament) t0 non-conference numbers in 2016-17. It will be interesting to see how the comparison holds up as the schedule strength ramps up this season; one would expect, however, that UNC’s (unadjusted) offensive efficiency will fall a bit as the quality of opposing defenses rises. In 2009, the average defense that Carolina faced (per had an adjusted efficiency of 95.1 (six points better than the national average of 101.1). So far this season, the Heels have faced an average adjusted defensive efficiency of 99.5 (a little over three points better than the national average of 102.6).

Some conclusions to draw from the table include:

  • Each team’s distribution of possessions among turnovers, free throws, 3-pointers, and 2-pointers is nearly identical—like eerily similar
  • 2009 did shoot slightly better from behind the arc (as detailed in yesterday’s analysis) and significantly better from the foul line. 2017, however, has been a bit better on 2-pointers so far, and also is grabbing a higher percentage of possible offensive rebounds (41.5% vs. 38.9%).
  • The biggest difference between the two offenses involved their distribution of 2-pointers: while each shot a nearly identical proportion of 2s from 5-10′ (post moves and floaters), the ’09 team preferred—or settled for—(inefficient) mid-range 2s over (efficient) close 2s. While the ’09 group was significantly better from the mid-range than the current Heels, those were still very low-efficiency shots relative to the 5-10′ or (especially) close 2s.
  • Interestingly, the current post trio of Kennedy Meeks/Isaiah Hicks/Tony Bradley has been much more prolific and efficient from close range than their ’09 counterparts (Tyler Hansbrough/Deon Thompson/Ed Davis). This year’s group of bigs has attempted 14.1 close FGAs per game, making them at a rate of 68.3% (led by Hicks’s absurd 83.6% on close attempts). In ’09, the three primary posts combined for only 10.1 close FGAs per game, converting them at 63.7%. Again, this is partly due to the whole-season vs. partial-season nature of this comparison. But, it should also be remembered that the ’09 version of Hansbrough wasn’t as dominant (or explosive) as the NPOY one of 2008. After missing the first four games with a stress reaction in his shin, “Psycho T” returned as a slightly more perimeter-oriented version of himself. It will be worth following this metric as the season progresses to see if the 2017 Heels can remain more prolific and efficient than the ’09 team near the rim.
  • While the 2009 frontcourt wasn’t generating as many close opportunities as the current post rotation is, that was partially mitigated by how effectively Ty Lawson was able to get to the rim. He averaged 5.7 close FGAs / 40, making 62.4% of them. By comparison, Joel Berry is currently shooting 59.3% on his 3.6 shots / 40 at the rim. He did attempt seven (making five) against Kentucky, however, so it’s possible that he’ll be able to ramp up his aggressiveness against better defenses/opponents (at least in a fast-paced, open-court game).
  • Although we can expect the current (unadjusted) offensive efficiency of 119.5 to drop once the competition stiffens, the 2017 Heels should continue to be successful be following the Roy Williams blueprint: avoid turnovers, crash the offensive glass, get plenty of opportunities in the paint/at the rim. And, if it’s able to keep its fraction of possessions with low-percentage mid-range 2s so low, it’s possible that this year’s UNC offense can be just as effective as the 2009 championship edition.


More on 3-Point Shooting: The ’09 Heels vs. The Current Heels

More on 3-Point Shooting: The ’09 Heels vs. The Current Heels

Earlier today, I posted some data on the 3-point shooting tendencies of the 2016-17 Tar Heels. Check it out if you haven’t yet had a chance. Writing that article got me to thinking about the 2008-09 national championship Heels (mainly how they compared as a transition 3-point-shooting team) so, after doing a little digging through my old stats, I decided to share my findings.

First, here’s the data comparison in the below table:

Now, let’s interpret what’s in that table:

  • The bottom-line numbers show how similar the (per-game) 3-point profiles of the two teams have been so far—albeit through only 13 games this season. How this year’s squad can maintain that pace as the strength of schedule intensifies will go a long way to determining how successful its season will be.
  • While the total numbers are similar, a closer examination reveals that the current Heels are shooting better from behind the arc in the halfcourt, while the ’09 Heels were much better in transition (both secondary and (especially) primary).
    • The ’09 starting wings (Wayne Ellington/Danny Green) combined for 6.7 transition 3s / 40, knocking down an impressive 43.7% (80-183). The ’17 starting wings (Kenny Williams/Justin Jackson) combine for 5.8 transition 3s / 40 at a clip of 33.3% (17-51).
    • While the ’09 wings were more prolific transition 3-point shooters, this year’s team actually shoots a (slightly) higher proportion of its total 3s in primary/secondary (44% vs. 41%). Joel Berry, who attempts 3.0 transition 3s / 40 (at 50%, 11-22), is a big reason for that. Ty Lawson, his ’09 counterpart, attempted only 1.1 / 40, although he knocked them down at an equally impressive 50% clip (15-30).
  • UNC shot a lot more drive-and-kick 3s in 2009 (23% of total vs. 14% this season). Both Larry Drew II (2.47 created drive-and-kicks / 40) and Lawson (2.39 / 40) created these opportunities at more than double the rate of the top current Heel (Seventh Woods at 1.16 / 40).
  • Perhaps surprisingly, UNC shoots a lot more of its 3s off of screens than in 2009. The Heels rarely ran sets for Ellington and Green in 2009, maybe because they were so effective at getting good looks in transition.
  • This year’s Carolina edition is creating significantly more inside-out opportunities than its ’09 counterparts (20% of total 3s vs. 13%). Both teams converted these types of 3s very efficiently. The current Kennedy Meeks/Isaiah Hicks/Tony Bradley trio is a stronger/more willing passing trio than the Tyler Hansbrough/Deon Thompson/Ed Davis group (sorry, Psycho T—all-time great Heel, but not an all-time great inside-out passer).
  • The ’09 Heels, however, shot nearly twice as many of their 3s off the dribble (15% vs. 8%). Ellington (32.6%, 14-43), Lawson (48.0%, 12-25), and Green (39.1%, 9-23) were all viable options off the bounce then; now, only Berry really is (Jackson’s 3-3 off the dribble, but still not super-comfortable creating his own 3s).
  • The ’09 Heels faced a lot more zone than the current version has (at least so far). While less than 3% of this year’s 3s (6 of 238) have come versus zone defenses, 21% did in 2009. The perimeter “Big 3” in ’09 (Ellington/Green/Lawson) shot a sizzling 49.5% (52-105) from behind the arc against the zone that season.
  • Speaking of the “Big 3,” the ’09 version accounted for 81% of UNC’s 3-point makes and 73% of its attempts. This year’s team is a bit more balanced from the perimeter, with the 2017 “Big 3” version (Berry/Jackson/Williams) combining for 73% of 3-point makes and 69% of attempts. The ’09 trio combined to make 42.9% of its 3s; this year’s triumvirate is at 40.2% (and will be very hard-pressed to maintain that mark for the remainder of the season).

Edit: Forgot to add that the ’09 Heels were a more balanced bunch in terms of left-side vs. right-side 3s, too—both in terms of number of attempts and (especially 3-point percentage).

That team had the following breakdown by 3-point location:

  • Left corner: 32.0% (33-103)
  • Left wing: 42.2% (73-173)
  • Top of key: 40.2% (49-122)
  • Right wing: 38.0% (78-205)
  • Right corner: 39.2% (31-79)

Summing it up, ’09 UNC was 106-286 from behind the arc on the left side (37.1%) and 109-284 (38.4%) from the right side; one huge benefit of having an Ellington running the right wing (in transition) and a Green filling the left wing.

The Heels are hoping that Kenny Williams can develop into an Ellington-esque 3-point weapon.










Shooting Their Way to the Top

Shooting Their Way to the Top

Despite advancing the whole way to the final game last season (and coming seconds away from winning it), the 2015-16 Heels certainly weren’t considered a great perimeter shooting team. Carolina shot 32.7% from behind the arc last year, knocking down just 5.6 3s per game. After losing Marcus Paige, the program’s most prolific shooter of all-time (with a UNC-record 299 made 3s), reasonable Tar Heel fans were justifiably concerned about the team’s perimeter outlook for the 2016-17 season.

However, through the season’s first 13 games, Carolina is knocking down an impressive 37.8% of its 3-pointers. The Heels are also making nearly a quarter more 3s per game than last year, up to 6.9 so far in 2016-17. The team improvement has been spurred entirely by returning players getting better: after combining to make 33.3% (106-318) of their 3s last year, the quartet of Joel Berry/Justin Jackson/Kenny Williams/Luke Maye has made 40.5% (70-173) this year. Only slumping Nate Britt (32.1% as a junior, 30.6% through the first 13 games of his senior season) hasn’t made significant strides among returning Carolina 3-point shooters.

So let’s take a closer look at how Carolina’s creating its 3-pointers this year.

First, by location:

  • Left corner: 46.4% (13-28)
  • Left wing: 41.1% (30-73)
  • Top of the key: 38.2% (21-55)
  • Right wing: 35.7% (20-56)
  • Right corner: 23.1% (6-26)

The initial thing that sticks out might be how much better the Heels are shooting from the left side of the court (42.6%) versus the right side (31.7%). There are several theories for this, including: 1.) small-sample size noise, 2.) the Heels systemically create better looks from the left side (due to things like driving right to create left-side drive-and-kicks, or making better cross-court inside-out passes from the right block than the left block, etc.), 3.) this group of UNC players just prefers/shoots better from/has favorite spots on the left-side of the floor.

Individually, Jackson has clearly preferred the left side this season. He’s made 47.2% from the left (on 36 attempts), versus only 27.3% (11) from the top of the key and 28.0% (25) from the right side. As the 3 in Carolina’s system, most of his transition 3s will come from the left side. Both Williams and Britt have also shown a clear preference for the left side—at least if you believe the statistical splits. Williams is making 70.0% from the left side (10 attempts), as compared to 27.3% (11) from the top of the key and 31.3% (16) from the right-side of the floor. For Britt, those respective numbers are 40.0% (20), 0.0% (4), and 25.0% (12).

The one Tar Heel who’s been consistently lethal from all spots behind the arc is Joel Berry. Both his distribution and efficiency from 3-point range is more balanced than his Carolina teammates. Berry’s best spot has been the top of the key, where he’s connected on half of his 16 attempts. He’s also made 44.4% of his 18 3s from the right side, and 38.1% of his 21 attempts from the left side.

Though in small samples, Brandon Robinson and Maye appear to be shooters who prefer the top of the key. They’ve combined to make 6-of-11 (54.5%) 3s from that spot (Robinson 3-6, Maye 3-5), but just 3-of-18 (16.7%) from all other locations (Robinson 2-14, Maye 1-4). In Maye’s case, this is good news, as the UNC system works well to create secondary break 3s from the top of the key for its trailing big.

Next, let’s look at 3-pointers by how they were created (listed from most attempts to fewest attempts):

  • Perimeter (or hit-ahead) pass (no screen): 36.1% (26-72)
  • Inside-out: 45.8% (22-48)
  • Drive-and-kick: 35.3% (12-34)
  • Off-screen: 26.7% (8-30)
  • Off the dribble: 45.0% (9-20)
  • Pick-and-pop/dribble-handoff: 47.4% (9-19)
  • Skip pass: 26.7% (4-15)
  • vs. zone (not mutually exclusive with other categories): 50.0% (3-6)

“Perimeter pass” 3s are those that involve a station-to-station (e.g., top of key-to-wing or wing-to-corner) pass to create the 3 without the use of a screen. They’re pretty common in transition for UNC, and I also include transition hit-aheads in this category (although I guess it might make sense to separate these out into separate 3-point creation buckets).

A couple of observations from this data: 1.) UNC is creating more inside-out 3s this season than a normal Roy Williams team does; they’re also hitting them at a really high rate; 2.) UNC has not seen very much zone defense so far this season; 3.) UNC isn’t throwing as many skip passes as in the past—Kendall Marshall, in particular, used this weapon very effectively; 4.) UNC hasn’t been very effective at hitting 3-pointers following a (non-ball) screen.

Berry (4-7) and Jackson (3-3) have made 7-of-10 3s off the dribble; all other Heels have combined to make just 2-of-10 (led by Britt’s 1-6). UNC’s drive-and-kick 3-pointers have been created in a pretty democratic way: Seventh Woods leads the team with in drive-and-kick 3s created per 40 minutes with 1.16, but is followed closely by Britt (1.13), Berry (0.94), Williams (0.91), and Jackson (0.60). This refers to the dribble drive that breaks down the defense to set up the kick-out 3 (even if it requires some around-the-horn ball rotation following the initial drive/close-out sequence).

Finally, let’s look at UNC’s 3-pointers broken down by transition vs. halfcourt:

  • Halfcourt: 44.4% (56-126)
  • Primary break: 29.4% (15-51)
  • Secondary break: 34.0% (18-53)
  • BLOB: 12.5% (1-8)

Most BLOB (baseline out of bounds) 3s result in corner looks for UNC’s point guard (after he enters the ball, then receives a down screen). The Heels (including Berry) have hit some huge 3s out of his BLOB set, including in key NCAA Tournament games. They haven’t had much luck with it yet, but that’s almost certainly a small-sample artifact.

The most obvious takeaway from this data is that the Heels have shot much better in the halfcourt (44.4%) than in transition (31.7% from combined primary/secondary). Unlike some years (2009, with Wayne Ellington and Danny Green, stands out), UNC doesn’t have wing snipers who are looking to launch quick transition 3s. Williams will likely develop into that, but he’s still a bit tentative in transition. Jackson and Britt don’t have lightning-quick releases or fit the mold of a pure wing sniper in transition. Berry is UNC’s most natural fit as a transition sharpshooter, but he can’t simultaneously push the ball and receive a catch-and-shoot pass in transition.

Indeed, Berry is showing great balance as both a transition (50%, 22 attempts) and halfcourt (44.4%, 27) perimeter shooter. Williams is also shooting well in both phases (42.9% on 21 attempts in transition, 40.0% on 15 attempts in the halfcourt). A few other Heels, most notably Jackson, Britt, and Robinson, have shot much better on halfcourt 3-pointers. Jackson’s made 45.2% (19-44) of his halfcourt 3s versus just 26.7% (8-30) in transition. For Britt, those respective splits are 40.9% (9-22) and 16.7% (2-12). In Robinson’s case, they are 40.0% (4-10) and 11.1% (1-9).

No matter how they create them and when they hit them, the Heels will be a tough out this March if they continue to make nearly 7 3s a game at a percentage in the high-30s. And, especially if they become a more comfortable and efficient transition-shooting team, that seems like an entirely sustainable goal.

Droppin’ Dimes for the Holidays

Droppin’ Dimes for the Holidays

Hope your holidays are as cool as Ed Cota lounging by the scorer’s table at Cameron Indoor Stadium waiting to check in to once again terrorize Wojo. And if that simile felt forced and ham-handed, well, it was just an excuse to post that sweet photo of a vintage Cota. In fact, here it comes again:


And speaking of Cota, who delivered assists like Santa Claus delivers presents, let’s proceed with a generous holiday helping of passing stats for the 2016-17 Heels.

A quick glossary:

  • A/40: assists per 40 minutes (including FT assists)
  • PA/40: potential assists per 40 minutes—passes that lead to “assistable” FGAs + FT assists + passing turnovers
  • Asst%: assists / potential assists
  • Pass TO%: passing turnovers / potential assists
  • PCA/40: potential close assists per 40 minutes—passes that lead to lay-up/dunk attempts (including FT assists)
  • FT Asst/40: passes that lead directly to shooting fouls
  • Hockey Asst/40: passes that directly proceed (and help to set up) the actual assist; I only give a primary hockey assist, not secondary ones
  • PCA:PTO— potential close assist-to-passing turnover ratio; helps to quantify the risk/reward associating with creating close opportunities

And a couple notes related to the above data:

  • This edition of Carolina basketball has great passing balance, with six players averaging at least 10 potential assists per 40 minutes (and Jackson, one of UNC’s best passers, right below that at 9.1).
    • A counterexample to the balance shown so far this season would be the 2012 Tar Heels. Led by Kendall Marshall, a sublime passer and pure point guard, almost all play-making ran through a single player. Marshall had a whopping 14.77 assists / 40 and 29.50 potential assists  /40 (Asst%: 50.1). He also created 11.13 potential close assists / 40, over double the rate of anyone on the current roster.
    • But, after Marshall, the next-highest 2012 Tar Heel in assists (3.90 / 40) and potential assists (10/15) was Dexter Strickland. Both those marks would rank just seventh on this year’s team. UNC’s other wings had passing numbers that paled in comparison to their 2016-17 counterparts: Reggie Bullock (2.81 A/40, 6.61 PA/40), P.J. Hairston (2.71, 6.39), and Harrison Barnes (1.94, 5.62).
    • While Marshall was a really, really fun passer to watch (but not as fun as Easy Ed), I think I prefer the quick ball movement and sharing exhibited by this year’s Heels.
  • While Berry’s the clear leader in assists / 40 and also leads in potential close assists / 4o, there’s a real logjam at the top in the PCA/40 leaderboard. Five Heels are between 4.63 and 5.25 in this metric.

Happy Holidays from The Secondary Break—don’t forget to point to the (present) passer while celebrating!


UNC +/- Stats through 13 Games

UNC +/- Stats through 13 Games

With Carolina’s non-conference schedule almost completed (the Heels play Monmouth on Wednesday in Chapel Hill before traveling to Atlanta to tip off the ACC season against Georgia Tech), let’s take a look at the season-to-date +/- numbers.

The usual +/- caveats apply here: 1.) this metric is very noisy, especially with a sample as size as 13 games (and certainly for any subsets of that sample); 2.) even the best/most impactful player only controls a small fraction of what occurs on the court during his minutes; it can be dangerous to extrapolate individual metrics from a team stat (like points for-points against); 3.) these are more descriptive (what’s happened through 13 games) than predictive (what will happen the rest of the season).

Caveats aside, there are some insights contained in these numbers, in my opinion. At the very least, they can be useful to describe Roy Williams’s rotations and highlight the combinations he’s used most frequently so far.

A quick glossary of the columns in the tables below.

  • Offensive Efficiency: points scored by UNC per 100 possessions with a certain player (or combination/lineup) on the floor
  • Defensive Efficiency: points allowed by UNC per 100 possessions with a certain player (or combination/lineup) on the floor
  • Efficiency Margin: offensive efficiency – defensive efficiency
  • Offensive On-Court/Off-Court: the difference in UNC’s offensive efficiency with a player on the court and its offensive efficiency with that player on the bench; for example, with Joel Berry on the court, UNC’s offensive efficiency is 127.0—with him on the bench it’s 110.0, so (127.0 – 110.0) equals an offensive on-court/off-court of +17.0
  • Defensive On-Court/Off-Court: the difference in UNC’s defensive efficiency with a player on the court and its defensive efficiency with that player on the bench, reported such that positive values mean the team is better with that player (i.e., its defensive efficiency is lower); for example, with Kenny Williams on the court, UNC’s defensive efficiency is 89.7—with him on the bench it’s 92.5, so (89.7 – 92.5) equals an defensive on-court/off-court of +2.8 (after applying the “lower is better’ adjustment to frame better than the team average as a positive number)
  • Total On-Court/Off-Court: offensive on-court/off-court + defensive on-court/off-court

2016-17 UNC +/- Table (click title for a larger table)

  • These are sorted by Total On-Court/Off-Court.
  • By a significant margin, UNC’s most important offensive players have been Berry and Justin Jackson.
  • Jackson’s huge offensive on-court/off-court component is diminished by his team-worst defensive on-court/off-court number. While there’s probably some noise there, and Jackson’s defensive numbers are negatively impacted by him playing about 20% of his minutes at the 4, his poor defensive +/- numbers are consistent with his defensive charting/Stop% numbers. Jackson has a team-low Stop% of 53.9, while his primary replacement at the 3, Brandon Robinson, has a team-high mark of 70.3. All that said, Jackson’s defense against Northern Iowa’s star, Jeremy Morgan, was nothing short of brilliant the last time out. Jackson also played solid positional wing defense last season (he’s not a defensive disruptor, though), and I expect his numbers on that end (both defensive +/- and defensive charting) to steadily improve as the ACC season progresses.
  • Robinson, Tony Bradley, and Luke Maye have the best defensive on-court/off-court numbers on the team. Seventh Woods also has a strong number off the bench. Part of this is due to those bench guys playing 1.) a disproportionate percentage of their minutes against weaker teams/cupcakes, and 2.) a disproportionate percentage of their minutes against opposing bench units. While this is another weakness of an unadjusted +/- metric (better versions of +/- can adjust for this type of thing, although they’re still incredibly noisy over small samples), it is still evidence that UNC’s bench is getting the job done defensively (this is supported by the defensive charting data).
  • Nate Britt easily has the worst +/- on the team. His on-court impact has been equally negative on both ends of the court, although it’s been dependent on position. During his minutes as a PG, the team has primarily suffered on the offensive end. With Britt at SG, the effect has been largely a defensive one.

  • The gap between the Berry-Williams and Berry-Britt backcourts is huge. When controlling for small forward (i.e., adding Jackson to the mix), the gap becomes even more enormous.
  • With Jackson as a 4, UNC is much better offensively and much worse defensively in terms of +/-. This is similar to virtually every (part-time) small-ball lineup that RoyW has employed while at Carolina.
  • The Hicks-Bradley and Bradley-Meeks frontcourts, while used relatively sparingly (especially in the case of Bradley-Meeks), have been very successful. If the staff decides it wants to move closer to a 3-man post rotation later in the season, there’s early evidence to support that idea (although the lineups with Maye—and Maye’s individual play—have also supported his case for staying in the rotation).
  • Of the 107 unique 5-man lineups that UNC has used this season, only four (listed in the table above) have played 20 or more minutes. A couple of those have been wildly (even historically by RoyW UNC standards) successful so far. The other two have been very poor from a +/- perspective.
  • Six other 5-man lineups have played at least 10 minutes together this year; 14 additional ones have played 5 or more minutes. 34 of the 107 lineups have played between 2 and 5 minutes as combinations, while the remaining 49 have played 2 minutes or fewer as a unit.
  • If you want all the nitty, gritty details on UNC’s +/- and lineup combos (including offensive/defensive 4 Factors for each), check out this spreadsheet and please sign up for The Secondary Break’s newsletter to receive this type of data/analysis weekly to your inbox.


Big-to-Big Passing

Big-to-Big Passing

After having just 11 big-to-big assists in the season’s first 12 games, Carolina connected on five such plays against Northern Iowa—most notably, the Meeks-to-Hicks pass for Isaiah’s thunderous dunk (Hicks also assisted Meeks twice, and one each from Maye-to-Jackson (as a small-ball 4 in the post) and Maye-to-Bradley).

In UNC’s system, most big-to-big passes occur in one of two situations: 1.) high/low passes against the zone (see Syracuse) or 2.) big-to-big passes after a post entry (usually after the opponent sends a big to double—see Virginia). There are some high/low opportunities within UNC’s secondary break (e.g., after the trailing big catches the reversal pass at the top of the key), plus some options built in to the freelance passing game and the various box sets. But, in general, the high/low, big-to-big pass isn’t a staple of Carolina’s system (in contrast to, say, feeding the post with its guards/wings).

On the season, the various frontcourt combinations have connected on the following big-to-big assists:

  • Bradley-Meeks: 3.34 big-to-big assists / 40 (1 Bradley-to-Meeks, 1 Meeks-to-Bradley)
  • Maye-Bradley: 2.37 / 40 (3 Bradley-to-Maye, 1 Maye-to-Bradley)
  • Hicks-Bradley: 1.49 / 40 (3 Hicks-to-Bradley)
  • Hicks-Meeks: 1.13 / 40 (3 Hicks-to-Meeks, 3 Meeks-to-Hicks)

The sample size on Bradley-Meeks is tiny (they’ve played less than 25 minutes together this season, virtually all in Maui), but they showed some big-to-big potential. And Maye is clearly the UNC big who’s shown the most aptitude/willingness to throw high/low passes (generally in the secondary break). Here are UNC’s post players’ entry passing stats on the season:

  • Maye: 3.56 entry passes / 40; 1.50 Success:Failure
  • Hicks: 0.79 entry passes / 40; 1.50 Success:Failure
  • Bradley: 0.56 entry passes / 40; 2.00 Success:Failure
  • Meeks: 0.54 entry passes / 40: 0.33 Success:Failure

As seen, Maye throws significantly more entries (per-minute) than the other three Carolina bigs combined. Individually, Hicks leads the way with 0.79 big-to-big assists / 40, followed by Bradley (0.74), Meeks (0.54), and Maye (0.36). But Maye has also thrown three entries to Bradley  that have resulted in FT assists. So if we’d include those in the analysis, he’s skyrocket to the top (I’m only including traditional box score assists).

Anecdotally, it seemed like last year’s Heels (specifically Brice Johnson) were a much better/more prolific big-to-big passing team. Notably, the game at Syracuse (where Johnson carved up the Orange zone with passes from the high post—including for numerous Hicks dunks) and the regular-season matchup against Virginia (where the Heels chased UVa out of its preferred post doubling scheme by carving it up early with big-to-big passes) stand out in my mind. And, indeed, UNC had seven and five big-to-big assists in those respective games. On the season, however, the Heels had only 44 big-to-big assists in 40 games—nearly an identical rate to 2016-17’s to date.

Here are the frontcourt combos’ big-to-big assist stats from 2015-16:

  • Hicks-Johnson: 1.51 big-to-big assists / 40 (11 from Johnson-to-Hicks, 3 from Hicks-to-Johnson)
  • Johnson-Meeks: 1.37 / 40 (12 from Johnson-to-Meeks, 5 from Meeks-to-Johnson)
  • Hicks-Meeks: 1.29 / 40 (2 from Hicks-to-Meeks, 2 from Meeks-to-Hicks)

So, while last year’s team wasn’t any more prolific at the team level, the above data gives a clue that Johnson was doing an inordinate amount of the assisting. Indeed, he led the way with 0.96 big-to-big assists / 40 last season, significantly higher than any of the Heels’ posts so far this season. It was also nearly double the rate of any other UNC post in 2015-16: Hicks had 0.49 / 40, Meeks had 0.41 / 40, and Joel James failed to record a single big-to-big assist last season.

So, the next time an opponent zones the Heels or sends a weakside big to double in the post, watch to see how effectively the Carolina bigs can locate each other for easy scores at the rim.

Four Factor Friday: Front Line Fouls (Dec. 23)

Four Factor Friday: Front Line Fouls (Dec. 23)

In this edition of Four Factor Friday, we’re taking a look at the free throw rate of three UNC big men — Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks, and Tony Bradley.

What is free throw rate?

The more free throws a team attempts, the better opportunity it has to score and win games.
This is measured through a team’s free throw rate.

It’s the amount of free throw attempts divided by the amount of the field goal attempts.

FTRate = Free Throw Attempts / Field Goal Attempts

Like all of the four factors, it’s measured both offensively and defensively. A team’s ability to get to the foul line is equally important as its ability to keep the other team from getting to the foul line.

Volume is more important here. If a team or individual can attempt more free throws, it has a better chance to score and win.

What about made free throws?

You can measure makes too. Instead of using the free throw attempts, you can use free throw makes.

FTMRate = Free Throw Makes / Field Goal Attempts

For the purpose of this article, we’re only measuring field throw attempts or getting to the line.

So why look at the UNC big men?

Post players often have the highest offensive free throw rates. The bigs are taking closer shots, drawing lots of contact, and usually taking lots of free throws relative to their total amount of field goal attempts.

The same is true when it comes to keeping the opponent off the foul line. Forwards and centers are often the ones committing lots of fouls that get their opponents to the charity stripe. Foul trouble also keeps these players from staying on the floor and helping their teams win.

Let’s take a look how three Tar Heel big men get to the foul line and keep the opponent off the foul line.

Isaiah Hicks

The senior forward’s foul trouble is well-documented. Hicks committed 6.7 fouls per 40 minutes a year ago, and has committed 4 or more fouls in 45 percent of the games he’s played in since the start of the 2015-16 season.

UNC play-by-play announcer, Jones Angell, pointed out how foul trouble has kept Hicks off the floor this season heading into the Northern Iowa game.

In the Kentucky loss, Hicks picked up three fouls playing only nine minutes in the first half. He then picked up his fourth foul with about 17 minutes to go in the second half, and only played 15 total minutes in the 103-100 loss.

Roy Williams has indicated he believes Hicks’s reputation for committing fouls earns him some bad breaks from the officials.

Here is closer look at the four fouls Hicks committed during the Kentucky game:

  1. Bumping into De’Aaron Fox in transition
  2. Leaning on Wenyen Gabriel’s drive to the basket
  3. Attempting to block Bam Adebayo’s shot behind teammate Tony Bradley, and fouling Gabriel on his back
  4. Leaning into Malik Monk in transition for an “and-1”


A few of these fouls could have been avoided. The fourth foul was a late whistle, and Hicks probably should have opted to concede the layup to Monk.

The third foul, which prompted a jacket tossing from his head coach, was a tough break. It was a garbage call. If you want to play devil’s advocate, Hicks could have stayed in position and let Bradley defend the shot from Adebayo and perhaps pull down the defensive board instead.

Either way, if UNC wants to make a deep run in March, it needs Hicks on the floor. You saw how good he was during the last four minutes against Kentucky, and how he put Northern Iowa’s Juwan McCloud on a poster. UNC is much better with Hicks playing than sitting on the bench.

On the offensive side of the ball, Hicks gets the foul line the least amongst the Tar Heel big men. The Oxford, NC native has attempted 39 total free throws and 108 total field goals. Hicks’s FT Rate is 36.1.

While Hicks doesn’t get to the line a ton, he does shoot a solid percentage (79 percent) from the foul line. The senior has made 31 out of 39 attempts from the foul line this season.

Hicks attempts 5.1 free throws per 40 minutes this season. A season ago, Hicks attempted 6.8 foul shots per 40 minutes. That mark was good enough to lead the entire UNC team, including a touch better than Brice Johnson (6.6 free throw attempts per 40 minutes).

If Hicks stays out of foul trouble on the defensive end, he could find himself getting to line more on the offensive end this season and that would bode well for Carolina.

Kennedy Meeks

Classmate Kennedy Meeks posts a 46.1 free throw rate this season. Meeks has attempted 57 free throws and 125 total field goals. 57 attempts leads UNC this season, and Meeks draws 5.6 fouls per 40 minutes according to Ken Pomeroy.

Against Northern Iowa, Meeks attempted nine free throws en route to scoring a team-high 18 points. Meeks has attempted nine or more free throws only two other times in his career. His career-high is 14 attempts on November 16, 2014 against Robert Morris.

As Adrian has charted, Meeks also leads Carolina in “and-1s” this season. With 7:19 remaining against Northern Iowa, Meeks confidently took the ball in the paint and fouled out the Panthers’ Bennett Koch.

On the downside, Meeks has only made 33 of his 57 foul shot attempts meaning he’s only shooting 58 percent from the line. There is room for improvement because Meeks has shot a better percentage from the line in the past. He shot 69 percent last season, and 64 percent in his sophomore campaign.

While he’s getting to the line often, Meeks has had some of his own foul troubles on the defensive end. The senior has fouled out twice this season, and committed four fouls in the loss at Indiana.

Meeks committed two offensive fouls against Kentucky, and fouled out in the game with 4:54 to go on a cowardly double-foul call by the officials. With Meeks on the bench, Kentucky went on to win 103-100. Could Meeks have helped on the offensive glass the last few Tar Heel possessions? We’ll never know.

Just as it’s important for Hicks to stay out of foul trouble, it might be equally important for Meeks. The Charlotte, NC native is Carolina’s best defensive rebounder and arguably the team’s best post defender. Meeks has 20 more defensive rebounds than the next UNC player (Justin Jackson) and a stop percentage of 65.9 percent according to Adrian’s charts.

While fans have loved criticizing Meeks over the past four years, he’s shown he can be the best player on Carolina’s team at times this season. In Maui, Meeks pulled down 13 defensive boards and scored 15 points in UNC’s decisive win over Wisconsin.

Tony Bradley

There is a ton to like about this UNC freshman. Folks are comparing Tony Bradley to Tim Duncan and Brad Daugherty for a reason. The offensive numbers are impressive.

Bradley attempts a staggering 10.3 free throw attempts per 40 minutes this season. His FT Rate is 78.9. The freshman has attempted 56 free throws and 71 total shots.

Ken Pomeroy has Bradley drawing 7.1 fouls per 40 minutes. This mark ranks 51st amongst all Division-I players, and leads Carolina by a wide margin.

Against Kentucky, Bradley attempted six free throws in 15 minutes on the court. Despite shooting only 64 percent from the line on the year, he made all six of those free throws against the Wildcats.

If all the numbers are so encouraging, this begs the question — why doesn’t Bradley play more?

Not sure there is a definite answer. There is certainly a lot of room to improve defensively for Bradley, so that could be one reason.

The Bartow, Florida native has only eight blocks on the year. He has shown the ability to alter shots without fouling at times. Bradley’s also committed four fouls three different times this season, and commits 3.8 fouls per 40 minutes.

Another reason why he’s not playing more could be conditioning. Roy Williams indicated that Bradley’s conditioning is still a work-in-progress, and Adrian pointed out a couple defensive lapses at the end of one of his stints on the court against Kentucky:

At the end of one stint, he drifted out of position (near the top of the key) and the team allowed two offensive rebounds with its center out of the paint (and not working hard to get back in it). He followed that up by immediately missing a lay-up on the other end.

Here is a replay of the end of that stint. Bradley entered the game with 6:26 left in the first half, and came out after missing a layup with 1:30 to go.


Why is this important?

The Tar Heels have a front line that makes most opponents blush. A couple talented seniors, and a promising freshman to back them up.

It doesn’t matter, though, if that front line is on the bench because of foul trouble. When Hicks and Meeks are not on the floor, it’s a different Carolina team.

Can Hicks, Meeks, and Bradley defend without fouling in the future?

Through 13 games this season, Carolina has attempted 335 free throws. 45 percent of those attempts are from these three big men.

UNC has made 237 free throws and its opponents have attempted 207 free throws. If the trend continues, Carolina will make more free throws than their opponents attempt for the first time since 2012. If the Tar Heels make that a reality, these three big men will be a major reason why.

Can the Tar Heel front line get to the foul line more as conference play looms?

It’s going to be fun to find out.