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.
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.
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.
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.
O/U on the number of ACC tourney preview articles saying that UNC is in a slump because they've lost 3 of their last 7 games? https://t.co/apG5YwIVgv
— David Hess (@AudacityOfHoops) December 30, 2016
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.