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Month: February 2017

Pack-Line Problems

Pack-Line Problems

Tony Bennett’s pack-line defense has traditionally produced some of the best defenses in the country. Including his three-year stint at Washington State, Bennett’s teams have been in the top 25 in adjusted defensive efficiency nine times in his 11 seasons as a head coach. Six times Bennett has fielded a top-10 defense, including four top-5 defenses in the last six seasons. This year, the Cavaliers lead the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. So, suffice it to say, the way that Bennett teaches his pack-line principles is very effective (including hard hedges, immediate big-to-big doubles on post entries, and clogging driving lanes with help defenders rather than overplaying the wings).

Let’s take a closer look at some of the Carolina offensive struggles on Monday night.

Shot Distribution

On Monday night, the UNC shot distribution looked as follows:

  • Close: 9-21 (42.9%) –> 44% of FGAs
  • 5-10′: 2-6 (33.3%) –> 13% of FGAs
  • 10-20′: 2-5 (40.0%) –> 10% of FGAs
  • 3-pointers: 4-16 (25.0%) –> 33% of FGAs

On the season (entering last night’s game), the Heels’ distribution of FGAs was:

  • Close: 60.2% –> 42% of FGAs
  • 5-10′: 41.4% –> 14% of FGAs
  • 10-20′: 35.3% –> 13% of FGAs
  • 3-pointers: 37.3% –> 30% of FGAs

Carolina created the same shots it always does—in fact, a slightly higher proportion at the rim, and a slightly lower fraction from the low-efficiency mid-range. The rate of 3-pointers was up a tick, but only due to a few late-game, desperation attempts. The obvious discrepancies between the Monday night and year-to-date numbers, of course, are the shooting percentages—particularly at the rim and from behind the arc. Of UNC’s 16 3-pointers, I classified two as open, 11 as lightly contested, and three as contested. The Heels’ two primary shooters, Justin Jackson and Joel Berry, combined for 11 of the 16 attempts behind the arc (including a Berry attempt that was erroneously credited to Kennedy Meeks). It was a different story at the rim, however, where Virginia blocked eight of Carolina’s 21 attempts. Many of the non-blocked close attempts were also well-contested (often using Bennett’s signature style of going straight up with the hands while using the lower body to bump/displace the shooter). The Cavs’ rim protection was excellent on Monday night, but close attempts are exactly what Roy Williams’ offense is trying to create. Those weren’t shot selections issues—just a combination of stellar UVa. paint defense and some problems finishing through contact for the Heels. Overall, the shot selection for Carolina was satisfactory. Jackson took a couple contested 3s, plus a very bad, off-balance long 2. Britt had a contested mid-range attempt that UNC can probably live without. There was only one late-clock situation that required a tough shot (a Seventh Woods’ pull-up jumper). But, in general, the Heels got the shots they needed to in order to win the game. Based on season averages, Carolina will score about 43 points on 21 close attempts and 16 3-pointers. Against Virginia, the Heels managed only 30 points on those 37 attempts.

Even given the UNC turnover issues (the Heels turned it over on 25% of their possessions, including 40% in the first half—their year-to-date average entering the game was 16.3%), it did enough to win the game had it simply knocked down a couple more 3s and finished a couple more close attempts. In just 56 offensive possessions, Carolina threw a staggering 30 post entries (it averages about 23 per game on the season). Those passes resulted in eight made field goals, 10 missed field goals, eight turnovers, one foul (non-shooting), and three offensive resets. The glaring number there, of course, is the eight turnovers. Most of UNC’s miscues were a function of trying to feed the post (and the subsequent action following the hard post-to-post Virginia double teams). Let’s take a closer look at how Carolina handled the big-to-big doubles:

UNC vs. the Big-to-Big Double

I charted 13 times in which the Cavaliers immediately send a big-to-big double following a UNC post touch. Let’s see what happened on those plays, in chronological order:

  1. Meeks, left block: Meeks attempted to hit a diving Hicks at the front of the rim, but a helping Kyle Guy was able to disrupt the play from behind to force a turnover. This is exactly how the Heels wanted to attack the double. Meeks’ pass was a split-second late, and Hicks needs to be stronger with the catch. Had this been successfully completed, however, it’s an easy layup/dunk.
  2. Hicks, right block: This time, Hicks was able to successfully complete the pass to the diving Meeks. With UVa. point guard Ty Jerome helping down (and giving up five inches and 70 pounds), Meeks simply needs to finish this opportunity at the rim. Good execution, bad finish.
  3. Hicks, right block: Hicks, after catching the entry pass too far off the block, used an escape dribble to reset the offense.
  4. Meeks, left block: Following the Hicks escape dribble/reset, UNC immediately entered the ball to Meeks on the opposite block. He was stripped by a doubling Devon Hall while trying to make a pass. This is a case of Meeks needing to be stronger with the ball.
  5. Meeks, right block: Meeks immediately turned baseline (away from the approaching double) to bank in a short jump hook. This was a quick decisive move by Meeks, who, given his proclivity for turning left shoulder, will generally do better against post doubles when receiving it on the right block.
  6. Meeks, left block: Meeks was forced to pass it back to Britt in the ball-side corner here, a win for the UVa. defense since the ball stayed on the same side of the court. With the possession sputtering following the post double/kick-out, Britt settled for (and missed) a contested mid-range jumper.
  7. Maye, left block: Maye kicked it to the opposite wing here to Seventh Woods. Had this been Berry at point guard, it would have resulted in a clean 3-point look. Woods, a reluctant perimeter shooter, shot-faked, then traveled on his drive to the hoop. This was well-executed by Maye/UNC on the post double, but just a personnel issue in this particular lineup.
  8. Meeks, left block: Again, Meeks passed to the opposite (right) wing—this time for a clean inside-out Britt 3-pointer. This is Carolina’s bread-and-butter—a post touch leading to an inside-out look.
  9. Meeks, left block: For the third consecutive post double, a UNC big (Meeks again) on the left block looked diagonally to the right wing. This time, it was Berry receiving the pass and missing a lightly contested 3-pointer. Can’t argue with the execution or shot selection here.
  10. Meeks, right block: Like his earlier make, Meeks again spun quickly to the baseline to attempt a jump hook. This one was better defended by Virginia, but still a strong, decisive move by Meeks by attacking before the double can arrive.
  11. Hicks, left block: Hicks used an escape dribble to relocate to the left wing. Meeks then filled in Hicks’ vacated spot on the left block to receive a post entry from him. Meeks turned it over by trying to spin around Jack Salt (setting a solid wall) in the paint. This was vintage Roy Williams basketball; Meeks just needs to be more efficient in the paint.
  12. Maye, left block: Maye used a single escape dribble to create some space, then kicked it opposite to Berry on the right wing. This time, Berry knocked down the clean look. Great work by Maye here against the post double.
  13. Meeks, left block: Meeks, this time spinning middle, was able to get off a clean jump hook in the paint. He missed, but no issues with the shot selection here.

So on 13 post doubles (and 12 possessions), Carolina scored eight points. Meeks made 1-of-3 shots while fighting through doubles/shooting before they arrived. The Heels also made 1-of-3 3s created from inside-out passes following a big-to-big double team. After attempting to hit the diving big on the first two tries, UNC got away from that option later in the game. While it certainly wasn’t a clinic on defeating Virginia’s post double (Brice Johnson was much more effective in last year’s match-ups, creating more close opportunities for his diving fellow post), Carolina’s execution here was adequate. It certainly wasn’t the reason the Heels lost the game. More problematic, perhaps, was UNC’s execution on its ball screens (against Virginia’s hard hedging strategy).

Attacking the Hard Hedge

Bennett’s defensive philosophy includes hard-hedging of ball screens, meaning the help defender aggressively moves into the ball-handler’s path to force him laterally (or even backwards) while the on-ball defender recovers. This technique used to be (as recently as the middle of last season) Roy Williams’ preferred one against the ball screen, too. But due to some physical (Meeks) and mental (Brice Johnson and Hicks’ proclivity for picking up cheap fouls by bumping the dribbler) limitations, Williams moved to a flat hedge technique designed to curtail dribble penetration and force mid-range jumpers. One could, of course, argue that if Johnson/Hicks were allowed to be as physical with their hedges as Virginia’s big were last night, Carolina would still be employing the hard hedge. But that’s a bit of a digression.

“Attacking” is probably the wrong word for how UNC responded to the Cavs’ hard hedge last night. To successfully beat this technique, ball-handlers generally need to turn the corner or split the defenders to get into the paint. The Heels did neither consistently last night, instead allowing the Virginia helping big to force them laterally (or, too often, backwards) and force an offensive reset/turnover. This Carolina team, while having a variety of guards/wings that can get to the basket off the bounce, lacks that Ty Lawson-style attacker who can turn the corner on anyone, As such, it’s sometimes susceptible to an aggressive ball screen defense like Bennett used on Monday night. Another way to beat the hard hedge is by slipping screens. This is a core option of Carolina’s secondary break, but the Heels only slipped a single screen on Monday (resulting in a Hicks travel after a great Virginia help rotation).

Carolina used 31 high screen against Virginia (the vast majority of which were hard hedged). Those actions resulted in the following outcomes: 3-of-10 shooting, three drawn fouls (one shooting foul drawn by Brandon Robinson), five turnovers, and 13 offensive resets (where UNC just had to restart its offense, generally as a result of being pushed out deep by the hedger). On 31 ball screens, the Heels created only seven points. Breaking it down by Carolina ball-handler:

  • Berry: 11 screens—4 missed shots (Jackson pick-and-pop, Hicks missed lay-up as after pocket pass to roller, Britt missed 3 after drive-and-kick, Pinson missed 3 after perimeter pass), 4 resets, 2 fouls (when Berry aggressively drove into the hedger to force the whistle), and 1 TO (a Berry ball-handling turnover near the UVa. bench)
  • Pinson: 9 screens—4 resets, 3 TOs (Bradley charge after a pocket pass, Hicks charge after a pocket pass, Hicks travel after slipping a screen), 2 made shots (pick-and-pop with Hicks who hit a 12-footer, pass to Maye who entered the ball for a Bradley layup)
  • Jackson: 8 screens—4 resets, 2 missed shots (a Jackson long, contested 2 off the bounce, a missed Bradley layup), 1 made shot (a Bradley dunk after Jackson hit Pinson as a pressure release, who whipped it in to a rolling Bradley), and 1 TO (a Jackson ball-handling turnover when trying to split the defenders)
  • Robinson: 1 screen—1 foul (successfully split the hedge to draw a foul at the rim)
  • Woods: 1 screen—1 missed shot (a Maye pick-and-pop 3)
  • Britt: 1 screen— 1 reset

The Heels only tried to split the hard hedge three times: Robinson’s foul, Jackson’s turnover, and another time by Jackson when he found Meeks in the paint, but the ball was deflected out of bounds. And, as mentioned, there was only one attempted slip (the Hicks travel). What did happen was plenty of side-to-side dribbling. If Carolina meets Virginia again in the ACC Tournament, it will be interesting to see what (if any) adjustments it makes in attacking the hard hedge.

Virginia’s obviously a very disciplined and well-drilled defense. It executes its pack-line principles excellently, while also trying to take away its opponents’ go-to sets. In Carolina’s case, that meant shutting down the secondary break by bumping/holding cutters and hard hedging ball screens. The Heels got an early lob to Meeks off of a secondary back screen, but otherwise the Cavs shut down most of the initial looks via physical defense/keeping UNC from getting to its spots in a timely manner. Rather than continuing to run secondary without creating good scoring chances, Carolina could have tried more quick hitters out of its 1-4 set. Very early in the game (to make the score 4-0), the Heels ran Jackson off an elbow curl to create a short floater for him. As he was being guarded by the smaller London Perrantes, going back to that curl repeatedly might have made sense. UNC didn’t run it again after that early Jackson hoop. Virginia was also well-scouted on Carolina’s use of the box sets. The Heels didn’t have a ton of success with its box formations, as physical defense and scouting conspired to take away most of the options. Carolina, anticipating Virginia’s help defense/hedge, was able to slip Bradley (after he screened in an attempt to free Jackson coming through the elevator doors) on the final play of the first half. This was a nice call by the bench, but resulted in a missed Bradley attempt at the rim following another good Cavalier help rotation.

While it’s easy to be critical of the coaching staff after the team lays an egg offensively, I actually thought Carolina got a lot of the shots it wanted. Plenty of post touches/close attempts, as well as clean looks for its best 3-point shooters. Certainly the bigs need to be stronger with the ball, and with finishing through contact. A few wrinkles against the hard hedge (more slips, or pressure release passes) might be a nice adjustment, as would be moe quick hitters/Jackson curls in the early offense (rather than such a steady diet of secondary break). Really, though it’s easy for us as Carolina fans to view things through a Heels-centric lens, the Virginia defense deserves a ton of credit for its tremendous effort and execution of Bennett’s defense. He’s a terrific defensive coach and, sometimes, you just need to tip your cap to the opponent (even if it’s a physical, hand-checking, body-bumping one that maybe took advantage of some favorable officiating).

I’ll be back later with a bit on Carolina’s defense (spoiler alert: I actually thought it was even better than against the Cavs in Chapel Hill), then we’ll be on to Duke!

 

 

Jackson Makes His Case

Jackson Makes His Case

With Pitt riding some Senior Day emotion, the first 17 minutes of Saturday afternoon’s game were back-and-forth with neither team possessing more than a six-point lead. After Michael Young hit a 3-pointer following a Cameron Johnson pin-down screen (Luke Maye’s navigation of the screen was poor; he was obviously out of his defensive comfort zone here), the Panthers cut the Carolina lead to two at 30-28. Over the three minutes that remained before the halftime break, however, Justin Jackson stated his case for ACC Player of the Year.

Let’s break down that 10-0, Jackson-led scoring run. It was a quick one, involving just four offensive possessions and four defensive stops for the Tar Heels.

UNC1 (33-28): Against the Pitt zone, Jackson hit Tony Bradley at the left elbow, then got it back on a dribble hand-off from him. Jackson was looking to launch a 3, but a strong Pitt close-out denied him that opportunity. So he again found Bradley and used him to facilitate a hand-off. This time the exchange created just enough space for Jackson to release a contested 3 from the left wing that he knocked down with a second left on the shot clock. This was one of Pitt’s better zone defense possessions, which made Jackson’s dagger at the buzzer even more disheartening.

PITT1 (33-28): After a solid possession of half-court defense by the Heels, Young settled for a step-back 3 from the left wing that was well-guarded by Maye. Jamel Artis out-battled Jackson for the offensive board (this hasn’t happened much: in ACC game, Jackson has 44 defensive boards while only allowing seven offensive rebounds), but had his put-back attempt altered by Tony Bradley. Joel Berry came crashing in for a strong defensive rebound in traffic.

UNC2 (35-28): Upon grabbing the board, Berry immediately pushed the pace himself. He skipped the ball to Jackson on the left wing. Jackson, having a decent transition look from his favorite spot, instead opted to bounced an entry pass to Maye on the left block for an easy lefty layup. This was an example of a selfless superstar giving up a good look to get a great one. It’s also one of the reasons why Carolina’s offense can be so hard to defend; the Heels are relentlessly committed to getting paint touches (which sets up the perimeter game). While Jackson got the primary assist here, the hockey assist went to Berry—one of UNC’s season-high 15 secondary assists (Jackson led the way here, too, with 4; Britt/Berry/Hicks had 3 apiece, while Woods and Pinson each had 1).

PITT2 (35-28): Pitt ran a ball screen with Sheldon Jeter setting a pick for Chris Jones. Jackson fought over the top of the screen, while Meeks flat-hedged the action in an effort to contain Jones’ penetration. Jones was still able to turn the corner, but Meeks corralled him well enough to set up Berry’s helpside rotation. Berry slid over to draw the charge—one of two that he picked up against the Panthers. Berry’s now drawn 13 offensive fouls this season, second on the team to Kenny Williams’ 17.

UNC3 (37-28): Against the Pitt zone, Jackson whipped a Pinson-like pass into Meeks on the left-side of the hoop. While Young recovered to block the initial attempt, Meeks was left wide-open for the subsequent tip-in. Although Jackson didn’t get credit for the assist here because of the offensive rebound, it was clearly his bullet pass that created the scoring opportunity.

PITT3 (37-28): Johnson took Pinson off the dribble from the right wing, forcing a Pinson bump/hand-check in the paint to control the penetration. The Panthers were still in the single bonus and Johnson, an 82% free-throw shooter, missed the front end with Meeks controlling the rebound.

UNC4 (40-28): The Heels capped off their 10-0 run the same way they started it: on a Jackson 3. This one was again late in the shot clock, and set up by Berry splitting the zone with a drive. After Berry picked up his dribble near the foul line, Jackson curled to the right wing to receive the kick-out pass. The spacing wasn’t great on this play, as both Britt and Jackson were simultaneously cutting to the same area. It didn’t matter, though, as Jackson was still able to make a contested catch-and-shoot 3 with four seconds left on the shot clock (and about 13 seconds left on the game clock). Both of Jackson’s 3s during this critical 10-0 run were in the final six seconds of the shot clock. He’s been an assassin in late-clock situations this season, with a True Shooting% of 90.1% with less than six seconds left in the possession (12-18 from the field, 8-12 behind the arc, and 3-3 from the foul line).

PITT4 (40-28): On the final possession of the half, Pitt used a Young ball screen to create a drive-and-kick opportunity for Justice Kithcart. He was able to get penetration and set up a left-corner 3 for Jeter, but a solid close-out by Meeks forced a miss as the clock expired.

All 10 of the Heels’ points in this defining half-ending spurt were scored or set up by Jackson. Some of it was good offense (like the secondary break entry to Maye for the layup), while some (like Jackson’s contested 3s) was just individual shot-making. UNC used some Jackson brilliance along with a couple good breaks (the 50-50 call on the Berry charge—close to being an “and-1” for Pitt, the front-end miss by a good shooter) to quickly turn a close game into a comfortable halftime margin. Pitt would never truly threaten in the second half, as Jackson’s late-half knockout-punch 3s effectively ended the Panthers’ chances. A player of the year does more than just fill up the stat sheet: he makes big plays in big situations. Jackson made his case again on Saturday afternoon, and it’s a compelling one.

 

Pinson’s Passing

Pinson’s Passing

Those of you who like alliterative titles have come to the right place (“Pinson’s Pinpoint Passing Paralyzes Pitt”?)!

While the story of the game (along with another monster scoring performance from Justin Jackson) was probably Carolina’s second-chance points (led by Kennedy Meeks’ offensive glass dominance), let’s focus on the passing of Theo Pinson. He was officially created with seven assists in 24 minutes, but even that doesn’t truly do justice to how well he passed the ball on Saturday. Let’s break it down one potential assist at a time (in chronological order):

  • On UNC’s very first possession of the game, Pinson bounced a pass in from the right wing to Isaiah Hicks on the right block. Hicks missed a turnaround jumper that was well-contested by Pitt’s Michael Young.
  • Against Pitt’s 1-2-2 zone, Jackson hit Hicks in the left short corner, then cut middle before flaring out to the opposite (right) corner. Hicks kicked it out to Pinson at the top of the key, who skipped it to Jackson in the corner. The pass led Jackson away from the recovering defender to set him up for a 3 that he knocked down. This was really nice possession of zone offense: the short corner touch to flatten the zone, the quintessential Jackson cut/movement without the ball, and the well-executed skip by Pinson to get the assist.
  • Pinson bounced one in to Jackson at the (left) high post against the Pitt zone, who then dribbled out to the left wing before returning the ball to Pinson at the top of the key. Pinson immediately whipped it back to Jackson, who missed a left-wing 3.
  • Another high-post Pinson entry against the zone, this time to Hicks at the right elbow, leads to a high-low pass to Meeks for a reverse layup. Primary assist to Hicks, hockey assist to Pinson.
  • Hicks, as the trailing big in secondary, cut to the hoop against the Pitt zone. The attention drawn on the perimeter by Jackson and Berry allowed Pinson to have a clear passing lane to hit Hicks for a layup attempt. He missed at the rim, with imposing Roselle Nix contesting.
  • Pinson again found Hicks, this time whipping a touch pass to him in the right short corner. Hicks attacked the rim, missing a contested lefty reverse over Nix and Young.
  • Pinson brought the ball up after grabbing a defensive board, hitting Berry on the left wing. Berry got it back to Pinson at the top of the key and, after pausing a beat and looking to the interior to suck in the zone wing defender, he returned it to Berry for a left-wing 3. Berry missed a clean look, but it was a good example of Pinson subtly shifting the zone with a pass fake (and his threat to thread the needle for interior entries). All of the action up until now occurred in the starting five’s first shift of the game (5:18 of game time). In six Carolina possessions, Pinson had six potential assists and a hockey assist.
  • With Pitt now in man-to-man, Pinson received a ball screen from Meeks on the left wing, then hit a rolling Meeks on the left block. He made an agile spin move to the middle to create a short jump hook over his left shoulder, earning another assist for Pinson in the process.
  • Another Pinson-Meeks ball screen, this time on the right wing, caused Pitt to shift its help defense to compensate for the Meeks roll. Realizing this, Pinson hit an open Hicks at the left elbow, who drew a foul with an immediate drive. Pinson got credit for a “free throw assist” in the charting stats for this one (a pass leading directly to a shooting foul).
  • Following a hit-ahead from Seventh Woods in transition, Pinson tried to fit one in to Hicks filling the lane. This probably should have been a bounce pass, and resulted in a deflection from a recovering Nix. Hicks ran down the loose ball in the right corner, handing it off to Pinson who immediately threw a slick bounce-pass entry to Meeks for an open layup. The first pass was ill-advised, but the second was a beauty.
  • With Pitt back in the zone, Jackson flashed to the right elbow to receive a high-post entry from Pinson. Jackson missed a contested turnaround jumper from 14 feet.
  • As the shot clock dwindled down, Pinson bounced a gorgeous entry pass in to Meeks on the right block. Meeks, in the process of drop-stepping to the hoop, allowed the shot clock to expire, resulting in a Carolina turnover. This was a risky entry by Pinson given the clock situation, but probably worth rolling the dice since it nearly set up another easy hoop.
  • On the first possession of the second half, Jackson used a little brush pin-down screen from Berry to flash to the right wing. Pinson hit him there for a clean 3-point opportunity, but Jackson was unable to knock it down.
  • In a quintessential Carolina free-lance motion possession, a Pinson-Meeks ball screen coincided with a block-to-block screen from Jackson to free Hicks. Pinson whipped a well-timed bounce pass entry to Hicks, who used the Jackson screen to exchange from the left block to the right block. Hicks missed the layup at the rim, a shot he’ll nearly always convert. Despite the miss, this was beautiful offensive execution by the Heels.
  • In one of Pinson’s rare bad decisions against Pitt, he picked up his dribble 30 feet from the hoop. Trying to relieve pressure by passing to Jackson, Pinson threw the ball away, leading to an easy transition dunk for Cameron Johnson on the live-ball turnover.
  • With Sheldon Jeter in foul trouble and Nix (at 300+ pounds) unable to play long stretches, Pitt was forced to go small for parts of the second half. That resulted in plenty of low-block mismatches which were ruthlessly exploited by the Heels. In this one, Jamel Artis was matched up on Hicks on the left block. Pinson threw a simple entry from the left wing, allowing Hicks to back down the smaller defender for the easy layup. Pinson wasn’t credited with an assist here (since Hicks’ back-down dribble/drop step set up the score), but his ability to make the easy play (and recognize the advantage) set up the score.
  • This time, it was Tony Bradley who had the mismatch. With Johnson trying to front him in the paint, Bradley easily sealed him off to create a lob entry angle. Pinson delivered it perfectly from the right wing, allowing Bradley to finish at the rim without ever bringing the ball down.
  • After setting a ball screen for Pinson, Bradley rolled to the left block to receive an entry against a slow-recovering Nix. Bradley powered up to draw the foul, giving Pinson his second free throw assist of the game (and 10th of the season).
  • Immediately following a Pitt basket, Woods threw a hit-ahead pass to Pinson on the left wing. Pinson dropped a slick little bounce pass to Bradley, who filled the lane for an easy dunk after beating Nix down the court in transition.
  • Pinson threw a right-block entry to Hicks from the right wing, then cut to the opposite block. The undersized Panthers scraped down on Hicks in the paint, allowing him to find a wide-open Pinson for the easy layup.
  • With Jeter just returning to the court with four fouls, UNC executed a set play that ran Pinson off of staggered screens from Meeks and Jackson to receive the ball on the left wing. Meeks, upon setting the screen, immediately sealed Jeter to set up a great entry angle for Pinson, who led him right to the rim with the pass for an easy layup.
  • Another low-post mismatch, this time with 6’1″ backup point guard Justice Kithcart on Hicks, resulted in another Pinson entry from the right wing. Carolina wisely identified this matchup right away, isolating Pinson and Hicks on the right side for the lob entry against a helpless Kithcart (with no Panther defender able to help their fronting post defender due to the iso/floor spacing). The final result was another Hicks dunk set up by a Pinson pass.

Adding it all up, Pinson had 17 potential assists against Pitt, resulting in seven box-score assists plus two free throw assists in his 24 minutes. Ten of those potential assists created layups or dunks (or fouls at the rim)—that is, “potential close assists.” On the season, Pinson easily leads the Heels in this metric with 7.71 per 40 minutes (his rate against Pitt—16.67 / 40—was much higher than his season-to-date mark).

Of Pinson’s seven assists against Pitt, three went to Meeks, two to Bradley, and one to Hicks. Both of his free throw assists went to UNC’s bigs, too (one to Hicks, the other to Bradley). On the year, 25 of Pinson’s 37 box-score assists, or 68%, have gone to the Carolina post quartet of Meeks/Hicks/Bradley/Maye. His distribution of assists looks as follows:

  • Meeks: 9
  • Hicks: 7
  • Bradley: 5
  • Maye: 4
  • Jackson: 4
  • Williams: 3
  • Britt: 3
  • Berry: 2

Pinson’s mark of 68% is far higher than most of Carolina’s other guards/wings. Only Jackson at 67% is close: 48% of Berry’s assists have gone to UNC’s bigs; Woods (50%), Britt (49%) and Williams (39%) are likewise at or below 50% in this metric.

That highly correlated combination of creating a ton of close opportunities and creating a ton of shots for UNC’s bigs makes Pinson a perfect fit for a Roy Williams offense. In a system that runs a double-post offense with an emphasis on getting deep paint touches, Pinson’s passing skills are an ideal fit. He can make high-degree-of-difficulty deliveries, but also the simple entries that often present themselves in Williams’ offensive structure. When low-block entries aren’t available (due to fronting the post, strong post defense/pushing the UNC bigs off the blocks, etc.), Pinson’s also capable of getting to the rim off the dribble. He’s been a dangerous handler on UNC’s ball screen sets (both out of secondary and in the freelance passing game)—both as a passer (like against Pitt), and as a slasher/finisher.

Pinson’s ability to distribute the basketball is what frees up Berry and Jackson to launch 20 3-pointers (and hit nine) like against Pitt. Likewise, his ability to feed the post helps the Heels to dominate the paint. If Carolina continues to get that inside-out offensive balance, it’ll be a very tough out in March. And, if Pinson keeps on facilitating like he did against Pitt, that seems like a safe bet.

The Primary Break: UNC-Pitt Quick Takes

The Primary Break: UNC-Pitt Quick Takes

Here are some quick statistical nuggets following Carolina’s 85-67 win over Pitt.

  • After a really slow 27.5-possession first half, the Heels picked up the pace in the second half with 37 possessions. UNC’s defense was consistent half-over-half, allowing exactly a point per possession in each stanza. Carolina’s offense was also strong throughout, scoring 1.48 PPP in the first and 1.22 PPP in the second.
  • The Heels allowed 17 points in their first 10 defensive possessions (as Pitt rode some senior-day energy to hit some early 3s), but then settled down to give up just 5o points on their final 55 possessions (PPP of 90.9). Carolina held Pitt to 7-of-24 3-point shooting (including just 3 of its final 18), but it came at the cost of plenty of Panther free throws (30 of them on just 48 FGAs).
  • The story of the game was probably Carolina’s season-high 24 offensive rebounds. Its entire frontline had at least three of them: Kennedy Meeks led the way with seven, Tony Bradley and Luke Maye had four apiece, and Isaiah Hicks and Justin Jackson had three each.
  • I talked about the historically strong A:TO for UNC’s post players here. The quartet of Meeks/Hicks/Maye/Bradley combined for 10 more assists today against only a pair of turnovers (Hicks led the way with a career-high six assists). On the season, that foursome of bigs now has 119 assists and 126 turnovers (a 0.94 ratio).
  • Speaking of passing, Theo Pinson had seven assists and two more FT assists (passes leading directly to shooting fouls). Eight of those nine passes were to Carolina’s bigs (4 to Meeks, 3 to Bradley, 1 to Hicks), and Pinson also had a couple more potential assists that Hicks (uncharacteristically) failed to convert. On the season, 25 of Pinson’s 37 box-score assists (plus 9 of his 10 FT assists) have gone to Tar Heel post players. Suffice it to say, his presence has made the UNC bigs better and more efficient.
  • Meeks had his 10th double-double of the season with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Carolina’s 10-0 in those games. He moved past Eric Montross into ninth place on UNC’s all-time rebounding list with 949; the top 8 all have over 1,000 (Brad Daugherty’s eighth with 1,003).
  • Jackson’s 23 points moved him past Shammond Williams and Jason Capel into 32nd place in UNC history. He has 1,459 now; Dennis Wuycik’s next on the list with 1,469 points.
  • Jackson and Joel Berry combined for nine made 3s on 20 attempts. On the season, they’ve made 151 3-pointers (Jackson 83, Berry 68)—the fifth-most of any pair of UNC teammates in a single season. The Carolina record is 177 by P.J Hairston (89) and Reggie Bullock (88) in 2013. Jackson became the ninth different Tar Heel to hit at least 80 3s in a season. It’s been done 12 times in all (Shammond Williams, Donald Williams, and Marcus Paige all had two 80+ seasons). The all-time single-season record is Shammond’s 95 in 1997. Both of those 3-point records seem poised to be broken this year.
  • UNC’s starting lineup was tied 23-23 in 14:30 of court time. Lineups with at least one reserve were +18 (62-44) in 25:30 on the floor. Maye-Bradley combinations, which lead all Carolina frontcourts in ACC +/-, were +10 today (22-12). The Heels also had a strong 14-7 run in the late second half with Brandon Robinson at the 2 alongside the other four starters (Berry-Jackson-Hicks-Meeks).
  • UNC had three dunks (Bradley’s 18th, Jackson’s 10th, and Hicks’ 39th), and now have 87 on the season. Two were assisted by Pinson (7 assisted dunks this year), and one by Meeks (5).
  • Berry drew the Heels’ only two offensive fouls. He has 13 on the season, including eight in the ACC. Both those numbers are second on the team to Kenny Williams (17 and 10).

I’ll be back with more on this game after I get a chance to chart it later this weekend.

The Saturday Clipboard

The Saturday Clipboard

A few charting-related nuggets to pass along before the Carolina-Pitt game tips off at noon:

First, let’s break down Carolina’s top scorers (Jackson and Berry) by their early offense vs. half-court offense splits.

  • As seen, each player uses roughly half his weighted shots (FGAs + 0.475*FTAs) in each segment. Combined, Berry and Jackson score 16.6 points per game in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, and 16.7 in seconds 11-30.
  • Both players shoot 2-pointers better in the early offense (due to transition opportunities), but 3-pointers better in the halfcourt. Jackson’s 3-point split is more dramatic. Also, not surprisingly, both players draw significantly more fouls in the early offense (against oftentimes unset/scrambling/transitioning defenses).
  • Both players also shoot more 3s (as a proportion of total FGAs) in the halfcourt. The combination of 3-point volume and efficiency from Berry and Jackson in seconds 11-30 is why Carolina’s offense has been so good and balanced (between early and halfcourt) this season.
  • Jackson 3-point percentage actually gets higher and higher and the shot clock gets shorter and shorter:
    • 1-10: 31.3% (26-83)
    • 11-17: 41.8% (28-67)
    • 18-24: 48.6% (18-37)
    • 25-30: 60.0% (6-10)
  • Only three Tar Heels have taken double-digit FGAs in the final six seconds of the shot clock (Meeks and Hicks each have nine FGAs).
    • Berry: 50.0 FG% (11-22), 60.0 3Pt% (6-10), 67.7 TS%
    • Jackson: 62.5 FG% (11-16), 60.0 3Pt% (6-10), 83.2 TS%
    • Britt: 11.8 FG% (2-17), 20.0 3Pt% (1-5), 14.7 TS%
    • Berry’s actually been trending in the wrong direction here (after a really efficient start to the season in late-clock situations). Jackson’s been consistently great all year with an expiring shot clock; Britt’s been consistently bad.
  • UNC’s leaders in off-hand FGAs:
    • Meeks: 13-17
    • Jackson: 9-15
    • Britt: 9-11 (doesn’t really have an “off” hand, I guess—these are lefty attempts (all at the rim), though)
    • Berry: 5-7
    • Pinson: 3-7
    • Hicks: 3-7
    • Woods: 4-5
    • Williams: 4-4
    • Maye: 2-4
    • Bradley: 2-2
    • Meeks has been using his left hand more and more from the left-side of the rim, and has been steadily raising his close FG% from that side. It’s still at just 50.0% (31-62), though, compared to 65.4% (17-26) from the close middle and 69.2% (63-91) from the close right. Bradley, likewise (who still doesn’t use his left hand much), is shooting 58.1% (25-43) on close left attempts. That’s below his close middle (63.0% on 17-27) and close right (71.4% on 20-28) marks.
  • Jackson’s left wing/right wing 3-point splits continue to be extremely pronounced. He’s made 35-of-67 3s from the left wing (52.2%), but only 15-of-55 (27.3%) from the right wing. From the top of the key, he’s somewhere in between at 35.7% (15-42).
  • The Maye-Bradley frontcourt has been heavily used by Roy Williams in the ACC, and has had fantastic +/- results. It’s actually the second-most-used frontcourt in conference games, and has the highest efficiency margin of any combination.
    • Hicks-Meeks: 224 ACC minutes, +18.1 efficiency margin
    • Maye-Bradley: 93 ACC minutes, +33.5 efficiency margin
    • Maye-Meeks: 85 ACC minutes, +6.5 efficiency margin
    • Pinson as 4: 57 ACC minutes, +3.9 efficiency margin
    • Jackson as 4: 55 ACC minutes, -7.9 efficiency margin
    • Hicks-Bradley: 49 ACC minutes, +17.0 efficiency margin
    • Bradley-Meeks: 14 ACC minutes, +24.9 efficiency margin
  • As the above data shows, Carolina’s small-ball lineups have not been effective (from a +/- perspective) in the ACC. Pinson’s efficiency margin splits by position have been:
    • As a 2: 72 minutes, +26.4 efficiency margin (110.4-84.0)
    • As a 3: 65 minutes, +32.9 efficiency margin (115.9-83.1)
    • As a 4: 57 minutes, +3.9 efficiency margin (124.8-120.9)
    • The offensive efficiency has been great with Pinson at the 4. However, the team’s inability to get consistent stops has more than offset any gains in scoring production. The defense has been terrific in Pinson’s wing minutes (whether at the 2 or the 3). His minutes have been pretty evenly split across all three spots so far; since Kenny Williams’ injury, of course, they’ve been shifting more heavily to the 2.
  • Berry-Pinson has also clearly been UNC’s best backcourt against top competition. In minutes against Pomeroy Tier A&B opponents (top-100, venue-adjusted competition), Berry-Pinson has an efficiency margin of +27.1 in 60 minutes. Berry-Williams and Berry-Britt have both played 221 minutes against Tier A&B foes, with respective efficiency margins of +14.5 and +6.9.

 

Better Defense or Luckier Defense?

Better Defense or Luckier Defense?

It’s been well-documented that Carolina’s defense has been playing much better recently. After dropping to the mid-40s in Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings, the Heels have climbed all the way back to No. 20 with dominant back-to-back home performances against Virginia and Louisville. Narratives being what they are, you’ve surely heard plenty of buzz about Carolina’s defensive “effort” and “focus” being better over the past couple of games. But how much is due to actually playing better (or harder) defense versus simply playing luckier defense? Let’s dive a little deeper inside the numbers to investigate.

We’ll start by breaking UNC’s ACC campaign into three segments: 1.) the first six games (Georgia Tech-Syracuse); 2) the next six games (Boston College-Duke); and 3.) the last three games (@NC State-Louisville). The first table below summarizes the Heels’ defensive Four Factors by season segment.

As seen, Carolina’s defensive efficiency (both adjusted and unadjusted—strength of opposing offense has stayed very constant across segment: 114.1, 114.9, and 115.3, respectively) got dramatically worse over games 7-12 before making a huge improvement in the last three games. So what’s happened? Defensive rebounding and keeping opponents off the foul line have been the two factors in which the Heels have been consistently solid this ACC season. The DR% has spiked up a bit lately, but that certainly wasn’t the reason for Carolina’s mid-schedule defensive swoon. The other two factors—eFG% and forced TO%—have been the more volatile ones. eFG% has been especially noisy. In an effort to explain the variability in opposing shooting percentages, let’s look at another table:

This data breaks down Carolina’s eFG% defense (and opponents’ shot distribution) by how well the Heels contested the shot. Generally these categories can be described as:

  • Open: wide-open shot without even a late closeout/contest
  • Lightly contested (LC): the close-out is either a step late (common on Carolina’s help-and-recover 3-point defense), or otherwise not strongly contested
  • Contested: a well-positioned defender gets a hand up to force a tough shot (think of a solid wall in the post, or a perimeter defender who’s right in the face of an opposing shooter)
  • Heavily contested: generally a blocked shot (or one that’s not blocked, but just thrown wildly in the direction of the basket)

The proportion of shots that the Heels have contested well (contested + heavily contested) has stayed fairly consistent segment-over-segment. It was 36.2% in the first six games, 33.6% in the next six, and 34.7% over the last three. What’s been more volatile is opponents’ eFG% across levels of contestedness. While open and heavily contested shots have been consistent (always very good or very bad), both contested and (especially) lightly contested efficiency has varied wildly. It’s not surprising that in the second segment—when Carolina’s defense was slumping—opponents’ were shooting the best on these types of shots (i.e., opponents’ luck was inversely correlated with UNC’s defensive effectiveness). Likewise, over the past three games, opponents have been shooting their worst on lightly contested/contested shots.

Ken Pomeroy’s famously (at least in basketball analytics circles!) illustrated that 3-point defense shouldn’t be defined by percentage (which is mainly randomness/shot luck), but rather volume (i.e., reducing opponents’ attempts from behind the arc). While that’s generally true, charting stats can shine a little more light on the subject. That is, it’s better to give up 20 3-point attempts if 10 are lightly contested and 10 are contested than it is to give up 15 3-points attempts if all 15 are lightly contested. Open/lightly contested 3s go in about 40% of the time (an eFG% of 60%), while contested ones are usually between 10-20% shots (eFG% of 15-30%). Since teams (at least well-coached ones) don’t generally settle for too many bad 3-pointers, Pomeroy’s conclusion is true in the global sense. So what’s driving UNC’s recent run of 3-point% defense effectiveness: better shot contesting or better luck?

Here are the game-by-game 3-point shooting splits for UNC’s ACC foes. This list shows their 3-point% on open/lightly contested 3s, as well as the proportion of total 3s that were open/lightly contested (with the remainder, of course, being well-contested).

  • Georgia Tech: 30.0% (3-10) on open/lightly contested; 90.9% of total 3s open/lightly contested
  • Clemson: 44.0% (11-25); 89.3%
  • NC State: 42.9% (6-14); 60.9%
  • Wake Forest: 47.8% (11-23); 85.2%
  • Florida State: 39.1% (9-23); 82.1%
  • Syracuse: 47.4% (9-19); 79.2%
  • Boston College: 47.8% (11-23); 85.2%
  • Virginia Tech: 42.9% (9-21); 84.0%
  • Miami: 46.7% (7-15); 75.0%
  • Pitt: 54.5% (12-22); 75.9%
  • Notre Dame: 47.4% (9-19); 73.1%
  • Duke: 54.2% (13-24); 88.9%
  • NC State: 50.0% (8-16); 66.7%
  • Virginia: 13.3% (2-15); 75.0%
  • Louisville: 29.4% (5-17); 85.0%

To summarize by season segment:

  • ACC games 1-6: 44.1% (49-111); 78.7%
  • ACC games 7-12: 49.2% (61-124); 80.5%
  • ACC games 13-15: 31.3% (15-48); 76.2%

A couple key takeaways: 1.) UNC’s been slightly better at contesting 3s lately (as only 76.2% of opponents’ 3s have been open/lightly contested in the last three games); 2.) UNC’s been significantly luckier at defending 3s lately (Virginia and Louisville have combined to make just 21.9% (7-32) of its open/lightly contested 3s).

So it’s maybe one part better perimeter defense to ten parts luckier perimeter defense. It should also be noted that Carolina had been especially unlucky in the first dozen games of the conference season. Historically (since 2008, at least, when I began charting it), UNC’s opponents have made between 37 and 42% of their open/lightly contested 3s. That jumped the whole way to 46.8% in the first 12 games of the 2017 ACC season (an unsustainable/unlucky number).

Another quick note: the Heels were also playing better-shooting teams during its slump. During games 7-12, the Heels played the top-4 3-point shooting teams (by percentage) in the ACC: Virginia Tech, Duke, Notre Dame, and Pitt (who combined to make exactly half of their 86 open/lightly 3s against UNC). In games 1-6, the average 3-point rank of UNC’s opponents was 10.5. It fell to 5.8 in games 7-12, before rising again to 10.0 over the last three games. Because of how Carolina defends (helping off the wings on shooters, emphasis on defending the paint), it will always be susceptible to teams that spread the floor with good shooters to set up drive and kick opportunities. Its shouldn’t be too surprising that the Heels’ defensive slump coincided with facing several such teams.

All of that isn’t to say that Carolina’s defense hasn’t improved lately. As shown, the Heels are contesting shots (both 2s and 3s) slightly better. They’ve also been even more dominant on the defensive glass. Most importantly, UNC’s forced TO% is also climbing back up recently. That’s been driven by increased disruption by defensive catalyst Joel Berry. His forced TO / 40 by season segment have been:

  • ACC games 1-6: 3.11
  • ACC games 7-12: 2.13
  • ACC games 13-15: 4.89

Berry, whose individual defensive slump (not coincidentally) mirrored the team’s, has been much better on the defensive end over the past few games. That clearly makes a difference in UNC’s effectiveness irrespective of shot luck.

Luck is important in basketball. Illinois made just 12-of-40 3s (most of them lightly contested) in the ’05 title game against the Heels. Likewise, Carolina’s lost to hot-shooting teams in the NCAA Tournament (2011 Kentucky in the Elite 8, countless other examples I’m probably repressing). And luck’s been very important to UNC’s recent defensive surge. But if the Heels continue to combine their top-5 offense with three strong defensive factors (DR%, FTA Rate, and TOF%), they’ll be able to survive all but the worst cases of bad shot luck (and/or bad 3-point defense/allowing too many lightly contested 3s). And, if it continues its recent shot luck into the postseason (or, ideally, starts running a few more shooters off the line with well-timed help-and-recover close-outs), Carolina could give Roy Williams his third national title.

 

 

UNC Vs. Pittsburgh: Tempo-Free Season Box Scores

UNC Vs. Pittsburgh: Tempo-Free Season Box Scores

Carolina is 11-3 against Pitt. The Panthers handed UNC its first-ever NCAA Tournament loss (in its first-ever NCAAT game, in only the third-ever NCAAT) in 1941. The Heels returned the favor on their way to the 1981 title game. We beat them each season from ’94-’97, then didn’t see them again until they joined the ACC.

Roy’s boys will try and make it an even dozen wins Saturday at noon. Here are tempo-free stats for the teams, their opponents, and their rotation players.

Team stats per 70 possessions, with percentile rank among Division 1 teams:

Team    UNC          UP Opp              UP          UNC Opp      
Pace     74.0   89%                       68.3  23%               
OffEff  116.4   98%   108.7   9%         108.8  80%     95.2   89%
2P%      51.9   75%    50.9  26%          49.9  53%     47.1   72%
3P        7.0   41%     8.0  21%           8.2  73%      7.6   35%
3PA      18.7   25%    22.8  17%          21.9  64%     22.5   22%
3P%      37.2   74%    35.0  46%          37.6  82%     33.9   64%
eFG%     53.0   76%    52.4  30%          52.4  70%     53.0   24%
FT       15.3   73%    12.0  85%          16.6  89%     11.5   92%
FTA      21.9   74%    17.0  88%          22.7  83%     16.3   92%
FT%      70.0   52%    71.0  36%          73.2  77%     70.3   47%
P        81.5   98%    76.1   9%          76.2  80%     66.6   89%
OR       14.5  100%     9.9  48%          10.2  50%      8.4   92%
R        41.1  100%    34.7  52%          35.3  51%     28.9  100%
A        16.9   97%    15.2  10%          15.1  81%     11.1   92%
B         3.2   49%     3.7  23%           3.4  56%      4.2    6%
S         6.9   75%     5.2  84%           3.7   0%      5.8   58%
PF       16.5   90%    19.3  64%          17.1  82%     18.7   46%
TO       11.5   87%    10.1   1%          11.9  79%     13.4   59%

Hey, these guys are one game over .500, looking at the ACC standings and saying “Thank God for BC.” No comparison of their team stats to ours is going to turn out well for them. Pitt will hit some threes and stand a slight chance of not having their poor depth challenged by foul trouble, but the Tar Heels should pretty much score until their shooting hands cramp up.

Player stats, normalized to 35 games, 30 mpg at a 70 pace (two rows per player to fit on this page; turnover column on far right may still be cut off):

UNC Players        Ht    Wt   Class  G     MPG                                                      
2P%                3P    3PA  3P%    eFG%  FT    FTA  FT%   P     OR   R     A    B    S    PF   TO 
Justin Jackson     6-8   200  Jr       29  31.4                                                     
             51.6    86  217   39.6  55.2    83  109  75.8  17.0  1.2   4.4  2.4  0.2  0.5  1.3  1.5
Joel Berry         6-0   195  Jr       27  29.8                                                     
             50.4    80  197   40.5  56.0    86  102  84.1  14.1  0.4   3.1  3.8  0.1  1.4  2.2  2.0
Kennedy Meeks      6-10  260  Sr       29  23.8                                                     
             53.4     0    0    0.0  53.4    94  148  63.7  15.2  4.4  11.1  1.4  1.2  1.1  2.7  1.6
Kenny Williams     6-4   175  So       26  23.7                                                     
             52.5    44  130   33.8  51.4    31   49  63.3   7.5  1.6   4.0  2.6  0.4  1.1  1.9  1.4
Isaiah Hicks       6-9   235  Sr       28  23.1                                                     
             59.6     0    0    0.0  59.6   121  150  80.4  14.9  2.4   7.0  1.4  0.9  0.5  3.8  2.0
Theo Pinson        6-6   205  Jr       10  19.5                                                     
             58.3    31   93   33.3  55.6    87  129  68.0  11.3  1.9   7.0  4.4  0.1  1.3  2.5  1.2
Nate Britt         6-1   175  Sr       29  19.5                                                     
             38.3    34  101   33.3  43.1    35   53  66.7   7.0  0.5   2.8  3.7  0.1  1.7  2.6  1.6
Tony Bradley       6-10  235  Fr       27  15.0                                                     
             55.0     0    0    0.0  55.0   136  223  61.1  14.1  5.5  10.5  1.3  1.5  0.6  3.4  1.3
Luke Maye          6-8   230  So       24  13.8                                                     
             48.8    27   66   40.9  51.4    39   79  50.0  10.7  3.5   8.0  2.2  0.4  1.1  3.6  1.9
Seventh Woods      6-2   175  Fr       29   8.7                                                     
             36.6     8   40   20.0  35.3    84  147  56.8   6.5  0.7   5.3  5.0  0.2  2.0  2.4  4.1
Brandon Robinson   6-5   160  Fr       29   8.6                                                     
             41.9    28  113   25.0  39.8    69  101  68.0   7.4  1.2   4.6  2.5  0.3  0.9  2.8  1.4

UP Players         Ht    Wt   Class  G     MPG                                                      
2P%                3P    3PA  3P%    eFG%  FT    FTA  FT%   P     OR   R     A    B    S    PF   TO 
Jamel Artis        6-7   215  Sr       27  34.3                                                     
             53.8    79  192   40.9  57.2   123  168  73.4  17.4  1.2   4.3  3.0  0.2  0.4  1.8  2.3
Cameron Johnson    6-7   200  So       28  33.5                                                     
             48.1    80  188   42.6  58.6    59   72  82.3  11.1  0.8   4.2  2.2  0.3  0.7  2.4  1.0
Mike Young         6-9   235  Sr       28  33.5                                                     
             49.7    42  115   36.4  50.8   174  223  78.1  18.9  1.6   6.3  2.7  0.8  0.5  1.8  1.9
Chris Jones        6-6   213  Sr       27  32.0                                                     
             54.1     9   36   24.1  50.4    68  101  67.5   6.9  0.7   2.8  2.3  0.3  0.5  2.2  1.5
Sheldon Jeter      6-8   225  Sr       28  29.0                                                     
             45.0    31   82   37.7  48.7    67   90  74.6   9.0  2.7   7.9  1.9  1.0  1.0  3.1  1.8
Ryan Luther        6-9   220  Jr       17  20.4                                                     
             61.5    25   59   42.1  62.0    75  100  75.0  10.0  2.0   6.3  1.2  1.1  0.4  3.6  2.4
Justice Kithcart   6-1   175  Fr       27  13.7                                                     
             41.7    12   59   20.0  36.4    21   65  31.8   3.3  0.4   1.7  2.8  0.3  0.7  3.3  1.5
Jonathan Milligan  6-2   170  Jr       21   7.8                                                     
             18.2    99  265   37.5  48.0    33   40  83.3  10.2  0.4   1.1  2.5  0.2  0.2  2.6  1.7
Damon Wilson       6-5   200  So       24   6.7                                                     
             44.4     0   68    0.0  28.6    48   81  58.3   4.5  0.2   2.2  1.7  0.2  0.2  3.5  1.9

Every coach in the country would love to have Artis and Young on scholarship and 3-point threats abound, but overall, Stallings is kinda bringing a knife to a gunfight. If Pitt staying within 2 of us three weeks ago doesn’t look like a major fluke after the rematch, then something weird will have happened.

Yes, I know: “That’s why they don’t play the games on paper.”

The Primary Break: UNC-Louisville Quick Takes

The Primary Break: UNC-Louisville Quick Takes

Some (semi-)quick takes on Carolina’s 74-63 win over Louisville on Wednesday night.

I’ll be finishing the charting for this one soon, so will be break with a more detailed breakdown of the victory.

  • Justin Jackson’s ACC scoring remains incredibly consistent. He scored 21 last night, and has now tallied between 18 and 22 points in 11 of the 15 conference games. His game-by-game ACC output is: 16, 18, 21, 19, 22, 19, 22, 26, 21, 20, 16, 21, 14, 20, and 21 (an average of 19.7 with a standard deviation of 2.93). The Heels can count on 20 a night from Jackson, plus or minus a few points. It’s been the most consistent scoring season in the Roy Williams era (a coefficient of variation of 0.148), and the lack of really bad performances is one reason why Jackson’s an ACC Player of the Year frontrunner.
  • Although it wasn’t Jackson’s best floor game (2 assists, 4 turnovers), the two assists came on consecutive possessions to push the Heels’ lead to from eight to 12 (57-45). He threw a couple of great entry passes to get easy hoops for Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley in one of UNC’s jumbo-frontcourt lineups.
  • Speaking of the Bradley-Meeks jumbo formations, they played an ACC-high 6:54 together because of Isaiah Hicks’ foul trouble and Luke Maye’s relative ineffectiveness against UL’s size/athleticism (which also limited the court time for Carolina’s small-ball units). Although Bradley-Meeks frontcourts were outscored 14-12, those combinations looked comfortable and will give Williams another option (especially against traditional double-post lineups).
  • Carolina also led 10-2 in Seventh Woods’ 5:19 on the floor. With him at point guard, UNC cut a 12-7 Louisville lead to 14-12 in the first half, then extended a 48-43 second-half margin to 53-43. Woods didn’t do anything spectacular (and, in fact, had a couple of slightly out-of-control plays), but continued to play excellent defense while getting the team good looks on the offensive end.
  • Stilman White also saw his first meaningful action in a couple of months. He played shooting guard alongside the other four starters (Berry-Jackson-Hicks-Meeks), contributing a basket and an assist to a 7-2 run that turned a 14-12 Louisville lead into a 19-16 Carolina one. While the Heels would be tied a couple of times (at 30-30 and 40-40) after that White stint, they’d never trail again. That’s one of those nice “senior moments” that makes the Carolina program so special.
  • Carolina’s defensive efficiency was spectacular for the second straight game against a top-4o offense. The Cardinals, who have an adjusted PPP of 1.17 this season (22nd in the country), scored just 63 points on 74 possessions (a PPP of 0.85). Like Virginia, they helped out the UNC defense by missing 15 of 20 3-pointers (including plenty of clean looks) and nine of 13 free throws. Despite the shot luck, Carolina’s defensive effort was strong, and its perimeter players did an especially good job of working hard to get over the top of the Cardinals’ myriad ball screens. After falling into the 40s in adjusted defensive efficiency, the Heels have quickly rocketed back up to No. 20 in this metric (to complement their top-5 offense).
  • With his 14-point, 1o-rebound double-double, Meeks passed Rusty Clark on both the all-time scoring and rebounding lists. He moved into the top 10 in rebounding with 939 in his Carolina career. He should pass Eric Montross (941) for ninth place in UNC’s next game at Pitt. The top 8 all have 1,000+ career boards (Brad Daugherty’s eighth with 1,003). Meeks moved into 40th on the career scoring list with his 1,348 points. He’s 20 behind Danny Green and 27 behind Ty Lawson, who are 39th and 38th, respectively. Though it’s not always been the prettiest, Meeks’ four-year production as a collegian has been pretty impressive (he’s also 13th in blocks with 136, 25th in FG% at 54.8%, and 59th in steals with 87).
  • Held scoreless, Isaiah Hicks is stuck on 989 career points. He’ll look to bounce back against Pitt and become the 76th member of Carolina’s 1,000-point club (joining teammates Jackson, Meeks, and Berry). Hicks, with 489 career rebounds, is also looking to become the 50th Tar Heel with 500 in his career.
  • By knocking down a pair of big 3s, Theo Pinson moved into 50th place in Carolina history with 31 career made 3s. His 29.5% from behind the arc is the second-lowest of anyone in the top 50, however, ahead of just Jackie Manuel (28.2%).
  • All three of Berry’s assists (with zero turnovers!) were for Jackson 3-pointers. Berry’s now assisted on 35 Jackson field goals this season (most of them behind the arc), the highest of any Carolina combination this season (Berry-to-Meeks with 26 is next, followed by Jackson-to-Hicks with 22).

More on this win soon, once I get caught up with charting.

Facing Top Defenses in the Williams Era

Facing Top Defenses in the Williams Era

Despite allowing a startling 1.45 PPP (90 points on 62 possessions) in its last game against Virginia Tech (at home, no less!), Louisville remains fifth in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. Always stout defensively under Rick Pitino, the Cardinals have ranked in the top-5 in this metric for a staggering seven straight seasons (assuming they can hold on to it this year).

So how has Carolina performed against top-10 defenses (based on Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency) in the 14-year Roy Williams era? Let’s take a look. All these numbers are from the 2003-04 season through the Virginia game this year. It should be noted that these are using the end-of-year numbers rather than the time-of-game ones.

  • UNC vs. teams with top-10 offenses and defenses: 4-9
  • UNC vs. teams with top-25 offenses and defenses: 20-28
  • UNC vs. teams with a top-10 defense only: 31-22
  • UNC vs. teams with a top-10 offense only: 27-26

Louisville this season, ranked 17th in offensive efficiency and fifth in defensive efficiency, falls into the top-25/top-25 bucket. Not surprisingly, Carolina has struggled some to beat this elite, balanced teams during the Williams era. In the halcyon days under RoyW (2005-09), the Heels went 9-4 against teams with this statistical profile (including 1-1 against top-10/top-10’s—an ’05 championship-game win over Illinois, and a Final Four loss to ’08 Kansas). But in the other nine season under Williams, UNC has gone just 10-23 (UNC was 1-2 last year against top-25/top-25—splitting with Virginia, and losing to Villanova in the championship game; the Heels split with Florida State and Kentucky in their only two such games this season).

As seen from the records above, Carolina has played better against teams with elite (top-10) defenses/non-elite offenses (58.5 winning percentage) than it has against elite offenses/non-elite defenses (50.9%). So far this season, UNC is 2-1 against both of these types of teams: wins over Oklahoma State and Wake Forest, and a loss to Duke in the elite offense/non-elite defense tier, and wins against Wisconsin and Virginia, and a loss to Georgia Tech in the elite defense/non-elite defense bucket.

Not surprisingly, the Heels were also much better against these types of opponents during the 2005-09 high-water period. They went 9-5 against elite offense/non-elite defense teams (vs. 18-21 in all other Williams seasons), and 15-5 against elite defense/non-elite offense opponents (vs. 16-17).

Not a ton to read into this, probably. It’s not breaking news that good, balanced teams are tough to beat. Ranking fourth in offense and 26th in defense, Carolina itself is right on the cusp of being an elite/elite team. Perhaps after tonight’s game, the Heels will find themselves back in that rarefied air.

Shifting gears, let’s briefly discuss how good UNC’s post quartet of Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Tony Bradley, and Luke Maye has been in terms of assist-to-turnover ratio this season. In some cases (Bradley), it’s been more about great ball security. In other cases (Maye), it’s been a function of an above-average assist rate. Meeks has been pretty solid in both A:TO areas. Even Hicks, who’s the worst in the rotation at 0.69, has improved considerably from his sophomore (0.32) and junior 0.57) marks.

As the table below shows, this post rotation currently has the best A:TO of the Williams era:

A couple notes from the table:

  • Stretch 4s are (pretty obviously) always solid in this metric: Noel, Hairston, Jawad Williams, and Watts posted some of the best ratios on the list. Luke Maye fits that mold currently (with the A:TO to match).
  • Henson (from 0.39 to 0.98) and McAdoo (from 0.43 to 1.23) made dramatic and impressive A:TO improvements from their sophomore-to-junior seasons. Both improvements were driven primarily by drastic reductions in turnover rates.
  • The Tylers (Hansbrough and Zeller) were never really into the whole “passing” thing. Still legendary Carolina posts, of course—just not stellar A:TO numbers. It’s not always that crucial of a stat for a post player, but it’s a nice feature for this UNC team since it lacks a go-to post scorer like Hansbrough or Zeller (and instead depends on ball movement and passing democracy).
  • Joel James was obviously a terrific Tar Heel ambassador and locker room/bench presence. A pretty solid fourth big, too. But his career 0.25 A:TO (including 0:15 as a senior in ’16) hasn’t really been missed very much. It was better than Alex Stepheson’s career mark (as a Tar Heel) of 0.20. Believe it or not, Stepheson’s A:TO actually declined to 0.14 (14:101) in his two seasons at USC.
UNC vs. Louisville: Tempo-Free Season Box Scores

UNC vs. Louisville: Tempo-Free Season Box Scores

It’s a little surprising sometimes how seldom big-time programs have played each other. Carolina is 11-5 vs. Louisville, including 3-1 in the NCAA Tournament and 1-0 in the ACC Tournament. UNC lost the first meeting in 1929, then went 11-3 from 1972 until that ACCT meeting two years ago, before dropping the game last year.

Round 17 is Wednesday at 9:00 in Chapel Hill. Here’s a look at the tempo-free stats of the teams, their opponents, and their rotation players.

Team stats per 70 possessions, with percentile rank among Division 1 teams:

Team    UNC          UL Opp              UL          UNC Opp      
Pace     74.0   89%                       69.2  32%               
OffEff  117.0   99%    92.0  96%         111.6  91%     95.6   87%
2P%      52.4   78%    44.3  92%          49.3  44%     46.8   74%
3P        7.0   41%     5.9  92%           7.3  49%      7.7   29%
3PA      18.8   27%    19.5  70%          19.9  39%     22.7   19%
3P%      37.1   74%    30.2  98%          36.6  69%     34.1   62%
eFG%     53.4   79%    51.1  48%          51.1  52%     53.4   21%
FT       15.2   69%    14.7  37%          15.0  66%     11.7   88%
FTA      21.7   71%    21.6  27%          21.6  70%     16.5   92%
FT%      69.9   51%    67.7  85%          69.2  45%     71.4   28%
P        81.9   99%    64.4  96%          78.1  91%     66.9   87%
OR       14.5  100%     9.7  59%          12.7  95%      8.4   92%
R        41.1  100%    32.0  94%          38.0  93%     28.9  100%
A        17.2   98%    10.7  94%          13.7  57%     11.2   90%
B         3.2   46%     3.4  39%           5.7  97%      4.1    8%
S         6.8   73%     4.8  95%           7.0  77%      5.8   62%
PF       16.6   89%    19.0  52%          19.3  34%     18.7   46%
TO       11.5   88%    14.4  80%          10.9  95%     13.3   56%

So, four-factors-wise, we may have a rough night on eFG% based on their 2P and 3P defense, our TO% could go either way (Theo dribbling too much against these guys could be trouble), but on paper we have clear advantages getting to the line and the offensive glass. The Cards could have a tough time inside the arc, but I expect them to chuck more threes than usual; we’ll see if they’re frozen solid like Virginia or if they can hurt us. Their TO’s shouldn’t be excessive, but I bet if we’ve got a good lead toward the end of the game they’ll get loose with the ball trying to make plays to come back. They should be able to hang with us on their offensive glass, if they choose to try. We have a clear statistical leg up on not putting them on the line.

They have four bigs who can rebound and/or block shots but who can’t avoid fouls better than our own beloved Isaiah, and plenty of shooters. Player stats, normalized to 35 games, 30 mpg at a 70 pace (two rows per player to fit on this page):

UNC Players       Ht   Wt   Class  G   MPG       
   2P%   3P   3PA  3P%   eFG%  FT   FTA  FT%      P     OR   R     A    B    S    PF   TO 
Justin Jackson    6-8   200  Jr   28  31.4      
   51.8   84  215  39.4  55.2   82  108  75.8     17.0  1.2   4.3  2.4  0.2  0.5  1.3  1.4
Joel Berry        6-0   195  Jr   26  29.6      
   50.4   82  200  41.2  56.7   85   99  85.5     14.2  0.5   3.1  3.9  0.1  1.5  2.2  2.1
Kenny Williams*   6-4   175  So   26  23.7      
   52.5   44  130  33.8  51.4   31   49  63.3      7.5  1.6   4.0  2.6  0.4  1.1  1.9  1.4
Kennedy Meeks     6-10  260  Sr   28  23.6      
   53.3    0    0   0.0  53.3   90  144  62.1     15.3  4.4  11.2  1.4  1.2  1.1  2.7  1.6
Isaiah Hicks      6-9   235  Sr   27  23.5      
   61.3    0    0   0.0  61.3  123  153  80.4     15.3  2.3   6.8  1.4  0.9  0.4  3.7  2.0
Nate Britt        6-1   175  Sr   28  19.5      
   38.8   35  105  33.3  43.4   29   48  61.5      7.1  0.5   2.8  3.7  0.1  1.7  2.7  1.6
Theo Pinson       6-6   205  Jr    9  18.6      
   63.3   24   84  28.6  56.8   84  126  66.7     11.0  1.9   7.1  5.1  0.2  1.5  2.6  0.9
Tony Bradley      6-10  235  Fr   26  14.9      
   55.6    0    0   0.0  55.6  142  227  62.5     14.4  5.7  10.5  1.3  1.4  0.6  3.5  1.3
Luke Maye         6-8   230  So   23  13.7      
   50.0   29   70  40.9  52.4   38   76  50.0     11.2  3.6   8.3  2.3  0.5  1.0  3.6  1.9
Seventh Woods     6-2   175  Fr   28   8.8      
   37.5    8   41  20.0  36.0   85  150  56.8      6.6  0.7   5.3  5.1  0.2  1.9  2.3  4.1
Brandon Robinson  6-5   160  Fr   28   8.8      
   41.9   29  114  25.0  39.8   69  102  68.0      7.5  1.2   4.6  2.6  0.3  0.9  2.8  1.4

Louisville Players  Ht  Wt   Class  G   MPG   
   2P%   3P   3PA  3P%   eFG%  FT   FTA  FT%      P     OR   R     A    B    S    PF   TO 
Donovan Mitchell  6-3   200  So   27  31.2  
   46.2   80  217  37.1  50.9   90  113  79.8     15.3  1.0   4.4  2.6  0.5  2.1  2.4  1.7
Quentin Snider    6-2   175  Jr   21  31.0  
   37.1   71  183  38.7  47.4   79  107  73.8     12.4  0.8   2.5  4.1  0.0  0.7  1.4  1.5
Deng Adel         6-7   200  So   26  29.3  
   43.5   49  142  34.7  46.9   77  103  75.3     11.8  0.8   4.4  2.2  0.4  0.7  1.7  1.4
Jaylen Johnson    6-9   230  Jr   27  21.4  
   60.5    2    6  33.3  60.3   87  139  62.7     12.1  3.9   8.6  0.8  0.9  0.8  3.4  1.9
Mangok Mathiang   6-10  220  Sr   26  20.4  
   50.7    0    0   0.0  50.7   83  129  64.1     10.4  3.4   8.6  1.0  1.7  0.7  3.9  1.7
Anas Mahmoud      7-0   215  Jr   24  19.0  
   61.6    0    0   0.0  61.6   52   96  53.7      9.7  2.2   5.6  1.3  3.4  1.4  4.4  1.8
Raymond Spalding  6-10  215  So   27  18.4  
   58.2    0    6   0.0  56.4   69  123  56.1      9.0  2.8   8.5  1.4  1.6  1.0  4.4  1.8
V.J. King         6-6   190  Fr   26  14.7  
   43.5   45   98  45.7  50.4  126  149  84.9     13.9  1.3   4.6  1.1  0.2  0.5  1.8  1.6
Tony Hicks        6-1   180  Sr   16  12.1  
   44.4   28  106  26.3  43.2   61  106  57.9     11.8  0.3   3.3  2.7  0.2  1.1  2.2  2.7
David Levitch     6-3   180  Sr   26  10.6  
   35.0   51  129  39.4  50.0   23   51  46.2      6.6  1.0   3.5  3.0  0.0  1.1  3.2  0.4
Ryan McMahon      6-0   170  Fr   24   6.7  
   12.5  127  313  40.4  53.6   80   93  85.7     13.5  0.4   2.2  3.2  0.4  1.1  5.1  1.3