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Carolina’s Frequent Fouler

Carolina’s Frequent Fouler

 Isaiah Hicks is one of the most puzzling UNC basketball players of all-time.

Because he can do things most collegiate players dream about, like putting opponents on a poster as seen here:

But Hicks struggles to stay on the floor because he does a lot of this:

Isaiah Hicks has committed four or more fouls in 31 of his last 70 career games. That’s 44 percent.

While UNC was en route to their run to the NCAA Championship game a year ago, Hicks registered four or more fouls in every NCAA Tournament game except one.

The 6’9″ senior forward commits 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes for his career. It’s impressive and confusing all at the same time.

Using box score data, including play-by-play and referee assignments, we’ll attempt to answer three questions.

1) How does Isaiah Hicks commit all these fouls?

2) When and where does he commit these fouls?

3) And does Isaiah Hicks have a reputation that contributes to more fouls being called against him?


How does Hicks commit fouls?

Hicks has played in 30 of 31 games during the 2016–17 season, and been whistled for 94 personal fouls.

We reviewed all 94 fouls and put them into five different categories:

  1. Shooting
  2. Off ball or away from basket
  3. Over the back (fighting for rebound)
  4. Reach-in, hand check, or block (when player is driving to basket)
  5. Offensive foul, includes illegal screens

 

This isn’t perfect by any means, and categorizing these fouls is a subjective exercise. The video above gives an example of each type of foul.

Here is a summary of how often Hicks is called for each type of foul:

|         Foul Type         | Number of fouls |
|:-------------------------:|:---------------:|
|          shooting         |        43       |  
| reach-in/hand check/block |        17       |
| off ball/away from basket |        16       |  
|       over the back       |        12       | 
|         offensive         |        6        |

 Shooting type foul

The majority (46 percent) of Hicks’ fouls are of the shooting variety. Hicks contests a shot, and the opponent is awarded one or two free throws. This percentage should maybe even be higher because Hicks is a 6’9″ forward that plays in the paint.

Opponents have attempted 110 free throws as a result of Isaiah Hicks committing a foul. This includes free throws awarded because an opponent is in the bonus, so not all of these free throws are from a Hicks’ shooting type foul.

The opponents are shooting 62 percent from the charity stripe (68–for-110) as a result of these fouls. So maybe ball don’t lie is true sometimes?


Reach in/hand check/block

Head coach Roy Williams has said, “A big guy should never make a foul below his waist and he [Hicks] does that.”

17 of Hicks’ 94 personal fouls (18 percent) have come at or below his waist from a reach in, hand check, or block. The majority of these fouls are committed when an opponent is driving to the basket, like seen here when Hicks reaches in while Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox sprints towards the basket.

Off the ball/away from basket

Hicks finds himself in some hairy situations at times. Whether it’s fighting for a loose ball or on his back or positioning for a rebound, the whistle finds Hicks. The senior forward has committed 16 of his 94 personal fouls away from the basket or off the ball, that’s good for 17 percent.

Note: Hicks committed one foul in the Georgia Tech game, where it was late-game situation with a foul to give. 

Over the back

As a forward, Hicks finds himself in the paint jostling for defensive and offensive rebounds. The senior can often grab rebounds over opponents because of his size.

However, when an opponent does a good job boxing him out, referees are quick to whistle Hicks for an over the back foul. 13 percent of Hicks’ personal fouls are of this over the back type when fighting for a rebound, like shown in the Wisconsin game and Davidson game.

Offensive

Hicks’ has been whistled for six offensive fouls, including a pair of illegal screens, and charges like this one from the Virginia game. These types of fouls account for six percent of Hicks’ 94 total personal fouls this season, and 12 percent of his 50 turnovers this year.


When and where does Hicks commit fouls?

Isaiah Hicks has committed four or more fouls in 13 of his 30 games this season. This chart shows the amount of fouls committed over the course of these 30 games.

In his last six games played, Hicks has committed at least three or more fouls in each game (23 total fouls). In January, Hicks had a six-game stretch where he only committed 14 fouls.

Five of the last six games have come after Hicks missed his first career game due to a hamstring injury. It’s possible the injury correlates to the uptick in fouls as of late.

Location

In the 2016–17 season, Hicks has committed . . .

  • 41 fouls in 352 minutes played in 15 home games
  • 40 fouls in 220 minutes played in 10 away games
  • 13 fouls in 122 minutes played in five neutral site games

The senior’s fouls per 40 minutes is much higher (7.3) in away games. Note: The Notre Dame played in Greensboro is being used as a home game in this exercise, similar to how the NCAA is categorizing it

|   Location  | Fouls per 40 min |
|:-----------:|:----------------:|
|     Away    |        7.3       |
|     Home    |        4.7       |
|   Neutral   |        4.3       |

These rates are a little closer for Hicks’ entire career (141 games). It’s 5.2 fouls per 40 minutes at home, 6.8 fouls per 40 minutes at neutral sites, and 7.1 fouls per 40 minutes on the road for his career.

Time in the game

We also reviewed the time on the clock when Hicks is whistled for his fouls. This breaks each half into five segments, similar to when TV timeouts are called after a deadball during collegiate games.

| 1st Half Time of Clock | Fouls | 2nd Half Time on clock | Fouls | 
|------------------------|-------|------------------------|-------|
| 20:00 - 16:00          |  9    | 20:00 - 16:00          | 12    | 
| 15:59 - 12:00          |  7    | 15:59 - 12:00          |  6    |      
| 11:59 - 8:00           | 14    | 11:59 - 8:00           | 10    |    
| 7:59 - 4:00            | 12    | 7:59 - 4:00            | 11    |      
| 3:59 - 0:00            |  5    | 3:59 - 0:00            |  7    |  
| Total fouls            | 47    | Total fouls            | 46    |

A summary shows 47 fouls called in the first half, and 46 in the second half. Not showing in the summary is one foul committed in overtime (Clemson).

Hicks frequently commits fouls during the middle of the first half or from the 11:59 minute mark to the 4:00 minute mark. The start of the second half is also a popular time for Hicks to pick up fouls.

Other notes:

  • fastest to first foul in game is one minute and 26 seconds (Wake Forest)
  • fastest to first foul in second half is 16 seconds (Louisville)
  • shortest time between two fouls is 17 seconds (Wake Forest)

Does Isaiah Hicks have a reputation that contributes to more fouls being called against him?

In order to answer this question, we reviewed the officials assigned to every game Isaiah Hicks has played in his career where he has committed at least three or more fouls.

It’s a strong sample size of 72 games out of a possible 142 career games, or 51 percent of Hicks’ career contests. If you want to see a list of all officials for every game in the 2016–17 season, go to: dadgumboxscores.com/officials

Here is a list of the most frequent officials on the court when Isaiah Hicks has committed three fouls or more in his career:

|     Ref Name    | Number of games |
|:---------------:|:---------------:|
|    Mike Eades   |        9        |
|   Roger Ayers   |        6        |
|    Tim Nestor   |        6        |
|   Bryan Kersey  |        5        |
|    Jeff Clark   |        5        |
| Michael Roberts |        5        |

Mike Eades and Roger Ayers, a couple of the most popular officials in collegiate basketball, top the list. Both Eades and Ayers work a lot of top-tier games and they’re located on the east coast, meaning it’s likely these two will work a lot of UNC games. For example . . .

While Eades and Ayers are some of the most respected officials in all of collegiate basketball, they’re also the most frequent officials on the court when Isaiah Hicks is whistled with fouls. This duo has been on the court together three times over these 72 games, most amongst any officials during that span.

Does this mean Hicks has a reputation that leads to more fouls?

I do believe he has a reputation and I think some officials get carried away with the things that they hear, but I don’t think an official goes into the game thinking, ‘I’m going to call a foul on Isaiah.’ He puts himself in bad spots sometimes and needs to just stay away from that junk. A big guy should never make a foul below his waist and he does that and shouldn’t get caught and tangled up with people and he does that sometimes. I think sometimes the calls are very unfortunate for him, too. 

— Roy Williams, THSN Radio Show

Head coach Roy Williams says yes, Hicks does have a reputation. If you review previous foul calls, it’s possible officials have a cognitive bias towards Hicks. Why?

Because some of the foul calls against him have been as curious as the Oxford, NC native’s mid-season hairdo.

Here are a few examples:

On his back against Kentucky

 

Hicks picked up his third foul against Kentucky about 25 seconds after his second foul call while laying on his back. This prompted Roy Williams to throw his jacket and receive a technical foul.

The official who called this foul and the technical? Roger Ayers.

Block against Syracuse in Final Four last season

Mike Eades whistled this blocking foul on Hicks with 11 seconds to go in the first half against Syracuse in the 2016 Final Four. It was a play where Hicks was clearly outside the cylinder, and still charged with his third personal foul.

Reach in against Virginia Tech

With only two seconds left in the half, Hicks is called with a reach in on a play where two other players ended up on the ground. Assistant coach Steve Robinson’s reaction says it all.

Ayers and Eades both on the court for this one, Eades is the one who blew the whistle with a questionable view of the play.

Yes, Hicks puts himself in tough situations that make it easier for fouls to go against him. Let’s acknowledge officials are human, and they do expect him to commit fouls in certain situations.


Isaiah Hicks will play his last game in the Dean E. Smith Center Saturday night against Duke. Here’s hoping the senior avoids fouls and helps UNC make another NCAA title run to close his career.

If you enjoyed this article, you might find dadgumboxscores.com useful. It’s a site where I’ve collected every UNC box score since 2003–04. 

Four Factor Friday: February Forecast

Four Factor Friday: February Forecast

North Carolina is 20-4 overall and 8-2 in conference play as it heads towards a furious February schedule. UNC has only eight regular season games remaining, four on the road and four at home.

In this edition of Four Factor Friday, we’ll take a look at how the Tar Heels perform when playing at home versus on the road or at a neutral site. And then we’ll try to explain what it means for the rest of the season. Let’s get into it.

What do we mean by home, away, and neutral games?

Before we take a look at the four factors for these type of games, let’s first define what we mean by home, away, and neutral games.

  • Home game: at the Dean E. Smith Center, 12 total games (five in ACC play)
  • Away game: at the opponent’s home gym, seven total games (five in ACC play)
  • Neutral game: at a site that isn’t the opponent’s home floor or the Dean Dome, five total games (zero in ACC play)

Neutral games include three contests at the Maui Invitational, playing Kentucky in Las Vegas, and playing Tulane at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.

While Tulane is in New Orleans, the Green Wave plays its home games at the Devlin Fieldhouse. This is more of a semi-away game, think playing Kansas in Kansas City in the NCAA Tournament in 2013. So for the purpose of this exercise, the Tulane game falls under a neutral site.

Now that’s out of the way, a few more important caveats about this data and why it’s not best to rush to judgment when viewing it:

  1. Small sample size, this information is incomplete (there is still 25 percent of the regular season left)
  2. No adjustment for quality of opponent, UNC has played some easier opponents at home (sorry Radford!)
  3. All data is calculated using raw box scores, you might find differences if you’re calculating using different sources

Home games

UNC is 12-0 at the Dean E. Smith Center. And the four factors explain why. The Tar Heels are more effective shooting, better at avoiding turnovers, outrebounding, and getting to the foul line more than their opponents at home.

|  HOME  |   O   |   D   |
|:------:|:-----:|:-----:|
|  eFG%  | 53.30 | 47.28 |
|   TO%  | 15.00 | 21.40 |
|   OR%  | 44.65 | 27.52 |
| FTRate | 39.29 | 24.44 |

Record: 12-0

Away games

Carolina has turned in some of its worst performances of the season on the road. The Tar Heels do not shoot it as well, turn it over more, and get to the foul line less on the road. This is recipe for a 4-3 overall on the road (both ACC losses have come away from home).

|  AWAY  |   O   |   D   |
|:------:|:-----:|:-----:|
|  eFG%  | 48.10 | 51.30 |
|   TO%  | 19.70 | 18.04 |
|   OR%  | 38.74 | 23.81 |
| FTRate | 29.00 | 36.73 |

Record: 4-3

Neutral games

We’ve seen UNC be the most promising at times this season at a neutral site. Despite the big outlier that was Kentucky’s performance in a 103-100 game in Vegas, UNC still posts better marks across all four factors than its opponents at neutral sites. Remember the team that dominated the Maui Invitational?

| NEUTRAL |   O   |   D   |
|:-------:|:-----:|:-----:|
|   eFG%  | 59.06 | 47.13 |
|   TO%   | 16.80 | 17.04 |
|   OR%   | 39.73 | 25.39 |
|  FTRate | 40.00 | 26.28 |

Record: 4-1

Comparison notes

Again, it’s important not to draw too many conclusions or judgments off this information because it’s a small or incomplete sample size.

But here are five tidbits that might jump out to you:

  1. The three highest offensive effective field goal percentages have come at neutral sites: Oklahoma State (64.1 eFG%), Chaminade (63.3 eFG%), and Kentucky (59.9 eFG%).
  2. UNC snags about five percent more of their missed shots at home versus road or at a neutral site. UNC has been outrebounded twice all year (against Kentucky, at Miami). Never at home.
  3. At home, Carolina has made 216 free throws and their opponents have attempted 175 free throws. This is much different on the road: 99 free throw makes, 118 opponent free throw attempts.
  4. All three of Carolina’s worst offensive turnover rates have come from true road games: at Georgia Tech (25.6 TO%), Clemson (22.8 TO%), and Hawai’i (22.2 TO%).
  5. Two of the three worst defensive effective field goal percentages have come at home, too: Pittsburgh (67.6 eFG%), Kentucky (60.8 eFG%), and Virginia Tech (59.8 eFG%).

Theo Pinson has played in only 25 percent of UNC’s games this season. Carolina has won every game Pinson has played in (4-0 at home, 2-0 on the road, and 0-0 at neutral sites).

So what to expect with the remaining schedule?

First, let’s take a current look at the RPI team sheet (Feb. 1) from the NCAA.

feb-1-rpi-team-sheet

While the NCAA might be moving away from the RPI in the future, it’s still widely used for seeding purposes in March. But the RPI has its faults, mainly it doesn’t include location when measuring a team’s strength of schedule.

So what kind of schedule does UNC want down the stretch?

Jeff (@BPredict), from Basketball Predictions, shared some fantastic insight as to what kind of schedule you might want down the stretch of the season. Jeff uses ACC foe Florida State in his example, and explains why the Seminoles remaining schedule isn’t all that promising:

You want a lot of home games versus teams that would make up “quality wins”, and you want to avoid road games vs decent teams unlikely to make the NCAA Tournament.

The RPI promotes a team’s record against top-50 teams, but it doesn’t really matter where those top-50 games are played. UNC has seven top-50 wins right now, and plenty of opportunities to get more. Here is the breakdown of the remaining schedule and the opponent’s RPI as of Feb. 1st.

Four home games: Notre Dame (26), Virginia (14), Louisville (4), Duke (17).

Four away games: at Duke (17), at NC State (67), at Pittsburgh (56), at Virginia (14).

This means UNC has six more chances to get a top-50 win, whether it’s at home or the road. The road games at potential bubble teams Pittsburgh and NC State are somewhat risky if UNC plays like it did in Atlanta or Coral Gables. There is significant upside with hosting four top opponents at home where UNC hasn’t lost all year.

This puts North Carolina in a solid position to make a case for either a 1 or 2 seed come tournament time without factoring in any games in the ACC Tournament.

Can UNC avoid poor performances on the road? Or will the team at Georgia Tech and at Miami show up again?

Will the Tar Heels stay undefeated at home against four of the ACC’s top teams?

How will UNC fare when it comes time to play at neutral sites in the postseason?

We’re going to find out soon as UNC hosts Notre Dame at 6 pm EST Saturday. Carolina is 5-3 against the Fighting Irish under Roy Williams, including two postseason wins en route to its run to the National Championship game a year ago.

Four Factor Friday: 4 Questions (Jan. 20)

Four Factor Friday: 4 Questions (Jan. 20)

UNC is 17-3 and 5-1 in the ACC after 20 games. The Tar Heels have won five in a row after dropping its ACC opener on the road at Georgia Tech. Carolina resumes play at Boston College on noon Saturday.

Now that we’re through 20 games, in this edition of Four Factor Friday, we’ll try to answer four questions using the four factors, box score data, and a couple different online resources:

1) What’s the most dependable factor for this UNC team?

2) How does this UNC team stack up against previous great Carolina teams?

3) How is UNC projected to finish this season?

4) Who are the officials UNC has seen most often this season?


What’s the most dependable factor for UNC?

Here’s the short answer. The Tar Heels win by outrebounding their opponents.

UNC has proven it can still win while turning the ball over more, shooting less effectively, and attempting fewer foul shots than their opponents because of Carolina’s ability to rebound.

UNC’s ability to rebound is its most dependable and consistent factor. This Tar Heel team rebounds at an exceptional level.

The long answer breaks this down by UNC’s game-by-game record across the four factors.

Can’t win games if you don’t make shots: that’s true for any team. The ability to shoot is the always the most important factor. This is measured through effective field goal percentage (eFG%).

When UNC posts a higher eFG% than its opponent, it’s 13-0 (no surprise).

And when registering a lower eFG% than its opponent, UNC is 4-3.

It’s somewhat surprising Carolina has more wins than losses when posting a lower eFG% than its opponent. UNC has proven it can do that against less-competitive teams (Tennessee, Davidson). It also has beaten two talented ACC teams when posting a lower eFG% (Clemson, Florida State).

When UNC isn’t as effective at shooting as its opponents, Carolina relies on rebounds.

The Tar Heels rank first in the country in rebounding margin (14.4 rebounds more than their opponent). Let’s look at game-by-game offensive rebounding percentage (OR%), or the percentage of rebounds Carolina grabs on its missed shots and its opponents grab on their missed shots.

When Carolina has a higher OR% than its opponent, it’s 17-2.

UNC is 0-1 when posting a lower OR% than its opponent (103-100 loss to Kentucky).

The Tar Heels turn the ball over on 17.3 percent of their possessions against Division-I opponents this season. This metric is called turnover rate (TO%).

When UNC has a lower percentage of turnovers than its opponent, Carolina is 10-2.

When posting a higher TO%, UNC is 6-1.

The Tar Heels have posted the exact same TO% as an opponent once, in a 93-87 win over Wake Forest.

Free throw rate (FTRate) measures a team’s ability to get to the foul line. This isn’t measuring whether UNC can make free throws. We’re measuring how often they can get to the line, and when they get to the line more than their opponent, do they win?

When UNC posts a higher FTRate than its opponent, the Tar Heels are 15-1.

When Carolina turns in a lower FTRate than its opponent, UNC is 2-2.

UNC has proved it can win pretty (Oklahoma State, NC State) and ugly (Tennessee, Clemson). This team can beat you in multiple ways, which is encouraging if you like Carolina blue.


How does this UNC team stack up against previous great teams in the Roy Williams era?

First, let’s define great. It can mean different things to different people. We’ll define a great UNC team as one that finished the season in the Elite Eight or better under Roy Williams.

This leaves us with seven seasons – 2016, 2012, 2011, 2009, 2008, 2007, and 2005. That’s seven out of 13 seasons, Carolina has finished the season in the Elite Eight or better. (Yes, Roy Williams can coach).

Let’s compare the four factors offensively and defensively of each team. This data set only includes games against Division-I opponents, for example, Carolina’s win over Chaminade this season isn’t included.

Offensive four factors

| Season | eFG% |  TO% |  OR% |  FTR |
|:------:|:----:|:----:|:----:|:----:|
|  2017  | 52.5 | 17.3 | 42.7 | 36.9 |
|  2016  | 52.6 | 15.4 | 40.7 | 32.3 |
|  2012  | 49.8 | 16.4 | 39.6 | 37.3 |
|  2011  | 49.1 | 18.3 | 36.9 | 37.9 |
|  2009  | 52.8 | 16.5 | 38.9 | 39.8 |
|  2008  | 53.0 | 18.7 | 42.4 | 38.0 |
|  2007  | 54.4 | 18.5 | 39.7 | 39.5 |
|  2005  | 56.0 | 21.0 | 39.7 | 44.2 |

The 2005 championship team was tops amongst this bunch in eFG% and FTRate. The 2016 national runner-up squad avoided turnovers at an alarmingly-impressive rate, and this season’s team rebounds a higher percentage of misses than any of the previous teams.

Defensive four factors

| Season | eFG% |  TO% |  OR% |  FTR |
|:------:|:----:|:----:|:----:|:----:|
|  2017  | 46.8 | 20.3 | 25.6 | 29.0 |
|  2016  | 48.1 | 18.2 | 29.9 | 30.4 |
|  2012  | 45.0 | 18.3 | 27.2 | 21.8 |
|  2011  | 46.2 | 19.7 | 29.9 | 24.8 |
|  2009  | 46.6 | 20.4 | 31.7 | 25.4 |
|  2008  | 48.2 | 20.7 | 28.7 | 25.7 |
|  2007  | 47.0 | 21.4 | 29.6 | 27.9 |
|  2005  | 46.4 | 23.1 | 31.5 | 30.3 |

There is a reason most Carolina fans feel cheated when looking back at that 2012 team that lost Kendall Marshall in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The 2012 squad—led by the imposing paint defense duo of John Henson and Tyler Zeller—registered the best defensive eFG% and kept its opponents off the foul line better than any of UNC’s other great teams.

The 2005 team—led by Raymond Felton’s ball pressure and Jackie Manuel’s wing overplays—forced turnovers on 23.1 percent of opponents’ possessions, best amongst this bunch. And this year’s squad is the best defensive rebounding team under Roy Williams, pulling down 74.4 percent of their opponents’ misses.

This is a quick and incomplete comparison, as better competition is on its way this season. While it’s never guaranteed, at this point in the season, the 2017 team is trending towards an elite finish.

This takes us to our next question.


How is UNC projected to finish this season?

Yes, predicting the future is impossible. But let’s still give it a try.

For this exercise, we’ll use two reliable resources that have been around for years: kenpom.com and teamrankings.com

Ken Pomeroy projects a 26-6 overall and 14-4 ACC record for Carolina. As of January 19, this algorithm views the games at Virgina, at Duke, at Miami, and home against Virginia as UNC’s toughest remaining games.

TeamRankings projects identical records: 26-6 overall and 14-4 in the ACC. An interesting note is TeamRankings does provide more predictions than KenPom.

team-rankings-email
Subscribe to teamrankings.com email updates to see more Tar Heel projections.

For example, as of January 19th, TeamRankings gives UNC a three percent chance to win all 12 of its remaining regular season games. It views the remaining schedule similar to Pomeroy, but looks to value Duke a little more.

The toughest remaining games according to TeamRankings are at Duke, at Virginia, at Miami, and home against Duke. Not home against Virginia like Pomeroy.

TeamRankings also projects Carolina with a 77 percent chance to make the Sweet Sixteen and a 32 percent chance to reach the Final Four. As of January 19, it has UNC at a 11 percent chance to win the NCAA Tournament (only Kentucky (16.7 percent) has a higher projected chance to win it all).

While it’s mid-January and so much can happen, it will be interesting to see how the seeding for the NCAA Tournament shakes out. Yes, it’s somewhat silly to speculate now. But here’s a hot take question: is it becoming possible the ACC eats itself and gets squeezed out of a No.-1 seed?

Kentucky isn’t likely to lose many more games, and they’re already one of the nation’s top teams.

West Virginia or Kansas will likely win an ultra-competitive Big 12.

Villanova isn’t expected to lose many more games, and they’re the defending champions with a potentially more impressive regular-season resume than a year ago.

And then there is Gonzaga. The Zags have yet to lose and could finish the regular season undefeated.

Take all of these with a grain of salt. Think of it as a long-range weather forecast right now. A projection of a 26-6 record is not far from 25-7 or 27-5 record. These predictions only get more clear as we get closer to March.


Bonus: Who are the officials UNC has seen most often this season?

Each game features three different referees. Using past box scores, here are a list of the most common officials Carolina has seen this season.

|      Name     | Appearances |
|:-------------:|:-----------:|
| Ted Valentine |      4      |
|  Roger Ayers  |      3      |
|  Lee Cassell  |      3      |
|  Ron Groover  |      3      |
12 referees have officiated only 2 games, and 23 referees have officiated only 1 game.

Ted Valentine, AKA TV Teddy, has officiated the most games thus far in the UNC season. Valentine has been on the court for 20 percent of Carolina’s games (Chattanooga, Wisconsin, Davidson, Oklahoma State).

Roger Ayers (Kentucky, Long Beach State, Florida State), Lee Cassell (Northern Iowa, Clemson, Florida State) and Ron Groover (Syracuse, NC State, Davidson) are the next most common officials UNC has seen this season.

I’m considering a deeper analysis of this information, let me know if you want to know anything. For now, here a few things I’ve observed:

  • UNC has attempted 35 or more free throws three times this season. Roger Ayers (Florida State, Long Beach State) and Les Jones (Monmouth, Long Beach State) have officiated two of these three games.
  • The only officials UNC has seen twice in its six conference games are Ron Groover (NC State, Syracuse) and Lee Cassell (Clemson, Florida State).
  • The Tar Heels have seen Groover the most at home (three times). UNC hasn’t seen the same official twice on the road this season. Carolina has seen Valentine (twice), Chris Rastatter (twice) and Donnee Eppley (twice) the most at neutral sites.

UNC returns to action at Boston College tomorrow at noon (here’s hoping Roy Williams doesn’t collapse this time). If you enjoyed this post, please share it with someone you know. Or if you have any questions about this information, ask us a question. And if you’re not subscribed to Adrian’s newsletter, do so right away.

Four Factor Friday: Board Games (Jan. 13)

Four Factor Friday: Board Games (Jan. 13)

North Carolina is 15-3 and 3-1 in ACC play as it prepares to host Florida State (16-1, 4-0 ACC) Saturday at the Dean E. Smith Center.

After 18 games, this Carolina team is excelling in one of the Four Factors more than any previous Roy Williams UNC team. We’ll cover how the Tar Heels are keeping opponents off the offensive glass in this edition of Four Factor Friday.

Rebounding Totals versus Percentages

North Carolina has grabbed 530 defensive rebounds to its opponents’ 182 offensive rebounds at this point in the season. UNC has out-rebounded its opponents in 16 of 18 games, and the Tar Heels are 16-0 when winning the battle of the boards.

Carolina posted the same amount of rebounds (37) as Indiana in the loss to the Hoosiers, and UNC was out-rebounded 39-35 in the 103-100 loss to Kentucky.

There are a variety of factors that influence rebounding totals, which is why it’s better to use percentages.

  • An opponent’s field goal percentage
  • Number of possessions in a game
  • How often a team forces or commits turnovers
  • How often a team or its opponent gets to the line

For example, Carolina recorded 18 defensive rebounds in the first half against Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons missed 21 of their 33 shots (36 percent shooting). There were plenty of opportunities to get rebounds. Wake Forest shot 50 percent in the second half, and UNC grabbed 10 defensive rebounds on 16 missed shots from the Demon Deacons—fewer chances for rebounds.

UNC grabbed only 38 total rebounds in its win over Wisconsin in the Maui Invitational. This game featured about 68 possessions and the Badgers only took 55 shots, so the rebound totals were on the lower end. As a comparison, Kentucky attempted 74 shots in their win over Carolina.

Disparities in turnover or free throw margins can also skew the raw rebounding numbers.

All of these are reasons why rebound totals can be misleading. A rebounding percentage or margin are better indicators of a team’s ability to rebound.

So how does UNC stack up in rebounding margin and percentages?

Carolina leads in the nation in rebounding margin, grabbing about 14 more rebounds per game than its opponents. While most UNC teams directed by Roy Williams snag a ton of offensive rebounds, this season’s squad is proving it can do the same on the defensive end.

Defensive rebounding can prevent opponents from gaining more possessions, and keep them from scoring more points. It doesn’t matter how good a defensive possession is if you can’t close it out by securing the board. A good way to measure it is through defensive rebounding percentage. This metric answers the following question:

When an opponent misses a shot, how often does UNC get the rebound?

Through 18 games, Carolina is rebounding 73.8 percent of its opponents’ missed shots. This mark is similar in ACC play, where the Tar Heels are grabbing 73.5 percent of its league opponents’ missed shots in four games.

As of January 12, this total tops all ACC teams and ranks 51st in the country according to Ken Pomeroy.

Examples of UNC’s Defensive Rebounding

In this short video, we’ll cover three examples of Carolina’s defensive rebounding from its wins over NC State and Wake Forest.

  1. Joel Berry II grabs a defensive rebound alongside 300-pound BeeJay Anya; the defensive board leads to a Justin Jackson three-pointer
  2. After Kennedy Meeks snags a board on the defensive end, Carolina hustles up the court, leading to a beautiful five-second possession where four Tar Heels touch the ball ending in an Isaiah Hicks dunk
  3. Carolina crowds the lane while Meeks pulls down a board for a big defensive stop down the stretch against Wake Forest

 

How does this season’s team compare to previous ones?

We’ll measure this by UNC opponents’ offensive rebounding percentage or the percentage of rebounds Tar Heel opponents get on their missed shots (1 – DR%).

Opponents only rebound 26.2 percent of their misses shots against this season’s UNC squad. This is the best mark of any UNC team coached by Roy Williams. It’s also the best total since Carolina’s 2011-12 team only allowed its opponents to rebound 27.2 percent of their misses.

Year Opponents OR%
2017 26.2
2012 27.2
2008 28.7
2007 29.6
2016 29.9
2011 29.9
2006 30.6
2015 31.2
2014 31.3
2005 31.5
2013 31.6
2009 31.7
2010 32.1
2004 33.7

An opponents’ offensive rebounding percentage isn’t a golden metric or factor for determining an elite UNC team. Carolina allowed opponents to grab over 31 percent of their misses in both championship seasons—2005 (31.5 percent) and 2009 (31.7 percent).

While not golden, UNC’s defensive rebounding does bode well for this season. Carolina generates a lot of its transition offense from defensive boards as we’ve shown in the video above. And it has also dominated the defensive glass in some of its most impressive wins this season, like when it grabbed 31 defensive rebounds on 34 missed Wisconsin shots.

Can UNC keep it up?

Of course, the competition is going to increase as the season goes on. UNC’s defensive rebounding gets an immediate challenge with its next opponent, Florida State.

As Chris Strohsahl points out, the Seminoles average height is 6’7″. Florida State is the second-tallest team in the country according to Ken Pomeroy. The ‘Noles are incredibly long, and rebound 34.9 percent of their missed shots this season.

Junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes has scored 30 or more points in both of his career games against UNC, including a Malik Monk-ish 35 points in his lone visit to the Dean Dome. Rathan-Mayes brings sophomore Dwayne Bacon and freshman Jonathan Isaac to Chapel Hill this time.

With Tony Bradley sidelined due to a concussion and UNC’s smaller lineups coming off a lackluster defense performance, it leaves us with one question.

How will the Tar Heels handle the Seminoles length?

Four Factor Friday: Conference Concerns (Jan. 6)

Four Factor Friday: Conference Concerns (Jan. 6)

This edition of Four Factor Friday highlights some concerns after the first couple conference games. Carolina is 1-1 in the ACC and plays host to NC State Saturday night.

In what might end up being the worst ACC loss under Roy Williams, UNC turned in a turd and Georgia Tech beat the Tar Heels by 12 in the league opener. Carolina followed that up with a fever-dream performance, escaping Clemson with an impressive 89-86 overtime win on the road.

So what’s there to be concerned about?

Turnovers

This is the easiest concern to observe as of late. Carolina is turning it over much more than it has in the past. In the last 3 games, the Heels have 55 turnovers.

In non-conference play, the Tar Heels posted a turnover rate of 17 percent. Carolina is turning it over on about 24 percent of its possessions in the first couple league games.

Not surprisingly, UNC’s highest turnover rates of the season were against Georgia Tech (~26 percent) and Clemson (~23 percent). Joel Berry II has 11 turnovers and only four assists in the past two games.

On his weekly radio show, Roy Williams quoted John Wooden, “Turnovers don’t bother me. It means we’re trying to do something.” Williams added that a lot of turnovers do bother him. Carolina was careless with the ball and made some poor decisions.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the turnovers in the Clemson game. This video breaks down the following plays:

  • Missed 3 by Berry, offensive rebound by Justin Jackson while falling to the ground, and not able to get the ball to a teammate
  • Jackson attempts to drive towards the lane, gets stripped, and leads to a Clemson fast break
  • Berry is a little lazy bringing the ball up the court, pass gets deflected and another fast break
  • Critical possession out of a timeout, Berry drives in the lane and has nowhere to go, throwing the ball to Clemson
  • Another important possession where Berry tries to complete a long entry pass to Meeks that gets deflected and puts Clemson on the line with a chance to take the lead (they squandered that chance)

 

Carolina gave up 18 points off turnovers against Clemson. A few of these were trying to do something (Jackson corralling the offensive board from the ground), but many others were simply poor decisions. It was alarming to see Berry turn it over down the stretch. Luckily, Clemson had its own issues with turnovers, and UNC somehow got it to overtime.


Shot Selection

The Tar Heels have attempted 50(!) 3-point shots in two conference games, making only 15 of them (30.0%). The 50 3-point attempts account for 16 percent of their total (308) this season (in only 13 percent of the minutes).

Carolina’s offensive effective field goal percentage is just 44 percent over these two games. For a Roy Williams offense, 25 3-pointers per game is simply too many (especially when you’re not making many of them!).

Against Georgia Tech, the trio of Joel Berry II, Justin Jackson, and Kenny Williams went a combined 2-for-20 from behind the arc. In a two-minute stretch to start the second half against the Yellow Jackets, Carolina didn’t take a single shot from the paint.

Here is replay of those 4 shots:

  • Berry misses mid-range jumper from the corner when the Heels try to break down the zone
  • Long three-point shot from top of the key doesn’t fall for Berry
  • Jackson takes a quick 3 from the corner and misses
  • Williams can’t get a 3 from the corner to go

 

The zone clearly bothered UNC against Georgia Tech. Carolina only scored 14 points in the paint against the Yellow Jackets. While the Tar Heels saw less zone against Clemson, Carolina still attempted 24 3-point shots.

Berry and Jackson took 33 of the 50 3-pointers over these last 2 games. This trend might not be the healthiest for UNC; it’s not sustainable to rely on these two players to take that many shots from the outside.

Sherrell D. McMillan points out that Berry and Jackson are taking too many shots, and he’s right.

Carolina hasn’t found a legit scoring option from another player yet. Perhaps the return of Theo Pinson will help here?

You would like to see the big men step up. Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, and Tony Bradley combined for 15 shots against Georgia Tech. Bradley has only played 20 minutes over the last two games, so he hasn’t had of ton of chances to contribute.

Meeks took 14 shots on his own against Clemson, only converting five of them. He did tally 14 points, while snagging 16 rebounds; obviously could have scored many more if he would have finished better in the paint.

Meeks is an easy target for criticism, but his minutes down the stretch helped UNC win the game as Adrian detailed. Former Tar Heel Dewey Burke summed up Meeks the best on the Inside Carolina podcast:

He is who he is. He’s a below-the-rim player, but he’s got great hands, great feel. Pretty long arms, and he can pass the basketball. He can finish around the rim when it’s not up and over someone bigger than him.

Meeks has been a really important piece to this team, and will continue to be moving forward. He might not need to score in double-figures every night, but he’ll need some support from teammate Isaiah Hicks.

Hicks took only 13 shots combined against Georgia Tech and Clemson. Carolina has got to get him involved because he’s proven to be an effective and efficient scorer (posting an offensive effective field goal percentage of 58.6).

The senior has taken seven or fewer shots in six games this season. UNC is 4-2 in those games. The 4 wins? At Clemson in overtime, an easy win over Radford, and ugly (and Berry-less) victories over Davidson and Tennessee.


Getting to the foul line

This might be the biggest concern of all so far in conference play. Carolina has attempted 26 free throws in 2 games, exactly half as few as its opponents 52.

26 free throws. 50 3-pointers. That is not a recipe for success for Carolina moving forward. The Tar Heels need to get to the foul line more.

Prior to conference play, the Tar Heels had made 270 free throws and its opponents had attempted 233 free throws. That’s a plus 37 margin. This comparison is something we’ve monitored all season because UNC hasn’t made more free throws than their opponents attempted since 2012.

In league play, Carolina has made 19 free throws and its opponents have attempted 52—a minus 33 margin. Yes, small sample size, but UNC went from +37 to -33 in 2 games. UNC is now +4 on made free throws versus opponents’ attempted free throws for the season.

The Heels needs to find some aggressiveness moving forward to get to the line more. That aggressiveness needs to come from every single player.

Berry and Jackson combined for 69 shots against Clemson and Georgia Tech. Jackson attempted six free throws in those games, while Berry attempted zero. Zero free throws from a player that shoots 93 percent from the line.

Jackson’s only free throw attempt against Clemson came with under a minute to play in regulation (when the Tigers were fouling deliberately). He missed the front-end of a 1-and-1, leading to a Clemson 3 to tie the game.

Hicks has only taken five free throws in ACC play. What’s frustrating about Hicks’s lack of getting to the line is he actually makes a high percentage of those foul shots, too (77% on the season).

It’s an enigma as to how Hicks can’t get to the line more. Tony Bradley has played 124 fewer minutes than Isaiah Hicks and has attempted 17 more free throws. After posting FTA Rates of 47.8 as a sophomore and 57.2 as a junior, Hicks has dropped to 36.4 in his senior campaign. He’s perhaps almost too aggressive on defense and not aggressive enough on offense.

By the way, if you had illegal screen on your bingo sheet for ways Hicks can foul out against Clemson, you get a gold star.

Hicks-illegal-screen
Isaiah Hicks fouled out in overtime against Clemson on an illegal screen.

The concerns over his foul trouble have made him a non-factor as of late. And that is going to need to change if UNC wants to successfully navigate ACC play.


Now what?

In short, Carolina is turning the ball over too much, not getting to the foul line enough, and relying on Berry and Jackson to shoot a ton of 3-pointers thus far in league play.

It’s going to be tough sledding if UNC continues on this path. League play is not going to get easier—especially the second half of the conference slate.

It starts Saturday when NC State makes the short trip from Raleigh. The Wolfpack have a dynamite freshman making his debut against UNC. Dennis Smith Jr. is coming off a triple-double performance (27 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists) in a 104-78 rout of Virginia Tech.

While Smith Jr. is making his debut, State has plenty of familiar faces. The frontcourt of Abdul-Malik Abu and BeeJay Anya both played roles in NC State’s lone win in Chapel Hill against Roy Williams’s Tar Heels, a 58-46 victory on Feb. 24, 2015.

Carolina is 12-1 against NC State at home under Roy Williams. You can find past matchups against the Wolfpack here.

Do you see these trends continuing throughout ACC play? If the Heels are going to get back on track with respect to avoiding turnovers and winning the free throw battle, Saturday night would be a great time to start!

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-3
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.

Meeks-Strong-Man
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.

Britt-bad-shot
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.

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.