Carolina’s Top (and Bottom) Performances vs. NC State

Carolina’s Top (and Bottom) Performances vs. NC State

Pending any winter-weather catastrophes in the Triangle, Carolina and NC State are slated to renew their rivalry on Saturday in a prime-time 8pm showdown.

And, frankly, ever since Roy Williams’s return to Chapel Hill before the 2003-04 season, calling it a “rivalry” is probably polite to the ‘Pack. Carolina has won 25 of its 28 match-ups against NC State during that timeframe. But, of course, not all of those victories are equal in terms of level of performance (don’t get me wrong: any win over the Wolfpack is OK in my book). Let’s take a look at UNC’s top-three and bottom-three showings versus NC State in the 28 games coached by Williams.

To measure a game’s performance (relative to expectations), I compare its actual efficiency margin (adjusted for venue) to the difference in seasonal (adjusted) efficiency margins between the two teams. All adjusted efficiency numbers are courtesy of kenpom.com. For example, so far this season, UNC has an efficiency margin of +25.8 while NC State’s is +12.8. This suggests that the Heels would be expected to outscore State by 13 points / 100 possessions on a neutral floor. So that’s the “expectation” for Saturday night’s game. In a 75-possession game (and using a straight 3.75-point home-court advantage adjustment per Pomeroy), that would equate to a 13.4-point Carolina victory. But, say, in a 65-possession game in Raleigh, it would result in just a 4.6-point UNC win. The overperformance (or underperformance) score can be interpreted as the points / 100 possessions better (or worse) a Carolina outcome was relative to its baseline expectation.

Read more about this metric’s methodology here.

3 Best Williams-Era Performances vs. NC State

1. UNC 95, @NC State 71: February 22, 2006

  • Adjusted seasonal efficiency margin difference between teams: +6.1
  • Adjusted game efficiency margin: +43.36
  • Overperformance Score: +37.26
  • This 24-point road win over NC State (KenPom No. 32) began a remarkable four-game stretch to end the 2006 ACC regular season: the Heels would follow with a 24-point home win over Maryland (58), a 45-point home win over Virginia (82), and a 7-point road win over Duke (2). David Noel had a 25-point, 15-rebound double-double for the Heels, as four starters scored at least 15 points. Point-guard platoon Bobby Frasor and Quentin Thomas, while not scoring, combined for 11 assists and only two turnovers. This would, probably not coincidentally, be the final UNC game of the Herb Sendek era at NC State.

2. UNC 77, @NC State 63: January 26, 2010

  • Adjusted seasonal efficiency margin difference between teams: +1.8
  • Adjusted game efficiency margin: +26.49
  • Overperformance Score: +24.69
  • Even in Roy Williams worst year (by far) in Chapel Hill, his Heels easily handled NC State on two occasions. Two of UNC’s five ACC wins, and two of its three double-digits ones, came at the expense of Sidney Lowe’s Wolfpack. Deon Thompson scored 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting, while Larry Drew II added 18 points with a 7:1 A:TO. Dexter Strickland scored 14 points on only seven FGAs in 17 high-quality minutes off the bench.

3. UNC 71, @NC State 64: February 29, 2004

  • Adjusted seasonal efficiency margin difference between teams: -0.6
  • Adjusted game efficiency margin: +17.06
  • Overperformance Score: +17.66
  • According to the Pomeroy rankings, NC State (9) actually had a slightly stronger team than UNC (11) in Williams’s first year in Chapel Hill. Despite that, the Heels escaped with a pair of close wins: a two-point victory at the Dean Dome, and this more-impressive seven-point win in Raleigh. Playing on Leap Day, each team made eight 3-pointers—but it took NC State more than twice as many long-range attempts (34 to 16) to do so. Rashad McCants led the way with 22 points (including four 3s), five rebounds, three assists, and a pair of steals. Wolfpack star Julius Hodge was held to 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting in 38 minutes.

3 Worst Williams-Era Performances vs. NC State

1. NC State 58, @UNC 46: February 24, 2015

  • Adjusted seasonal efficiency margin difference between teams: +7.9
  • Adjusted game efficiency margin: -26.3
  • Underperformance Score: -34.2
  • This one ranks as the worst home loss of the Williams era. UNC just couldn’t make shots, converting just 37.2% (16-43) of its 2-pointers, 25.0% (3-12) of its 3s, and 55.6% (5-9) of its free throws. BeeJay Anya controlled the defensive paint, blocking six Carolina shots. NC State didn’t exactly put on an offensive clinic in this one, but its super-physical, slow-down strategy turned it into a half-court grinder. With Terry Henderson’s claim that the ‘Pack will be more like the Bad Boy Pistons, will Saturday’s game take on the same slugfest tone? Optimistically, perhaps, NC State (led by lightning-fast PG Dennis Smith, Jr.) is playing at its fastest tempo of the Mark Gottfried era (50th in the nation with an adjusted pace of 72.1 possessions / 40) so may be more interested in running with the Heels than turning it into a half-court donnybrook.

2. @NC State 83, UNC 79: February 3, 2007

  • Adjusted seasonal efficiency margin difference between teams: +20.6
  • Adjusted game efficiency margin: -0.34
  • Underperformance Score: -20.94
  • In the first UNC-NC State rivalry game of the Sidney Lowe era, the Wolfpack came away with a resounding home upset over the Heels. Rather than ushering in a paradigm-shifting new regime, however, this outcome proved to be a total fluke. Carolina would go on to beat Lowe’s teams 10 straight times until he was unceremoniously dismissed following the 2011 season.

3. @UNC 89, NC State 80: February 18, 2009 

  • Adjusted seasonal efficiency margin difference between teams: +20.1
  • Adjusted game efficiency margin: +7.5
  • Underperformance Score: -13.40
  • When one of your three “worst” performances is a mere nine-point victory, you know you’ve had a pretty solid run of dominance. The Heels, who ended the season atop the KenPom rankings, were a heavy home favorite over the 81st-ranked Wolfpack in a game that ended up closer than expected. NC State connected on 11-of-20 3-pointers to keep this one respectable—Javier Gonzalez went 4-4 behind the arc, scoring 18 points on just eight FGAs. The Heels were led by a vintage Ty Lawson ’09 performance: 17 points on nine FGAs with a 9:1 A:TO. Tyler Hansbrough had 27 points on 10-15 shooting from the field. He also made all seven of his FTAs. Random “Psycho T” trivia: he made 72-of-79 career free throws against NC State in nine games—a sizzling 91.1%. Against all other opponents, he shot “only” 78.3% from the charity stripe.

UNC vs. Expectations against NC State

On average, Carolina’s been expected to win by 11.6 points / 100 in its 28 Williams-era games against NC State. The Heels have actually won by an average of 15.4 points / 100 in those contests, an overperformance score of +3.80. UNC has exceeded its baseline expectations in 19 of those 28 games. Let’s break down those numbers a little further, splitting them out by venue and NC State coach:

  • In Chapel Hill:
    • Record: 12-1
    • Overperfomance Score: +1.96
    • Exceeded expectations: 9 times in 13 games (69.2%)
  • In Raleigh: 11-2
    • Record: 11-2
    • Overperformance Score: +7.44
    • Exceeded expectations: 10 times in 13 games (76.9%)
  • Neutral Sites: 2-0
    • Record: 2-0
    • Underperformance Score: -7.93
    • Exceeded expectations: 0 times in 2 games (0.0%)
  • Against Herb Sendek:
    • Record: 6-0
    • Average adjusted seasonal efficiency margin difference: +6.4
    • Average adjusted game efficiency margin: +20.21
    • Overperformance Score: +13.81
    • Exceeded expectations: 5 times in 6 games (83.3%)
  • Against Sidney Lowe:
    • Record: 10-1
    • Average adjusted seasonal efficiency margin difference: +16.8
    • Average adjusted game efficiency margin: +19.90
    • Overperformance Score: +3.10
    • Exceeded expectations: 8 times in 11 games (72.7%)
  • Against Mark Gottfried:
    • Record: 9-2
    • Average adjusted seasonal efficiency margin difference: +9.3
    • Average adjusted game efficiency margin: +8.33
    • Underperformance Score: -0.96
    • Exceeded expectations: 6 times in 11 games (54.5%)

A few insights from the data above:

  1. Under Williams, UNC has been especially dominant on the road in this series.
  2. Relative to expectations, the Heels have struggled in their only two ACC Tournament match-ups against NC State. Of course, no one’s going to complain too much about any postseason victory.
  3. Although NC State was at its (relative) strongest in the Sendek era, his teams performed poorer against the Heels than either Lowe’s or Gottfried’s.
  4. Even though NC State was (relatively) weak in the Lowe days, UNC still managed to exceed its (lofty) expectations in those games (on average).
  5. Although the 2-9 record might not reflect it, NC State has been significantly more competitive with Carolina during Gottfried’s tenure. Even if you throw out the 2015 @UNC outlier (underperformance score of -34.15), the Heels’ overperformance score against Gottfried (+2.36) would still be worse than against either of his two immediate predecessors. When including it, Carolina’s actually (slightly) underperformed relative to expectations against the ‘Pack.

5 thoughts on “Carolina’s Top (and Bottom) Performances vs. NC State

  1. Thank you for this. I have really appreciated the insight. What are the avg. possessions per game in 11 meetings against Gottfried?

    1. UNC’s average tempo by NCSU coach:

      vs. Sendek: 66.8
      vs. Lowe: 70.3
      vs. Gottfried: 69.2

      The first 7 against Gottfried were played at an average pace of 72.0 possessions (including NCSU’s 80-possession home win in 2013); the last 4, however, have been slowed way down to 64.3 (including the 60-possession NCSU upset over UNC in the Dean Dome in 2015). Gottfried’s recent trend has been to slow it down/rough things up with his physical frontlines. But with Smith, the ‘Pack has been running much more frequently (and effectively). I think this one will be a lot faster than recent UNC-NCSU games and, even though Smith is great in transition, that’s an advantage for the Heels.

  2. What do you think the blowout win vs VT will do to NC State’s confidence? Do you have any data on teams’ play after a huge blowout win?

    1. Yeah, I’d guess teams generally regress to the mean after a blowout win/great performance. Sometimes, of course, it’s indicative of a trend/improving team (maybe the case for NCSU, as it’s still incorporating Yurtseven into the rotation). There’s a lot of game-to-game randomness/fluctuation/variability in shot luck/3pt%, etc., though.

      Interesting idea—will try to research post-blowout performance in the ACC for a future article.

  3. It is SO interesting to mesh the expectations and the perceptions of how close he rivalry is (without looking at any data) and then to see the information presented like you do. Being a fan has its highs and lows for sure, but it’s fun to see the numbers. Most of my buddies are Clem-p-son fans with a few South Carolina ones in the mix. Your brand of data analysis is how I like to look at performance, so it is very welcome. Thanks.

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