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.
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.
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.