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History of the NCAA Titles Leaderboard

History of the NCAA Titles Leaderboard

Carolina is three wins from NCAA title #6, which would break the current tie with Indiana and a certain other Triangle school who does blue all wrong and put UNC alone in third place all-time behind UCLA and UK. The count through 2016:

11 UCLA (1964, 1965, 1967-1973, 1975, 1995)
8 UK (1948, 1949, 1951, 1958, 1978, 1996, 1998, 2012)
5 UNC (1957, 1982, 1993, 2005, 2009), Indiana (1940, 1953, 1976, 1981, 1987), Duke (1991, 1992, 2001, 2010, 2015)
4 UConn (1999, 2004, 2011, 2014)
3 Kansas (1952, 1988, 2008), Louisville (1980, 1986, 2013)
2 Oklahoma State (1945, 1946), San Francisco (1955, 1956), Cincinnati (1961, 1962), NC State (no, seriously, 1974 and 1983), Michigan State (1979, 2000), Villanova (1985, 2016), Florida (2006, 2007)
1 20 schools: Oregon (1939), Wisconsin (1941), Stanford (1942), Wyoming (1943), Utah (1944), Holy Cross (1947), CCNY (1950), La Salle (1954), Cal (1959), Ohio State (1960), Loyola (IL) (1963), UTEP (1966), Marquette (1977), Georgetown (1984), Michigan (1989), UNLV (1990), Arkansas (1994), Arizona (1997), Maryland (2002), Syracuse (2003)
Total 78 titles among 35 schools

Notable points in the history of this leaderboard are:
1946: OK State (then A&M) becomes the first multi-time (and first back-to-back) champ, taking the lead over the six schools who won the first six years
1949: UK joins OK State as two-time and back-to-back titlists; Holy Cross is the seventh school with a single win
1951: UK 3, OK St 2, CCNY the eighth one-time winner
1953: Indiana gets its second; KU is one-timer #9
1956: Russell and San Fran join the back-to-back club (Carolina really needs to get this accomplished sometime soon; there but for the grace of Donald’s shoulder…); ten including La Salle have 1
1957: Make it 11, as UNC finally gets on the board
1958: UK to 4
1962: Cincy goes back-to-back (come on, Roy, it’s clearly child’s play!), making it a 4-way tie for second
1964: Wooden joins the fray, tying 14 others with his first title; clearly he didn’t like the company in this room of the party, because…
1975: UCLA, having tied UK in ’68, has now rocketed to #1 with 10 titles in 12 years; UTEP and NCSU have in the meantime become the latest two of now 16 debutantes
1976: Indiana siezes third place with its 3rd
1978: UK stiff-arms IU with a 5th; Marquette has made it 17 one-timers
1981: The Hoosiers reach 4 after Louisville scratches
1982: Dean, James, and company make some noise and tie OK St, San Fran, and Cincy for 4th
1983: In some world, Akeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler are no match for Thurl Bailey and Sidney Lowe–and holy crap, it’s the actual world! Now five teams are in 4th.
1986: Louisville’s 2nd
1987: Indiana’s 5th
1992: dook’s back-to-back; with Kansas having notched #2 in ’88, 4th place is getting crowded with seedy-looking characters, so…
1993: Carolina finally assumes a really noticeable position on the list, knocking the two-timers down to 5th
1995: The Bruins forget it isn’t the 70’s anymore and tally #11 (I still say “Tyus Edney” sounds like a skin disease)
1998: More of the rich getting richer, as UK’s 6th and 7th have come in three seasons to put them back alone in 2nd place
2000: Michigan State joins the rings, plural, club
2001: The basketball Sith tie Carolina
2004: A Connecticut team just gushing pro-caliber talent makes the population of Two Title Town 6
2005: UNC steps back up into sole 4th place
2007: A seventh freaking school pulls off two in two years (Worthy, May, or Lawson couldn’t come back? Really?)
2008-2011: Kansas, Carolina, dook, and UConn jockey like horses coming down the stretch, as KU ties the Devils, UNC puts a cushion between themselves and those two and ties Indy for 3rd, dook climbs into 4th, and the Huskies catch the ‘Hawks
2012: Calipari mints his first (of what will surely become many, right? Right?) group of one-year, one-title wonders
2013-2015: More musical chairs: the ‘ville ties KU and UConn, but CT breaks that tie and ties dook, but the Leader breaks that tie and ties Carolina
2016: Speaking of tying Carolina, if there were any justice in the world…

So in 8 days we’ll hopefully be vying for our best rank ever on this list. And hey, history says that once you get #6, #7 follows in no time, so for so many reasons GO TAR HEELS!

Carolina-Kentucky: Round 1 Recap

Carolina-Kentucky: Round 1 Recap

Due to life getting in the way, I haven’t had much time to blog recently.

But here are some pieces I wrote following the first matchup:

1.) Defending Monk

2.) Defending Ball Screens (Fox)

3.) Transition D and Late-Game Execution

There obviously no Kenny Williams this time around (who did the lion’s share of the work against Malik Monk in December). And, of course, Theo Pinson has returned to take Williams’ spot as the starting 2 (and likely assignment on Monk). It’s almost comically over-simplistic, but Carolina’s ability to slow down Monk and De’Aaron Fox (and limit their efficiency if that their scoring) will likely determine Sunday’s result. The Heels will need to do a better job against the ball screen than they did in Las Vegas last December.


UNC vs. Duke 3: Tempo-Free Season Box Scores

UNC vs. Duke 3: Tempo-Free Season Box Scores

The slightly improved series history of Carolina vs. Duke after last Saturday:

From       To         W    L    W%
1/24/1920  2/11/1928   17    2  89
 2/2/1929   2/4/1956   30   38  44
2/24/1956  2/27/1960   11    2  85
 3/4/1960   3/4/1966    4   12  25
 1/7/1967  12/2/1977   26    6  81
1/14/1978  2/29/1980    5    5  50
12/5/1980   3/3/1984    8    1  89
3/10/1984   2/3/1993   10   12  45
 3/7/1993   3/8/1998   10    2  83
1/27/1999   2/9/2005    2   15  12
 3/6/2005   3/8/2009    7    2  78
2/10/2010   3/4/2017    5   12  29
           Total      135  109  55

How it would warm my heart if Roy had K’s number as both their careers wound down after K sold out for the one-and-done strategy.

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

Team            UNC          dook Opp            dook        UNC Opp      
Pace             73.0   85%                       70.3  48%               
OffEff          116.0   98%      98.9   72%      114.5  97%     95.5   89%
2P%              51.8   75%      48.8   53%       53.5  88%     46.5   79%
3P                7.0   42%       5.0  100%        8.2  75%      7.6   34%
3PA              18.8   27%      16.5   97%       22.2  67%     22.6   18%
3P%              37.1   77%      30.0   98%       37.2  79%     33.8   66%
eFG%             52.9   75%      47.7   82%       54.4  88%     48.1   77%
FT               15.0   66%      13.0   71%       16.8  92%     12.1   86%
FTA              21.3   66%      18.6   72%       22.4  79%     17.1   87%
FT%              70.3   53%      69.7   61%       75.3  91%     70.7   42%
P                81.2   98%      69.2   72%       80.2  97%     66.8   89%
OR               14.5  100%       9.5   62%       11.2  78%      8.5   92%
R                41.0  100%      33.4   81%       36.6  81%     29.0  100%
A                17.3   98%      11.7   82%       13.2  46%     11.1   92%
B                 3.1   48%       2.5   91%        4.3  83%      4.3    4%
S                 6.7   70%       4.6   97%        5.9  44%      6.0   50%
PF               16.7   87%      19.7   75%       18.1  65%     18.5   41%
TO               11.4   87%      12.2   29%       11.2  90%     13.1   52%

Like Adrian said about the second game after the first one, neither team is likely to stop the other for the whole contest. If one team can clamp down and hold the other to 10 points in 15 possessions or some such in the mid-late second half, that could be the game.

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%   eFG%                               
3P                3PA   3P%   FT     FTA  FT%   P     OR    R     A    B    S    PF   TO 
Justin Jackson    6-8    200  Jr      33  31.5  51.6  54.3                               
              85   223  38.2     75  101  74.8  16.7   1.2   4.3  2.4  0.2  0.6  1.2  1.5
Joel Berry        6-0    195  Jr      31  30.2  49.7  57.1                               
              83   195  42.5     86  103  83.2  14.4   0.4   3.2  3.6  0.1  1.4  2.1  1.9
Kennedy Meeks     6-10   260  Sr      33  23.9  54.0  53.8                               
               0     1   0.0     89  142  62.7  15.1   4.5  11.1  1.4  1.2  1.1  2.8  1.6
Kenny Williams    6-4    175  So      26  23.7  52.5  51.4                               
              44   132  33.8     31   49  63.3   7.6   1.6   4.1  2.6  0.4  1.1  1.9  1.4
Isaiah Hicks      6-9    235  Sr      32  23.2  59.8  59.8                               
               0     0   0.0    132  161  82.1  15.2   2.5   7.1  1.6  0.8  0.5  3.8  2.0
Theo Pinson       6-6    205  Jr      14  21.6  52.2  49.3                               
              27    91  29.6     64   98  65.5   8.8   1.6   5.9  5.1  0.1  1.1  2.4  1.4
Nate Britt        6-1    175  Sr      33  19.1  35.2  41.1                               
              34   103  32.8     32   48  66.7   6.7   0.4   2.7  3.5  0.1  1.7  2.5  1.5
Tony Bradley      6-10   235  Fr      31  15.1  57.0  57.0                               
               0     0   0.0    132  212  62.2  14.3   5.3  10.3  1.2  1.3  0.6  3.5  1.2
Luke Maye         6-8    230  So      28  14.0  50.0  52.9                               
              29    68  42.3     34   68  50.0  10.5   3.6   7.9  2.5  0.4  1.0  3.7  2.0
Seventh Woods     6-2    175  Fr      33   8.4  31.9  31.6                               
               7    37  20.0     84  143  59.0   6.2   0.6   5.5  4.7  0.2  1.9  2.5  4.1
Brandon Robinson  6-5    160  Fr      33   8.1  42.4  39.5                               
              27   110  24.1     69  103  66.7   7.3   1.2   4.6  2.8  0.3  1.0  2.9  1.4

dook Players     Ht    Wt    Class  G    MPG   2P%   eFG%                              
3P               3PA   3P%   FT     FTA  FT%   P     OR    R    A    B    S    PF   TO 
Luke Kennard     6-5    202  So      33  35.8  54.4  59.1                              
             72   166  43.8    125  149  84.3  17.1   1.1  4.5  2.1  0.3  0.7  1.9  1.3
Matt Jones       6-5    204  Sr      33  33.3  48.9  48.9                              
             42   130  32.6     15   22  69.6   6.4   1.1  2.6  1.7  0.2  1.5  2.1  1.0
Jayson Tatum     6-8    205  Fr      25  32.9  48.8  49.8                              
             46   134  34.6    126  145  86.7  15.1   1.3  6.7  2.1  1.0  1.2  2.6  2.4
Grayson Allen    6-5    202  Jr      30  29.8  43.9  49.0                              
             79   227  34.9    135  166  80.9  14.3   0.7  3.9  3.5  0.1  0.8  2.4  2.1
Amile Jefferson  6-9    224  Sr      31  29.4  61.3  61.3                              
              0     0   0.0     90  147  61.4  11.2   2.6  8.7  1.7  1.7  0.7  2.6  1.5
Frank Jackson    6-3    205  Fr      32  24.3  54.1  56.3                              
             60   152  39.3     88  118  74.7  13.2   0.9  3.1  2.1  0.1  0.7  2.9  1.6
Chase Jeter      6-10   230  So      16  14.9  50.0  50.0                              
              0     0   0.0     67  120  55.6   5.2   2.4  5.5  0.8  2.2  0.9  3.9  2.2
Harry Giles      6-10   220  Fr      22  11.8  56.9  56.9                              
              0     0   0.0     41   89  45.5  10.7   4.2  9.9  0.9  1.2  0.8  5.8  1.7
Marques Bolden   6-11   245  Fr      23   6.8  45.7  45.7                              
              0     0   0.0     34   54  62.5   7.2   2.8  5.1  0.4  1.4  0.4  5.8  2.1

Hate to say it, but Kennard is pretty amazing. He could be the next Redick, the guy about whom you wonder at first “How is this dude sticking around in the NBA?” and wonder later “How the blank has this dude actually become an important NBA starter?”

And Meeks only honorable mention all-conference is pretty funny. And not “ha ha” funny. The Sean May comparisons started early and they continue until now, as Meeks is jilted for an honor on account of not playing huge minutes like Sean was cheated of a NPOY he clearly earned.

Wrapping Up the Duke Win

Wrapping Up the Duke Win

While most Carolina fans have probably moved past the Duke game and onto the ACC Tournament (or March Madness/bracketology concerns), I still have a few loose ends to tie up regarding that big win to conclude the regular season. So let’s start tying:

Efficiency by Possession Length

Let’s break the offensive efficiencies for Carolina and Duke down by length of possession:

  • Like usual, Carolina was more prolific in the early offense. The Heels used 46% of their total possessions in the first 10 seconds, compared to just 34% for Duke. Those numbers were strikingly similar to the first matchup, when UNC used 42% of its possessions early vs. 34% for the Devils.
  • Like in the first game (Duke: 126.1, UNC: 121.4), Duke had a slight edge in early-offense efficiency. Carolina’s transition defense tightened up a bit in the second half, however. After allowing 19 early-offense points in 14 first-half possessions, the Heels only allowed 12 in 10 second-half ones.
  • As it’s been doing for much of the season, the Heels won this game with its half-court offensive efficiency. Although Carolina had seven fewer half-court possessions than Duke, it was only outscored 52-48 on trips that lasted longer than 10 seconds. Most of UNC’s big hoops down the stretch (Jackson 3: 22 seconds, Maye layup: 16 seconds, three late Berry hoops: 23, 22, and 22 seconds) occurred in the final half of the shot clock.
  • Limiting Duke’s transition and second-chance 3-pointers was a big key to the win. The Devils got a late transition 3 (Kennard-to-Allen in the corner), but Carolina limited the early-offense kick-out 3s (following offensive rebounds) that can be so deadly against Duke.
  • Like in the previous game against Virginia, many of Carolina’s favorite secondary break options were limited against Duke due to familiarity and good preparation. Well-coached ACC teams will usually do a good job of taking away the back screens, slips, and easy entries that create early offense through UNC’s secondary break. Berry, however, was aggressive in probing the defense early, and able to get some quick baskets off the bounce. In general, the Heels went to more secondary break ball screens and dribble hand-off action to create early offense.
  • Another secondary break wrinkle that I loved seeing was the post-up for Justin Jackson. After cutting backdoor against an overplaying Matt Jones (denying the Meeks secondary reversal pass), Jackson immediately looked to post up the smaller defender. Rather than kicking back to Seventh Woods on the left wing, Meeks instead took a couple of dribbles to the right wing to set up an entry angle to Jackson. This type of secondary option is a great way to get early touches for Jackson on the block against a smaller defender (with the backdoor option available for keeping overplaying defenses honest). Not sure if this was a Duke-specific secondary set that the staff implemented, or if it was just Jackson and Meeks making a play in the moment.


Pinson as a Passer

Despite not scoring for the second game in a row, Theo Pinson’s offensive impact was still profound. Unlike the Virginia game, when the Heels’ offense sputtered (and more Pinson off the dribble may have been an option worth pursuing), it’s hard to argue with 90 points on 72 possessions.  Pinson was clearly Carolina’s top play-maker against Duke, leading the team in assists (7), potential assists (12), and hockey assists (3). His 12 potential assists set up the following shots for the Heels:

  1. A made Hicks layup in secondary after a Pinson post entry
  2. A made Jackson primary break dunk
  3. A missed Meeks face-up jumper after a Pinson post entry
  4. A made catch-and-shoot Maye jumper from just inside the foul line
  5. A missed Maye 3-pointer
  6. A made Jackson lefty layup
  7. A missed Meeks jump hook after a Pinson post entry
  8. A made Maye leaner
  9. A made Hicks layup in secondary after a Pinson post entry
  10. A missed Britt 3-pointer
  11. A missed Jackson 3-pointer
  12. A made Jackson primary break layup (against late Duke pressure)

Pinson also threw two entry passes to Hicks that resulted in unassisted layups (since Hicks backed down smaller defenders off the dribble). Likewise, two of his entry passes turned into hockey assists after inside-out 3-pointers. For the game, Pinson threw a team-high nine post entry passes. Those passes resulted in six made baskets, two missed baskets, and a turnover. The clip below shows one of the Pinson post entries to Hicks that didn’t result in an assist. Still, Pinson’s ability to recognize the mismatch (Kennard on Hicks) and get the ball to the right spot is one reason why his presence is so important to UNC. On this play, Berry failed to take advantage of either of his mismatches (taking Jefferson off the dribble, or feeding Hicks in the post). Pinson, however, immediately capitalized on Carolina’s advantage—something he’s been excellent at doing all season. None of Pinson’s assists against Duke were super-flashy. And his two turnovers could have easily been more (he had some questionable passes that were deflected, but not outright stolen). Still, his ability to seamlessly mix in the simple pass with the high-risk/high-reward one has paid great dividends for the UNC offense, while allowing Berry to focus on his strengths (scoring, perimeter ball movement) rather than his weaknesses (feeding the post).


Carolina’s Defense / Guarding the 3

In the first matchup against Duke, Carolina’s defense allowed 13 made 3-pointers on 27 attempts. Of those attempts, I charted 24 to be open or lightly contested (including all 13 of the makes). So how much did UNC improve its perimeter defense in the second Duke game? Of the 19 Duke 3-pointers (already a big improvement!), only 12 were categorized as open/lightly contested. Duke went 5-of-12 on its clean 3s, a little less lucky than the 13-of-24 it shot on them in Cameron. So, while better shot luck also played a role, the bigger factor was the Heels’ ability to cut the rate of clean 3-point looks in half relative to the first Duke game.

That reduction in clean 3-point looks came at a cost, however. Since Carolina was more committed to sticking to shooters, it put a bigger onus on its on-ball and interior help defenders to stop dribble penetration (rather than using its wings to help early). Duke relentlessly attacked off the bounce, drawing a ton of free throws (usually against UNC’s primary defender, but sometimes against late-helping bigs). It more than doubled its free throw rate from 28.1 in the first matchup to 64.8 this time around. Using the wings to help early against the drive sets up the drive-and-kicks that Duke’s 3-point attack thrives on. But not helping with the wings will put a ton of pressure on ball defenders to curtail wing penetration without fouling (especially difficult against Duke since they’re aggressive, talented, and coached to draw/exaggerate contact). There’s not necessarily a right and wrong way to defend Duke—UNC allowed 1.27 PPP in the first game and 1.19 in the second (both pretty bad). It’s really just a matter of trade-offs: what are you hoping to take away, and what are you willing to live with? Duke’s good enough offensively t0 take advantage of what you give it (penetration/drawing fouls/finishing in the paint last Saturday). That said, I thought the defensive adjustment to take away 3s was the appropriate one. While it’s annoying to watch your rival parade to the line 35 times, that strategy did take away most of the back-breaking, momentum-generating 3s that the Duke offense has historically feasted on. With a different crew of referees (and/or some better UNC defensive discipline), that strategy could have been even more effective.

One play (late in the game) in which the Heels did help early from the wing is highlighted below. Berry starts the defensive possession with good ball pressure to blow up a Duke ball screen. He then makes an excellent help-and-recovery close-out to content a Frank  Jackson 3. This was more of a fake-and-retreat move, as Berry was already recovering back to Jackson before Tatum even released the kick-out pass. If Berry was longer (like Jackie Manuel, Danny Green, or Theo Pinson), this type of play would be even more effective. It represents the ultimate form of defense against Duke: help early from the wings to prevent deep penetration/fouls, but still recover to shooters in time to contest the 3. It takes a perfectly timed help-and-recover (plus some combination of length/lateral quickness) and, of course, introduces the possibility of overhelping. These help decisions are really hard to make in real time, but Berry did a great job on this late possession.



OK, on to Brooklyn!

Big Game Berry

Big Game Berry

#MauiJoel is back. That’s the guy who carved up Juwan Evans and Bronson Koenig to the tune of 46 points on 22 FGAs (10-13 of 2s, 6-9 on 3s, 8-8 on FTs) over the final two games of the Maui Invitational.

Of course #MauiJoel was originally known as #BigGameBerry, the guy who won the ACC Tournament MVP and was inches away from a potential Final Four Most Outstanding Player award last season. And, now that the calendar’s rolled around to March again, Carolina fans are hoping he’s back to stay.

Berry, in case you’re just awakening from a coma, torched Duke for 28 points in Saturday’s big win, including, memorably, 5-of-5 first-half shooting from behind the arc. Let’s chronologically recap how Berry got his scoring opportunities (14 FGAs + 3 trips to the line) against the Blue Devils.

  1. After receiving a Tony Bradley cross-screen in the post, Luke Maye caught a Theo Pinson entry feed on the left block (extended; he was pushed several feet off the actual block). Pinson then cut to set a screen for Berry, who knocked down a top-of-the-key 3 after Maye faced up and located him coming off the screen. Good movement and screening within the freelance passing game to create a clean perimeter look here.
  2.  Berry pushed the ball hard in transition (following a Bradley rebound of an Amile Jefferson miss), pulling up from the right elbow extended for a 16-footer off the dribble. This hoop capped off a quick 5-0 Berry run to turn a 10-9 Duke lead into a 14-10 Carolina one.
  3. Jayson Tatum got switched onto Berry after a series of perimeter exchanges in Carolina’s freelance motion. With the taller defender on him, Berry jab-stepped to create space and, once Tatum dropped his hand, buried a 23-footer from the top of the key in his face to break a 5-0 Duke run and tie the game at 19.
  4. In the secondary break, Pinson lobbed an entry to Isaiah Hicks on the left block. A solid wall by Jefferson forced Hicks under the basket without an angle for releasing a shot, so he whipped a brilliant lefty pass out to Berry on the right wing for an inside-out, secondary break 3 to give UNC a 22-19 advantage. Like on Berry’s first hoop, Pinson got the hockey assist here. In addition to leading the Heels with seven actual assists, he also led them with three hockey assists.
  5. Berry got all the way to the rim in transition, necessitating a help rotation by Jefferson who was able to force Berry’s first miss of the game. The penetration created an easy put-back opportunity for Hicks and, in the words of the esteemed Jay Bilas, acted “almost like an assist” for Berry.
  6. Berry used a secondary break screen from Bradley to knock down a left-wing 3-pointer off the dribble. Harry Giles hedged on the Bradley screen, but then tried to recover to the roller (as a surprised Luke Kennard seemed to be expecting a switch). This defensive miscommunication created an open 3-pointer for Berry, who didn’t miss it (and cut Duke’s 40-36 lead down to a single point). In general, Duke really struggled defensively with Giles on the court (as he was a total disaster on that end).
  7. Berry converted a pair of free throws after the Grayson Allen technical foul for elbowing Brandon Robinson. This again cut Duke’s lead back to a point at 42-41.
  8. Berry received a dribble hand-off from Robinson to knock down another top-of-the-key 3 (his third in the half from this location). Frank Jackson went underneath the exchange (a mistake he’d repeat on a Justin Jackson’s key second-half 3), while Tatum didn’t switch or hedge. The mishandling of the dribble hand-off by the pair of Duke freshmen gave Berry another clean look for his fifth 3 of the half, this time giving the Heels another lead (46-44).
  9. Using a secondary break ball screen from Bradley that resulted in a Tatum switch, Berry got the whole way to the rim, but missed a right-handed layup from the left side of the hoop. The Heels used the identical secondary action on the ensuing possession, this time resulting in a Berry lob to a rolling Bradley for a layup (and Carolina’s final basket of the first half).
  10. After another Duke switch put Tatum on Berry again, he tried to create a mid-range jumper on an isolation possession, but had it heavily contested/partially blocked by the taller Blue Devil with six seconds left on the shot clock. Kennedy Meeks was able to draw a foul on the tip-in attempt, splitting a pair of subsequent free throws.
  11. Berry turned down a Bradley ball screen to drive left on Allen, ultimately having his layup attempt blocked by Jefferson as he tried to get back to the right-side of the rim.
  12. An aggressive drive by Berry in transition forced a bump by Allen, resulting in a pair of free throws. Berry converted both to give the Heels a 69-67 lead.
  13. Plays 13.-16., occurring during crunch-time, are detailed here. To summarize: Berry missed a catch-and-shoot short corner jumper created by Jackson’s drive; finished a drive at the rim with his left hand; knocked down a contested mid-range jumper from the left elbow (after turning down the opportunity to feed the post); and banked in a short floater from the right side. Finally, with Carolina protecting an 85-80 lead in the final minute, Berry knocked down the front end of a 1-and-1 opportunity before missing the second shot.

While Berry did most of his damage from behind the arc (5-5), he scored at all four levels against Duke. He was 2-of-4 from 10-20 feet, three of them off the dribble and one on a catch-and-shoot. He made his only shot from 5-10 feet, the late floater. At the rim, he was least efficient, converting just 1 of 4 field goal attempts. That’s been pretty consistent with Berry’s year-to-date numbers, as he’s struggled (especially in ACC play) to finish his close opportunities. On the season, his eFG%’s by scoring level are:

  • Close: 47.3% (43-91)
  • 5-10′: 59.1% (13-22)
  • 10-20′: 45.2% (19-42)
  • 3-pointers: 63.6% (75-177; 42.4%)

Once Duke started running Berry off the 3-point line, he did a nice job of creating 2-point chances for himself. Still, the Duke strategy was the correct one in the second half. Forcing Berry to hit contested mid-range jumpers and finish at the rim over size is definitely the best way to curtail his efficiency. He’s a good enough scorer to make those shots (and, in fact, did when it mattered against Duke), but it’s a better percentage play then giving him the type of lightly contested 3s he feasted on in the first half.

Speaking of those first-half 3s, Berry hit three from the top of the key and one each from the right and left wings. He did a nice job of getting to his favorite spots as, on the year, he’s knocked down 50% (22-44) on his top-of-the-key 3s and 45% (22-49) from the right wing.

While scoring 28 points, Berry only had a single assist (the secondary break lob to a rolling Bradley that was detailed above). He only had four potential assists on the night, too. But, with Pinson moving into the role of de facto point guard / half-court distributor (he had seven assists and 12 potential assists against Duke), Berry’s been freed up to hunt for his shot and be more aggressive as a scorer. Pinson creating shots and Berry completing them is the best use of each’s relative talents, in my opinion. With Theo’s emergence into a full-fledged distributor, #BigGameBerry has been unleashed to do what he’s wired to do: put the ball in the basket.


Closing Out a Championship

Closing Out a Championship

Throughout the season, we’ve spent countless words detailing Carolina’s late-game execution in crunch-time situations. Oftentimes this year (including the first Duke game), the Heels have been out-executed down the stretch. Even in some wins (like at Clemson), the Heels’ late play (and decision-making) left plenty to be desired. But Saturday night, on the season’s biggest stage, the UNC close-and-late performance was top-notch. And, sometimes, it’s less about execution and more about just stepping up and making winning plays.

We’ll start this close-and-late breakdown as close as it can get: tied at 71 with 6:15 on the clock following a Luke Kennard tip-in. On the court for the Heels was the (regular) starting five–a unit that played 7:03 of the final 9:07, leading 19-10 over that period (the Heels trailed 8-4 in the 2:04 without all five starters down the stretch).

UNC1 (74-71): After running some active (but somewhat frantic and unfocused) freelance motion, UNC dialed up dribble hand-off action between Isaiah Hicks and Justin Jackson with about 10 seconds left on the shot clock. Duke’s Frank Jackson, an explosive freshman scorer, made the cardinal sin of going under the exchange, leaving his namesake free for a clean 3-point look from the top of the key. The Heels’ Jackson, who had missed his first six 3-pointers (including two from the top of the key, a spot where he’s shooting just 36.7% (18-49) this season), calmly drilled this clutch opportunity to put the Heels back in the lead.

DU1 (74-71): Using a ball screen from Amile Jefferson, Jayson Tatum, Duke’s stretch 4, attacked off the dribble (as he was looking to do all game). Unusually, the Heels opted not to switch this big-big exchange, with Kennedy Meeks flat-hedging while Hicks worked hard to recover to a driving Tatum. Hicks recovered just enough to force Tatum to fade left while attempting to finish to his right, with Jackson arriving late to get a help-side hand up. Make no mistake, though, this was a pretty good (and close) look for Tatum, who certainly didn’t have his best night as a finisher (some due primarily to good Carolina defense, some not so much). Meeks corralled the defensive rebound.

UNC2 (77-71): In its secondary break, Carolina went immediately back to the identical dribble hand-off action from the previous possession between Jackson and Hicks. This time, Frank Jackson was conscientious to fight over the top of the exchange. A solid Hicks screen, however, allowed Justin a driving lane as Frank frantically tried to recover. Jefferson, stuck a bit in no man’s land, was forced to step up to stop Jackson’s drive, allowing Carolina’s Player of the Year candidate to thread a perfectly delivered pocket pass to a rolling Hicks. Hicks, guarded by an overmatched Frank Jackson now, easily finished at the rim while drawing the foul. It was his 13th “and-1” of the season (and second of the game), tying Meeks for the most on the team. He knocked down the free throw, the 10th time he’s completed a 3-point-play opportunity.

DU2 (77-73): After Nate Britt and Luke Maye checked in for Theo Pinson and Hicks, Duke immediately exploited the Britt-Kennard matchup (with Britt giving up several inches and dozens of pounds). It used a floppy set to curl Kennard off a right-block screen. He then rolled in a floater over Britt in the paint. Britt defended it well positionally; he simply wasn’t big enough to adequately stop it.

UNC3 (79-73): Carolina went back to its freelance passing game, again using Jackson in a two-man game. This time, it was Maye who set a ball screen for Jackson on the right wing. Duke, who had been switching all exchanges all game, actually hedged and recovered here (with Frank Jackson on the ball and Jefferson as the hedger). Jefferson was late to get back to a rolling Maye, and Jackson was able to hit him for an open layup.

DU3 (79-75): Also sticking to what was working, Duke again ran Kennard off a curl out of floppy (this time using a left-block screen). After receiving the ball in the paint, he took Britt to the hoop to draw a foul (then knocked down both free throws).

UNC4 (79-75): For the fourth straight trip, the Heels utilized Jackson in two-man action. On this possession, it was Meeks setting a ball screen for Jackson on the left wing. He drove baseline then, upon being cut off by the Duke help defense, threaded a wrap-around bounce pass to Joel Berry in the opposite short corner. It was a clean look for Berry, though he was a bit off-balance (and not really ready to catch and shoot, a bit surprised by the odd angle of the Jackson pass, perhaps) which led to a missed 16-footer. Although

DU4 (79-78): With Jackson along one baseline (after his pass) and Berry along the other (after his shot), Duke was able to grab the defensive board and push tempo (following a strong Tatum outlet pass to Kennard). Britt was left by himself in transition to stop Kennard and Allen and, given Duke’s trademark floor spacing, was unable to prevent Allen’s 3 after he sprinted to the left corner. This was just high-level transition offense and shot-making by Duke to take advantage of bad Carolina floor balance.

UNC5 (81-78): With Duke on a 5-0 run, Berry made one of his signature momentum-shifting shots. After Jefferson switched onto him following some perimeter exchanges, Berry drove middle from the left wing in an attempt to get to his preferred right side. Tatum made a strong help rotation, forcing Berry back to the left-side of the rim (and his left hand). This was a fantastic finish from Berry, who’s not always at his best when forced to his left.

DU5 (81-79): UNC switched Britt onto Allen, opting for Jackson’s size on Kennard. Duke used a pick-and-pop to create an iso opportunity for Tatum against Maye (an action it used about a dozen times on Saturday night to isolate Tatum against Hicks/Maye). He attacked immediately to draw a foul on Maye, then split a pair of foul shots to cut the lead to two.

UNC6 (81-79): As Duke was consistently isolating his bench players, Williams went back to his starters with Pinson and Hicks returning to the court. Using a Hicks ball screen, Jackson settled for a contested 18-footer over Jefferson (who switched this time). While Jackson’s getting plenty of praise (deservedly so) for his mid-range game, it’s probably worth making a distinction between 3-level and 4-level scoring (treating the four scoring levels as 1.) close, 2.) 5-10′ (post moves and floaters, generally), 3.) 10-20′ (catch-and-shoot or pull-up mid-range jumpers), and 4.) 3-pointers). Jackson’s been great between 5 and 10 feet this season, almost always utilizing his lethal floater from this distance. But, after this miss, he’s shooting just 24.2% (8-33) from 10 to 20 feet on the season. And, on mid-range pull-up jumpers like this attempt, he’s made just 1 of 17 all year (5.9%). Given that data (and how well-contested the shot was—not to mention that it was a really long 2), this was definitely a win for the Duke defense and a settle by the Carolina offense (although, if you’re going to settle, settle with your best scorer, I guess).

DU6 (81-79): Pinson was back on Kennard, and Duke went back to its right-block floppy screen for him. This time, given Pinson’s size/physicality, Kennard cut to the right wing rather than curling to the right elbow like against Britt. He got a pretty clean 3-point look off, but rushed it a bit due to Pinson’s length/impending close-out. It missed short, with Tatum out-battling (and possibly shoving) Hicks for the offensive board. The Devils reset their offense, going back to the Tatum pick-and-pop iso set. On this occasion, Hicks and Jackson (defending Allen) switched the ball screen, leaving Tatum isolated against Jackson. Undeterred, the brash rookie immediately looked to attack. But Carolina’s wily veteran was one step ahead, moving his feet well to force a Tatum push-off/offensive foul. It was only the fourth offensive foul that Jackson’s drawn this season (all in ACC games), but this one was certainly at a critical time.

UNC7 (83-79): Following a Meeks pindown screen out of a Carolina box set, Berry received the ball on the left wing. Meeks immediately sealed Jefferson after setting the screen, giving Berry an option. He could have taken one hard dribble to the left and spun in a lefty entry pass to Meeks to lead him perfectly to the hoop for a layup. Or, he could have taken one hard dribble to the right to launch a contested 16-foot, left-elbow jumper over the longer Allen. The percentage play, especially in Carolina’s post-centric system, was probably the former—an entry to Meeks. Berry, of course, chose the latter, knocking down the tough mid-range jumper. If nothing else, this play provides a perfect view into the crunch-time mind of Berry. When the chips are down, and the choice is to trust his passing or shot-making abilities, he’ll fall back on his scoring ability nearly every time. The good news for UNC fans is that Berry is a cold-blooded assassin in situations like this. He’s not afraid of taking big shots, and can create/hit them even when well-defended. On the year, Berry’s now shooting 50.0% (18-36) on mid-range jumpers off the dribble.

DU7 (83-79): Allen used a little brush screen by Kennard beyond the arc to drive on Jackson, before wildly throwing his body into a helping Meeks to again get to the line (he had 11 FTAs on just 4 FGAs on Saturday night). As possible cosmic intervention from his earlier foul-drawing theatrics (or, more likely, late-game fatigue or good, old-fashioned choking/bad luck), Allen missed both free throws with Hicks grabbing the defensive board.

UNC8 (85-79): After turning down a Hicks ball screen late in the shot clock, Berry drove right on Kennard, then banked in a short floater over a helping Allen. Learning from his earlier offensive foul drawn by the helping Jefferson, Berry didn’t over-penetrate this time, opting for the floater rather than getting all the way to the rim. Though not as prolific with the floater as Jackson, Berry’s actually been more accurate with his this season, converting 57% of his 21 such attempts this season (speaking of 4-level scorers!).

DU8 (85-79): A Tatum drive-and-kick, which hoped to set up a clean 3-point look for Frank Jackson, was thwarted by a great fake-and-retreat maneuver by Berry. After faking a help rotation, he quickly recovered to contest Jackson’s 3 after the kick-out pass (this fake-and-retreat style of defending the drive-and-kick was memorably used by Raymond Felton on his late deflection/steal to essentially seal the 2005 national championship against Illinois). Berry’s good close-out forced a Jackson brick off the backboard which, when rebounded by Pinson, gave the Heels the ball and a six-point lead with only 1:2o left on the clock. This would essentially wrap it up for the Heels (despite a silly Pinson foul that allowed Kennard to convert a 3-point play and cut the Duke deficit to three; Theo immediately made up for it by hitting Jackson for a transition layup, his seventh assist of the game).

When the pressure was on, Carolina did a great job of getting the ball to its best scorers. Jackson and Berry drove all the action, either as shooters or playmakers. The Heels leaned on two-man action (ball screens and dribble hand-offs), mixing in a box set or two along the way. On the defensive end, Carolina made a strong Duke offense work hard for its looks. The help rotations were crisp, as were the hedges/recoveries. It certainly wasn’t perfect defensive execution (and even that won’t stop an elite scorer like Kennard from getting buckets), but Saturday’s sense of urgency on that end will be what’s required for another march through March.

Big Game Berry + defensive urgency + late-game execution bodes well for a Carolina postseason run. Buckle up: it’s about to get fun!


UNC-Duke: Game-Day Notes

UNC-Duke: Game-Day Notes

Hey! I’ve been knocked out most of the week with the flu (did watch a copious amount of old UNC-Duke games on ESPN Classic in between naps), so didn’t get a chance to do much posting. I’m feeling mostly better today, though, so thought I’d write up a few pre-game notes for tonight’s huge matchup.

  • The earlier UNC-Duke this season had 67.5 possessions, moving Duke’s record against the Heels to 8-3 in the Roy Williams era in games with fewer than 70 possessions. When UNC’s able to ramp the tempo above 70, it improves to 8-9 in the rivalry under Williams.
  • The reason for the above stat, generally, is that Duke has out-executed Carolina in the half-court. Oftentimes, that’s as simple as spreading the court and running high ball screens to set up drive and kicks for its shooters. In the first matchup, Duke also ran some of its NBA-inspired sets (floppy sets for a curling Kennard, or horns sets for Allen dribble hand-offs) to get its scorers the ball in advantageous spots. With Frank Jackson in the starting lineup this time, there might be a return to more of an emphasis on high screen action. Since Jackson, Kennard, and Allen are all players who can finish in the paint as well as kicking to open shooters, they can be tough covers. It’s not as simple as sticking to shooters (as that will risk foul trouble to UNC’s bigs and/or finishes at the rim), and all Carolina fans are aware of the dangers of overhelping against the Duke drive (open 3s!).
  • In that first matchup, the offensive efficiencies by possession length were:
    • 1-10 seconds: UNC—121.4 in 42% of possessions, Duke—126.1 in 34% of possessions
    • 11-30 seconds: UNC—112.8 in 58% of possessions, Duke—126.7 in 66% of possessions
  • Duke used more of its possessions in the halfcourt, and also used them more efficiently than Carolina. As the possession grew longer, Duke became more efficient, scoring 1.37 PPP in trips that took 18 seconds or longer.
  • I charted 19 Duke high screens in the first UNC matchup. Those screens resulted in six offensive resets (i.e., no immediate action directly resulting from the screen/subsequent attack). Of the 13 that did result in immediate action, Duke shot 6-of-9, including 4-of-7 on 3s. It also drew two fouls while committing only one turnover. Again, with Jackson seeing more minutes, there might be even more pick-and-roll offense. The Heels will need to defend it better to walk away with a win.
  • In ACC games, UNC is using 52% of its possessions in the early offense (seconds 1-10). On the season, it’s 56%. The typical Roy Williams Carolina team has been closer to 60% in this metric. In any case, the Heels will need to find a way to improve upon its early offense rate of 42% from the first Duke matchup (while maintaining its early offense efficiency in the 120 range). Part of that is through more transition (primary/secondary break) opportunities, but another big part of “early offense” is creating second-chances/quick put-backs (although this, too, is often easier in the open court/against recovering defenses). An important metric to keep an eye on tonight is how many early offense possessions the Heels are getting (and, obviously, how effectively they’re converting them).
  • Speaking of early vs. half-court offense, Carolina is coming off a season-worst half-court PPP of 0.52 versus Virginia. The Heels scored just 15 points on 29 possessions of between 11-30 seconds against the Cavs. Their early offensive efficiency (1.o4 PPP in 48% of possessions) wasn’t great, either, of course. In two games against UVa. this season, UNC was shut out (o points in 11 possessions) in the final six seconds of the shot clock.
  • After the UVa. game, Carolina is now less efficient in the halfcourt than in the early offense for the first time this ACC season. In conference games, the Heels have scored 1.16 PPP in seconds 1-10 of the clock (52% of possessions) and 1.15 PPP in seconds 11-30 (48% of possessions). In all games, UNC is still slightly more efficient in the halfcourt (a first for the RoyW era): 1.17 PPP in seconds 1-10 (56%) and 1.18 PPP in seconds 11-30 (44%). It’s been an excellent half-court team this season that will need to bounce back from a very poor offensive performance in Charlottesville.
  • In the first Duke matchup, UNC threw only 19 post entry passes, down from its season average of about 24 per game. Part of that was no Isaiah Hicks. A bigger part, perhaps, was how well/aggressively Amile Jefferson fronted (or three-quartered) the post against Kennedy Meeks. Jefferson was really physical, and worked really hard to deny Meeks easy entries (and second-chances) in Durham. That, in my opinion, was an underrated aspect of Carolina’s loss in the first edition of the rivalry. The Heels were fairly successful when they did feed the post (8-of-12 shooting, one foul, three turnovers, three offensive resets)—they just didn’t do it as often as usual. That’s not surprising against Duke, who always tries to take away post entries by pressuring the ball and fronting the post. Rather than trying to force-feed the paint, the Heels will need to attack off the dribble early and often. Let the bigs get their touches on the offensive glass. There, of course, will be opportunities (especially in the secondary break) to make clean post entries. But the default mentality should probably be to attack off the bounce rather than to probe for a post entry (a deviation from how the Heels attack most opponents).
  • UNC’s defense has been performing much better overall than when it played Duke the first time around (in game 12 of the ACC season). Let’s break down the Heels’ defense by ACC segment:
    • Games 1-4: 97.1 defensive efficiency, 90.6 adjusted defensive efficiency (8th in nation if maintained over the course of the season)
    • Games 5-8: 105.2 defensive efficiency, 97.0 adjusted defensive efficiency (48th)
    • Games 9-12: 120.5 defensive efficiency, 108.8 adjusted defensive efficiency (251st)
    • Games 13-17: 91.1 defensive efficiency, 83.0 adjusted defensive efficiency (1st)
  • As seen, the first Duke game completed a terrible four-game stretch of defense for the Heels in which they were allowing 1.21 PPP Even adjusting for the strength of opposing offenses, Carolina allowed 1.09 PPP—a mark that would place it 251st in the country if maintained season-long.
  • Since the first Duke game, however, UNC has allowed just 0.91 PPP (down to 0.83 when adjusted for opposing offensive strength). While some better shot luck has played into that stronger defensive number, there’s no denying that the Heels have been significantly better on the defensive end since the first loss to Duke.
  • In the first Duke matchup, UNC allowed 24 open or lightly contested 3s (Duke made 13 of them). That number will need to come down this time around (or the Heels will need to hope for lots of shot luck). In the last game against Virginia, UNC allowed only 13 of the Cavaliers’ 24 3s to be open or lightly contested (they made 8 of those 13, compared to just 2-of-11 that were well-contested). Against Duke in round 1, 89% of the 3s that UNC allowed were open/lightly contested. Last game against Virginia, only 54% were. If tonight’s number is closer to 54% than 89%, the Heels will probably emerge victorious.

I’ll be back after the game with some quick statistical tidbits, then later this weekend with some more detailed charting analysis.

Enjoy the game!


UNC vs. Duke: Tempo-Free Season Box Scores

UNC vs. Duke: Tempo-Free Season Box Scores

Carolina is 134-109 against Duke. The Devils are our most-played and most-lost-to opponent (State is a distant second with 77 wins), and our third most-beaten foe (Virginia and Clemson are tied for fourth at 131, so one or both of them is liable to overtake Duke before K retires.) One way to segment the series history is:

From       To         W    L    W%
1/24/1920  2/11/1928   17    2  89
 2/2/1929   2/4/1956   30   38  44
2/24/1956  2/27/1960   11    2  85
 3/4/1960   3/4/1966    4   12  25
 1/7/1967  12/2/1977   26    6  81
1/14/1978  2/29/1980    5    5  50
12/5/1980   3/3/1984    8    1  89
3/10/1984   2/3/1993   10   12  45
 3/7/1993   3/8/1998   10    2  83
1/27/1999   2/9/2005    2   15  12
 3/6/2005   3/8/2009    7    2  78
2/10/2010   2/9/2017    4   12  25
           Total      134  109  55

We’ll try to salvage a season split Saturday a little after 8:00. We’ll know a few hours before, when Notre Dame@Louisville concludes, whether we need to win to be outright ACC regular-season champs. 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          dook Opp            dook        UNC Opp      
Pace     73.2   85%                       70.0  43%               
OffEff  115.6   98%      97.8   78%      114.9  97%     95.3   89%
2P%      51.4   70%      48.1   59%       53.6  88%     46.5   79%
3P        7.0   41%       5.0  100%        8.5  79%      7.7   29%
3PA      18.9   29%      16.4   97%       22.5  72%     22.8   17%
3P%      37.0   75%      30.4   97%       37.6  82%     34.0   64%
eFG%     52.7   72%      47.4   83%       54.6  89%     48.3   76%
FT       14.9   64%      12.5   80%       16.5  88%     11.7   89%
FTA      21.4   68%      18.1   77%       21.9  74%     16.6   91%
FT%      69.8   47%      68.9   70%       75.2  91%     70.4   47%
P        80.9   98%      68.4   78%       80.4  97%     66.7   89%
OR       14.6  100%       9.6   62%       11.4  82%      8.5   92%
R        41.1  100%      33.1   83%       36.9  83%     28.9  100%
A        17.1   98%      11.5   86%       13.6  56%     11.3   90%
B         3.2   50%       2.5   91%        4.5  87%      4.3    4%
S         6.7   69%       4.7   97%        5.8  43%      5.9   56%
PF       16.7   87%      19.7   76%       18.0  65%     18.6   43%
TO       11.5   86%      12.4   35%       11.5  86%     13.1   52%

Some of the familiar rivalry storylines play out here. Both teams should score, with neither fouling or turning it over too much. We should win the boards and make them play one-on-one offense, but they’re good at such offense. Their shooters should go off while they smother ours. Obviously that last thing can’t happen, or else we have to do a much better job getting it inside and finishing than on Monday–or both would be nice.

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%   eFG%                               
3P                3PA   3P%   FT     FTA  FT%   P     OR    R     A    B    S    PF   TO 
Justin Jackson    6-8    200  Jr      31  31.5  51.3  54.9                               
              87   222  39.3     78  103  75.8  16.9   1.3   4.4  2.4  0.2  0.5  1.2  1.5
Joel Berry        6-0    195  Jr      29  30.0  49.0  55.7                               
              82   199  40.9     86  104  83.1  14.2   0.4   3.2  3.7  0.1  1.3  2.1  1.9
Kennedy Meeks     6-10   260  Sr      31  23.9  54.2  54.0                               
               0     1   0.0     89  142  62.5  15.3   4.5  11.1  1.4  1.2  1.1  2.8  1.6
Kenny Williams    6-4    175  So      26  23.7  52.5  51.4                               
              44   131  33.8     31   49  63.3   7.6   1.6   4.1  2.6  0.4  1.1  1.9  1.4
Isaiah Hicks      6-9    235  Sr      30  23.1  58.8  58.8                               
               0     0   0.0    117  146  80.0  14.5   2.4   6.9  1.5  0.9  0.5  3.9  2.1
Theo Pinson       6-6    205  Jr      12  20.6  55.0  52.4                               
              29    90  31.8     70  103  68.0   9.6   1.8   6.4  4.7  0.1  1.2  2.5  1.2
Nate Britt        6-1    175  Sr      31  19.2  36.9  42.1                               
              34   104  32.8     34   51  66.7   6.9   0.4   2.8  3.6  0.1  1.7  2.6  1.5
Tony Bradley      6-10   235  Fr      29  15.1  56.4  56.4                               
               0     0   0.0    136  222  61.5  14.3   5.4  10.4  1.3  1.4  0.6  3.5  1.3
Luke Maye         6-8    230  So      26  13.8  47.8  50.0                               
              25    65  39.1     37   73  50.0  10.3   3.6   8.0  2.5  0.5  1.0  3.7  2.0
Seventh Woods     6-2    175  Fr      31   8.6  33.3  32.7                               
               8    38  20.0     88  149  59.0   6.4   0.7   5.4  4.8  0.2  2.0  2.5  4.1
Brandon Robinson  6-5    160  Fr      31   8.3  40.6  39.2                               
              27   110  25.0     71  106  66.7   7.3   1.3   4.6  2.7  0.3  1.0  2.7  1.5

dook Players     Ht    Wt    Class  G    MPG   2P%   eFG%                               
3P               3PA   3P%   FT     FTA  FT%   P     OR    R     A    B    S    PF   TO 
Luke Kennard     6-5    202  So      30  35.5  53.9  59.8                               
             74   162  45.4    125  147  84.5  16.9   1.0   4.4  2.2  0.3  0.7  2.0  1.4
Matt Jones       6-5    204  Sr      30  33.9  48.8  50.2                               
             46   134  34.1     15   22  66.7   6.8   1.1   2.7  1.8  0.2  1.4  2.2  1.1
Jayson Tatum     6-8    205  Fr      22  32.5  48.1  49.6                               
             48   135  35.2    125  143  87.5  15.0   1.4   6.8  2.1  1.2  1.2  2.5  2.5
Grayson Allen    6-5    202  Jr      27  30.8  45.5  49.3                               
             80   233  34.4    127  157  81.3  14.2   0.6   3.9  3.7  0.1  0.8  2.3  2.2
Amile Jefferson  6-9    224  Sr      28  29.3  61.9  61.9                               
              0     0   0.0     94  157  60.3  11.6   2.6   8.8  1.7  1.7  0.7  2.5  1.6
Frank Jackson    6-3    205  Fr      29  23.6  54.3  55.9                               
             62   161  38.5     81  102  78.8  13.2   1.0   3.0  2.3  0.1  0.7  3.0  1.6
Chase Jeter      6-10   230  So      16  14.9  50.0  50.0                               
              0     0   0.0     67  120  55.6   5.2   2.4   5.5  0.8  2.2  0.9  3.9  2.2
Harry Giles      6-10   220  Fr      19  11.9  56.7  56.7                               
              0     0   0.0     42   93  45.0  11.3   4.6  10.4  0.8  1.1  0.7  5.5  1.9
Marques Bolden   6-11   245  Fr      20   7.4  45.7  45.7                               
              0     0   0.0     36   57  62.5   7.6   3.0   5.4  0.4  1.4  0.4  5.9  2.0

The latest poster boy for Duke lovability, Allen, has had it rough since round 1, missing one of six games (and coming off the bench in the last one) and averaging 7 P, 2 R, 3 A, and less than half a stl on 21% 2P, 25% 3P, and 78% FT in 28 mpg in the other 5. I know Adrian would want me to keep this totally classy, but I couldn’t resist slipping the correct spelling of “Duke” in a couple of times and I can resist saying: it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

And Adrian has praised Jones as a consummate role player, but I still think we’re all lucky K never managed to make Jefferson-Giles-Tatum-Kennard-Allen work as his main lineup. Yeah, I know: too much like an actual basketball lineup for his taste.

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.


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.


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:

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 useful. It’s a site where I’ve collected every UNC box score since 2003–04. 

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!