This edition of Four Factor Friday highlights some concerns after the first couple conference games. Carolina is 1-1 in the ACC and plays host to NC State Saturday night.
In what might end up being the worst ACC loss under Roy Williams, UNC turned in a turd and Georgia Tech beat the Tar Heels by 12 in the league opener. Carolina followed that up with a fever-dream performance, escaping Clemson with an impressive 89-86 overtime win on the road.
So what’s there to be concerned about?
This is the easiest concern to observe as of late. Carolina is turning it over much more than it has in the past. In the last 3 games, the Heels have 55 turnovers.
In non-conference play, the Tar Heels posted a turnover rate of 17 percent. Carolina is turning it over on about 24 percent of its possessions in the first couple league games.
Not surprisingly, UNC’s highest turnover rates of the season were against Georgia Tech (~26 percent) and Clemson (~23 percent). Joel Berry II has 11 turnovers and only four assists in the past two games.
On his weekly radio show, Roy Williams quoted John Wooden, “Turnovers don’t bother me. It means we’re trying to do something.” Williams added that a lot of turnovers do bother him. Carolina was careless with the ball and made some poor decisions.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the turnovers in the Clemson game. This video breaks down the following plays:
- Missed 3 by Berry, offensive rebound by Justin Jackson while falling to the ground, and not able to get the ball to a teammate
- Jackson attempts to drive towards the lane, gets stripped, and leads to a Clemson fast break
- Berry is a little lazy bringing the ball up the court, pass gets deflected and another fast break
- Critical possession out of a timeout, Berry drives in the lane and has nowhere to go, throwing the ball to Clemson
- Another important possession where Berry tries to complete a long entry pass to Meeks that gets deflected and puts Clemson on the line with a chance to take the lead (they squandered that chance)
Carolina gave up 18 points off turnovers against Clemson. A few of these were trying to do something (Jackson corralling the offensive board from the ground), but many others were simply poor decisions. It was alarming to see Berry turn it over down the stretch. Luckily, Clemson had its own issues with turnovers, and UNC somehow got it to overtime.
The Tar Heels have attempted 50(!) 3-point shots in two conference games, making only 15 of them (30.0%). The 50 3-point attempts account for 16 percent of their total (308) this season (in only 13 percent of the minutes).
Carolina’s offensive effective field goal percentage is just 44 percent over these two games. For a Roy Williams offense, 25 3-pointers per game is simply too many (especially when you’re not making many of them!).
Against Georgia Tech, the trio of Joel Berry II, Justin Jackson, and Kenny Williams went a combined 2-for-20 from behind the arc. In a two-minute stretch to start the second half against the Yellow Jackets, Carolina didn’t take a single shot from the paint.
Here is replay of those 4 shots:
- Berry misses mid-range jumper from the corner when the Heels try to break down the zone
- Long three-point shot from top of the key doesn’t fall for Berry
- Jackson takes a quick 3 from the corner and misses
- Williams can’t get a 3 from the corner to go
The zone clearly bothered UNC against Georgia Tech. Carolina only scored 14 points in the paint against the Yellow Jackets. While the Tar Heels saw less zone against Clemson, Carolina still attempted 24 3-point shots.
Berry and Jackson took 33 of the 50 3-pointers over these last 2 games. This trend might not be the healthiest for UNC; it’s not sustainable to rely on these two players to take that many shots from the outside.
Sherrell D. McMillan points out that Berry and Jackson are taking too many shots, and he’s right.
Another takeaway from the UNC-Clemson, UNC needs scoring help. For how RoyW wants to play, Berry & Jackson forced into 40 shots isn't good.
— Sherrell D. McMillan (@RellDMC) January 4, 2017
Carolina hasn’t found a legit scoring option from another player yet. Perhaps the return of Theo Pinson will help here?
You would like to see the big men step up. Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, and Tony Bradley combined for 15 shots against Georgia Tech. Bradley has only played 20 minutes over the last two games, so he hasn’t had of ton of chances to contribute.
Meeks took 14 shots on his own against Clemson, only converting five of them. He did tally 14 points, while snagging 16 rebounds; obviously could have scored many more if he would have finished better in the paint.
Meeks is an easy target for criticism, but his minutes down the stretch helped UNC win the game as Adrian detailed. Former Tar Heel Dewey Burke summed up Meeks the best on the Inside Carolina podcast:
He is who he is. He’s a below-the-rim player, but he’s got great hands, great feel. Pretty long arms, and he can pass the basketball. He can finish around the rim when it’s not up and over someone bigger than him.
Meeks has been a really important piece to this team, and will continue to be moving forward. He might not need to score in double-figures every night, but he’ll need some support from teammate Isaiah Hicks.
Hicks took only 13 shots combined against Georgia Tech and Clemson. Carolina has got to get him involved because he’s proven to be an effective and efficient scorer (posting an offensive effective field goal percentage of 58.6).
The senior has taken seven or fewer shots in six games this season. UNC is 4-2 in those games. The 4 wins? At Clemson in overtime, an easy win over Radford, and ugly (and Berry-less) victories over Davidson and Tennessee.
Getting to the foul line
This might be the biggest concern of all so far in conference play. Carolina has attempted 26 free throws in 2 games, exactly half as few as its opponents 52.
26 free throws. 50 3-pointers. That is not a recipe for success for Carolina moving forward. The Tar Heels need to get to the foul line more.
Prior to conference play, the Tar Heels had made 270 free throws and its opponents had attempted 233 free throws. That’s a plus 37 margin. This comparison is something we’ve monitored all season because UNC hasn’t made more free throws than their opponents attempted since 2012.
In league play, Carolina has made 19 free throws and its opponents have attempted 52—a minus 33 margin. Yes, small sample size, but UNC went from +37 to -33 in 2 games. UNC is now +4 on made free throws versus opponents’ attempted free throws for the season.
The Heels needs to find some aggressiveness moving forward to get to the line more. That aggressiveness needs to come from every single player.
Berry and Jackson combined for 69 shots against Clemson and Georgia Tech. Jackson attempted six free throws in those games, while Berry attempted zero. Zero free throws from a player that shoots 93 percent from the line.
Jackson’s only free throw attempt against Clemson came with under a minute to play in regulation (when the Tigers were fouling deliberately). He missed the front-end of a 1-and-1, leading to a Clemson 3 to tie the game.
Hicks has only taken five free throws in ACC play. What’s frustrating about Hicks’s lack of getting to the line is he actually makes a high percentage of those foul shots, too (77% on the season).
It’s an enigma as to how Hicks can’t get to the line more. Tony Bradley has played 124 fewer minutes than Isaiah Hicks and has attempted 17 more free throws. After posting FTA Rates of 47.8 as a sophomore and 57.2 as a junior, Hicks has dropped to 36.4 in his senior campaign. He’s perhaps almost too aggressive on defense and not aggressive enough on offense.
By the way, if you had illegal screen on your bingo sheet for ways Hicks can foul out against Clemson, you get a gold star.
The concerns over his foul trouble have made him a non-factor as of late. And that is going to need to change if UNC wants to successfully navigate ACC play.
In short, Carolina is turning the ball over too much, not getting to the foul line enough, and relying on Berry and Jackson to shoot a ton of 3-pointers thus far in league play.
It’s going to be tough sledding if UNC continues on this path. League play is not going to get easier—especially the second half of the conference slate.
It starts Saturday when NC State makes the short trip from Raleigh. The Wolfpack have a dynamite freshman making his debut against UNC. Dennis Smith Jr. is coming off a triple-double performance (27 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists) in a 104-78 rout of Virginia Tech.
While Smith Jr. is making his debut, State has plenty of familiar faces. The frontcourt of Abdul-Malik Abu and BeeJay Anya both played roles in NC State’s lone win in Chapel Hill against Roy Williams’s Tar Heels, a 58-46 victory on Feb. 24, 2015.
Carolina is 12-1 against NC State at home under Roy Williams. You can find past matchups against the Wolfpack here.
Do you see these trends continuing throughout ACC play? If the Heels are going to get back on track with respect to avoiding turnovers and winning the free throw battle, Saturday night would be a great time to start!