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UNC’s Early Offense

UNC’s Early Offense

Yesterday, we looked at Carolina’s efficiency in the early offense (first 10 seconds of the shot clock) versus the half-court (seconds 11-30 of the clock). Against Virginia, true transition (i.e, primary break) opportunities are always at a premium, but that doesn’t mean that a team can’t create plenty of “early offense” chances against Tony Bennett’s team (through things like the secondary break, put-backs, and BLOBs/special situations). And, as seen in the piece from yesterday, the Heels have been more dominant in the half-court this season than in their (generally) preferred early offense.

A big storyline going into yesterday’s game was: who would win the battle of tempo? Since it’s much easier to slow down a game than speed it up, a better way to phrase the question might be: which team would win the early-offense battle, and which would win the half-court battle? Of course, if the same team won both of these facets, that team would obviously win the game (and possibly even dominate it). Yesterday, that team was North Carolina.

Let’s start by breaking down each team’s offensive efficiency by shot-clock segment:

Not surprisingly, Carolina had the clear advantage in early-offense opportunities. The Heels used 44% of their possessions within the first 10 seconds, nearly double the rate of Virginia (23%). In conjunction with UNC’s efficiency advantage in the half-court (a +29.7 margin in seconds 1-10), that gave the Heels a huge +18 (30-12) advantage in early-offense points. Despite having significantly fewer half-court opportunities than the Cavaliers, Carolina compensated by being dramatically more efficient with those chances (a half-court efficiency margin of +43.1). That resulted in a +6 in half-court scoring for North Carolina on Saturday night (35-29). When combining those two UNC advantages, it’s no surprise that the game was a blowout.

The one shot-clock segment that Virginia did control on both ends was late-clock situations. Carolina has held scoreless in its seven possessions in the final six seconds of the clock (0-4, with misses by Berry, Jackson, Britt, and Meeks with 3 TOs (by Berry, Jackson, and Woods (although it was erroneously charged to Britt in the box-score)). Seconds 25-30 of the clock was actually UVa’s most efficient segment, as it scored seven points in eight such possessions. Carolina, as it’s been all season, was especially lethal in seconds 18-24 of the shot clock. That’s generally a sweet spot that occurs after the offense has made the defense shift/probed for openings, but before it’s constrained by an expiring shot clock. In ACC games, the Heels have posted an offensive efficiency of 131.8 in that segment (in 132 possessions). Against the ‘Hoos, it was an even more impressive 177.8. This has also been UNC’s ACC opponents’ most-efficient half-court segment (as it generally is, perhaps for the “sweet spot” hypothesis I postulated above), but the Heels held UVa. to just 0.69 points per possession in seconds 18-24 (on a healthy 16 possessions).

Let’s quickly recap how the Heels created their 26 early-offense opportunities against Virginia, leading to 30 points. As mentioned earlier, the Cavs rarely give up true fast-break points since they generally concede crashing the offensive glass in favor of floor balance/getting back in transition defense. But that’s part of the beauty of Roy Williams’ secondary break system. These are listed chronologically:

  1. Out of one of Carolina’s signature secondary-break actions, Pinson threw a lob for a Hicks dunk. Hicks received a Berry back screen after setting a ball screen for Pinson. Pinson continues to set up UNC’s big for easy hoops: his three assists against Virginia were all to post players (two to Meeks, and this one to Hicks) for a dunk, a layup, and a short hook shot.
  2. Using a secondary-break ball screen from Meeks, Pinson drove the lane but was called for a push-off/offensive foul. His five turnovers this season are three bad passes and two offensive fouls (to go along with 30 assists, plus seven FT assists).
  3. After Berry picked up a backcourt steal, he missed a floater in the lane following the live-ball turnover.
  4. This one was created by another live-ball turnover—this time it was Britt stripping a driving Perrantes with Jackson picking up the loose ball. Jackson pushed it coast-to-coast to draw a foul in a rare primary break opportunity against UVa. He split the free throws.
  5. Jackson hit a secondary break 3 after coming off a Maye screen to receive a dribble hand-off from Britt near the top of the key (shading towards Jackson’s preferred left wing). This transition opportunity was preceded by a long 3-point miss from UVa with a second left on the clock, leading to a long rebound by Bradley.
  6. Bradley tipped around an offensive rebound several times before it was eventually secured by Maye. Maye immediately shoveled it back to Bradley for a FT assist at the rim. Bradley split a pair of free throws, and this was more evidence of the chemistry that’s developed between Carolina’s back-up frontcourt duo.
  7. Berry carelessly lost his dribble out of bounds when attempting to start Carolina’s secondary break from the right wing. It was Berry’s team-high 10th ball-handling turnover of the season (although Woods’ per-40 rate of ball-handling TOs is nearly three times as high as Berry’s).
  8. In a seldom-used baseline out of bounds (BLOB) set, Roy Williams called a play to create a look for the red-hot Jackson. He curled off a staggered double screen from Hicks and Robinson to receive a Woods pass from his left-wing hot spot (Jackson’s made 34-of-65 3s (52.3%) from the left wing, including 2-of-4 vs. Virginia). Although he missed this one, I thought it was a great call by Williams to get his leading scorer a shot.
  9. Woods waved the trailing Hicks out of his usual secondary spot at the top of the key in order to set up a quick hitter out of UNC’s 1-4 alignment. Jackson curled off of a Hicks screen to receive a pass from Woods and hit a floater in the paint while drawing an “and-1.” He’s convert the old-fashioned 3-point play to give UNC a 25-12 lead.
  10. In another secondary break staple, Hicks slipped a screen to receive a pass from Jackson for a dunk. I’m sure the staff worked on this one in practice, as Virginia’s ball screen defense makes it susceptible for the secondary slip. Jackson had a downright Pinsonian game passing the basketball. His six assists resulted in two dunks (to Hicks), three layups (two to Meeks, including an “and-1” and one to Berry), and Pinson corner 3.
  11. After a Pinson steal, he pushed the ball in the primary break to Jackson on the left wing. As Jackson looked to pull the ball back rather than attack the hoop, he was called for a travel.
  12. Bradley blocked a driving layup by Darius Thompson to launch a primary break opportunity. Jackson corralled the defensive board and immediately pushed it himself, hitting Berry for an easy layup as he filled the right wing in transition.
  13. Jackson fed Bradley with a secondary break post entry pass to the left block. Bradley, who had established deep position, wasn’t doubled by Virginia, and missed a good look at a short jump hook over his left shoulder (his go-to post move/location).
  14. After a Meeks block, Pinson grabbed the defensive board and went coast to coast for a primary-break “and-1.” Another example of great Carolina defense fueling its transition game (like the Bradley block above).
  15. Once again a Meeks blocked shot got the Heels out in transition. This time, Berry missed a layup from the right side after making a nifty behind-the-back, hesitation-dribble drive (the quintessential “everything but the finish” play).
  16. Meeks controlled another second-half defensive rebound, throwing an outlet to Jackson who missed a transition 3-pointer. This was a tough, contested 3 off the dribble, and immediately led to a Virginia run-out/open Shayok layup. Jackson didn’t do much wrong on Saturday night, but this shot selection qualifies as one of his poor decisions.
  17. In another secondary break action, Pinson curled off a Meeks screen, then hit the rolling big for a lefty layup. A great pass by Pinson, and another example of the secondary break creating a quick score (although not one that’s considered “fast break” points in the box score).
  18. Woods threw a secondary-break entry to Meeks on the left block, and the ‘Hoos immediately sent their big-to-big post double. Hicks, the trailing big in secondary, cut hard from his top-of-the-key position to receive a Meeks pass for an open dunk. Hockey assist to Woods, and a great job of attacking Virginia’s post-trapping scheme with a well-timed dive to to rim.
  19. After Britt missed a secondary-break corner 3 that was created by a Berry-Bradley pick-and-roll, Jackson crashed the glass to tip in the miss for his only second-half hoop.
  20. Maye picked up a 3-second violation while trying to establish deep post position against an undersized Devon Hall (playing the 4 in UVa’s small-ball formation). This is, of course, rarely called, and is the cost of doing business in the secondary break/Roy Williams system.
  21. Following a Perrantes drive and miss, Virginia’s floor balance was uncharacteristically out of sync (this too-frequently happens to UNC, too, following Berry’s drives). This enabled Jackson to push it himself following a defensive rebound and hit Hicks for a primary-break dunk. Hicks flew down the floor on this play, simply out-running the Virginia bigs. The ability of Carolina’s starting wings (Pinson/Jackson) to defensive board and push the pace themselves is turning into a huge weapon for the Heels.
  22. Running the same 1-4 quick-hitter set that resulted in his earlier “and’1,” Jackson curled off another Hicks screen, but this time missed the floater in the paint. Using this set more has been a nice adjustment that takes advantage of Jackson’s skill-set/ability as a curler.
  23. In another secondary set, Hicks, rather than receiving the reversal pass from Berry, set a screen for Pinson to curl off of. This allowed Pinson to get into the paint off the dribble and finish a contested scoop shot at the rim. Pinson’s ability to penetrate and finish at the rim has obviously given the Heels’ offense a whole new dimension lately.
  24. After throwing a secondary-break pass to Jackson from the top of the key, Meeks followed his pass to set a ball screen on the left wing. Jackson tried to split the Virginia hard hedge, resulting in a ball-handling turnover. Again, no huge issues here—just the cost of doing business in the secondary break.
  25. Pinson hit Maye on the right block with a secondary-break entry pass, then the Cavs came immediately with their big-to-big double. Maye quickly found an alertly-cutting Jackson, who missed a layup that he’ll generally finish. Meeks, however, was in perfect position for a tip-dunk—more evidence of how good offensive ball/player movement sets up Carolina’s elite offensive rebounding game.
  26. On another right-block entry from the right wing, Pinson got the ball to Meeks in deep post position (too deep to double). Meeks turned immediately and banked in a short jump hook to cap off his 13-point second-half performance.

As seen in the recap above, Carolina used a variety of secondary break sets to create early offense against Virginia. It also mixed in a couple of opportunistic primary breaks off of live-ball turnovers or defensive boards by its wings/blocked shots by its bigs. While this game was undisputedly played at Virginia’s pace (59.5 possessions—only the seventh game of the 14-year Williams era played below 60 possessions; UNC’s won all seven), the Heels were still able to create their share of early offense. In an average game, UNC uses about 55% of its possessions in the first 10 seconds (down from a Williams-era average of about 60%). That dropped to 44% on Saturday night. But, as discussed, Carolina’s impressive half-court efficiency this season (particularly in the possession-length sweet spot of 18-24 seconds) has enabled it to win both fast and slow. That combination of early-offense and half-court efficiency figures to make this Tar Heel team an especially tough out in March.





Starting Fresh

Starting Fresh

With the announcement of the sad news that Kenny Williams is likely done for the season following knee surgery, Carolina debuted its new starting 5 on Wednesday night in Raleigh. While this group hadn’t started a game together all season (and, in fact, had only logged 7:16 as a quintet), the idea of a Berry-Pinson-Jackson-Hicks-Meeks unit certainly wasn’t a novel one to Tar Heel fans. That lineup—the expected starting group going into the season—almost certainly gives UNC its best combination of talent and experience at all five spots. If Carolina is planning to make a deep run this March in a post-Williams world, it will be leaning heavily on its new starting 5.

Let’s break down how the new starting lineup performed together to begin the game. Its minutes were limited last night due to Isaiah Hicks’ rapid rate of racking up fouls. Still, the new quintet highlighted some things it does well (and also a couple areas it will need to work on).

UNC1 (2-0): In a coaching wrinkle, NC State started out small with Torin Dorn at the 4. Running its freelance motion, Carolina capitalized on this strategy right away, posting Hicks up against Maverick Rowan (who switched with Dorn on a perimeter exchange earlier in the possession). Hicks, who received the ball away from the block on the right extended mid-paint on an entry pass from Justin Jackson, took one big back-down dribble, then simply exploded over Rowan for a layup to start the scoring.

NCSU1 (2-0): With their 4-out, 1-in lineup, the ‘Pack made it clear right away what they intended to do on the offensive end. Abdul-Malik Abu set a ball screen for explosive point guard Dennis Smith, Jr., forcing a flat hedge by Meeks as Berry fought over the top. Smith’s pure speed allowed him to easily get into the middle of the paint, drawing help from Pinson. Smith kicked out to the left corner, where Rowan missed a clean 3-point look with Pinson scrambling to recover late. This was a great look for one of NC State’s best shooters, and the type of opportunity that ACC teams have been creating all season against the Heels. Luckily, Rowan missed, with Meeks corralling the defensive board.

UNC2 (2-0): Carolina ran its secondary break, flowing right into the freelance passing game. It again looked to feed the post, this time with Jackson entering the ball to Meeks on the left block. Abu did a good job of bodying up against Meeks’ two back-down dribbles, forcing a contested turnaround jumper from the left baseline. Meeks missed, and is now shooting just 23.5% (4-17) on turnaround jumpers this season. It couldn’t be said often last night, but this was a good individual defensive effort by NC State.

NCSU2 (2-2): State went right back to another Smith/Abu ball screen, allowing Smith to crossover a flat-hedging Meeks to get to the rim. Meeks played it properly, but Smith is just an elite athlete. Hicks’ help rotation/contest at the rim was also solid—Smith just made a big-time finish.

UNC3 (5-2): Out of the secondary break, Hicks set a screen for Jackson who received a pass from Berry for a top-of-the-key 3. The shot missed, but Hicks was able to out-battle the smaller Dorn to force the rebound out of bounds against State. On the ensuing BLOB, the ball went around the horn to Berry (after he inbounded and cut to the opposite wing). He then received a ball screen from Hicks, rising up for a left-wing 3 off the dribble after an NC State miscommunication on the switch.

NCSU3 (5-2): This time, Smith turned down an Abu high screen to drive the right-side of the lane against Berry. Berry did a serviceable job of staying connected to Smith on the drive, but a Pinson over-help forced a help-the-helper rotation by Jackson on Rowan in the paint. Rowan promptly kicked out to Henderson (Jackson’s man) on the left wing, who missed a clean look over a late-recovering Jackson. For the second time in three possessions, Smith penetration led to a clean kick-out 3 for one of the ‘Pack’s best shooters. They missed both shots, however. There will probably be a learning curve for the new starting 5 with Pinson, as the team learns how to best compensate for his proclivity for gambling/over-helping.

UNC4 (7-2): Secondary again flowed seamlessly into freelance motion, with Pinson crossing over to get to the left elbow. From there, he threw a David Noel-style jump shot-turned-pass to Meeks under the hoop for the layup. Pinson (easily) leads the Heels in potential close assists, and all four of his assists against NC State were for layups. He also had two FT assists that led to shooting fouls at the rim. His four assists (and two FT assists) were all to Carolina’s bigs, too. On the season, 16 of his 27 assists (plus all seven of his FT assists) are to the UNC post quartet of Meeks/Hicks/Bradley/Maye. If you’re a Tar Heel big, you’re probably quite excited to have Pinson back in the lineup.

NCSU4 (7-4): State pushed the ball in transition, and Pinson did a fantastic job of stopping Terry Henderson’s penetration in the open court. Henderson, however, did hit a tough, step-back jumper over Pinson after having his drive denied. The ‘Pack had zero offensive rebounding support on this attempt, and a long 2-pointer a few seconds into the shot clock probably didn’t qualify as great shot selection.

UNC5 (9-4): After Pinson (on the right wing) passed up a post entry to Meeks on the right block, he rotated the ball to Jackson on the left wing. Jackson swung the ball to Berry in the left corner, allowing Meeks to cut block-to-block to receive a bounce-pass entry there. Abu gambled for a steal, leaving Meeks open to finish a reverse layup against half-hearted help-side defense. This wasn’t a great entry by Berry, and it probably would have been stolen by a better/quicker post defender (Amile Jefferson, for example). It was a good job by the Heels to reverse the ball, however, and Meeks worked hard to create post position on each block.

NCSU5 (9-5): Smith again turned down an Abu ball screen (the fourth time in State’s first five possessions that Abu was used as a high screener for Smith), blowing past Berry on the bounce. This time, Pinson did not help, electing to stick close to Henderson in the right corner (as Smith drove the right-side of the paint again). Hicks, then, was forced to help late at the rim, fouling Smith to prevent a thunderous dunk. He split a pair of free throws.

UNC6 (12-5): After Berry drew a secondary break (non-shooting) foul on Smith with a drive, his ensuing BLOB entry was nearly stolen by Rowan. Carolina was able to recover the loose ball, with the chaos creating a drive-and-kick opportunity for Hicks. He found Jackson open on his preferred left wing location, but the shot was missed. Hicks, however, crashed to grab another offensive rebound against the overmatched Dorn, drop-stepping to the rim to draw an “and-1” opportunity on the put-back. It was Hicks’ 10th “and-1” of the season (second only to Meeks’ 11) and, upon making the free throw, he’s completed eight of them.

NCSU6 (12-5): Another ‘Pack possession, another Abu ball screen for Smith. He again turned this one down, driving on Berry to force a Pinson help rotation. Smith kicked to the right corner to Henderson, but Pinson’s well-timed recovery ran him off the 3-point line. Pinson took a great close-out angle to force Henderson’s drive to the baseline, allowing Berry to help out and strip the ball (which he saved to an alert Meeks). This was a great help-and-recovery by Pinson, and a good job of Berry helping on the baseline drive (after the dribble was correctly fanned in that direction by Pinson). Really good defensive possession; UNC will need more like this against the steady diet of drive-and-kick/ball-screen offense that it figures to see the rest of the way.

UNC7 (12-5): Pushing the ball after the live-ball turnover, Berry hit it ahead to Jackson on the right wing, who immediately found Hicks filling the middle of the lane. Henderson basically shoved Hicks coming through the paint (uncalled), knocking him off balance to force a missed transition layup. Even with the contact, this is the type of play that Hicks (an elite close finisher) generally completes.

NCSU7 (12-7): State pushed it right back following the Hicks miss in transition, with Smith attempting a right-wing 3. Pinson did an excellent job of locating the ball and closing out on the shooter in the open court, helping to force the Smith miss. Abu out-battled Meeks for the long rebound, then kicked it out for an offensive reset. Smith, after using s0me slick shake-and-bake dribbling at the top of the key to freeze Berry, was able to blow by to draw a helping Meeks. Smith dished to Abu, who was able to pick up the second foul on Hicks who had rotated to help the helper. Abu made both free throws. Both of Hicks’ early fouls were as a result of Smith blow-bys on Berry (not involving ball screens). He needs to do a better job of contesting without fouling (walling without dropping his arms), but Carolina also needs to contain penetration better (easier said than done against the lightning-quick Smith). Maye would check in for Hicks at the 16:01 mark.

Following the 12-7 start documented above, the Heels would force turnovers on NC State’s next three possessions, and the Berry-Britt-Jackson-Maye-Bradley combo would go on an 11-3 run to push the lead out to 23-10. That lineup also had a 10-3 second-half run, and led 23-8 in its 6:53 of action as Maye-Bradley (possibly next year’s starting frontcourt) continues to impress from a +/- perspective.

As for the starting 5, it led 14-9 in its 6:12 of court time (Hicks would pick up his fourth foul 2:13 into the second half and not return). On the season, that group is now +15 (34-19) in 13.5 minutes, dominating on both ends so far in its small sample of shared court time (offensive efficiency of 138.8; defensive efficiency of 77.6).

I’m still working to finish charting this game, but will be back soon with a breakdown of Maye’s game against NC State and his development over the course of the season.

The Emergence of Seventh Woods

The Emergence of Seventh Woods

One clear bright spot in Thursday night’s loss to Duke was the play of Seventh Woods. In an extended (6:33) first-half stint, he made a profound impact on the game. After a wild start to the season (which included pops of brilliance splattered on a canvas of recklessness), Woods has demonstrated much better decision-making since ACC play has begun.

If step one on his journey was to stop making so many bad decisions, step two will be to mix in more positive plays (while maintaining that lower rate of errors). If the Duke game was any indication, Woods is well on his way to taking that evolutionary leap. Let’s take a look at Woods’ offensive possessions against the Blue Devils:

1st Half

  1. Following a Woods pass to the left wing, Justin Jackson knocked down a 3-pointer after using a jab step to create space. This one wasn’t credited as an assist since Jackson used some isolation moves/footwork to set up the shot. Still, it was a good example of Woods making the simple play to get the Heels’ top scorer the ball in a preferred location (Jackson’s lethal from the left wing).
  2. Jackson missed a contested floater in transition; no Woods touch on this possession.
  3. Woods missed a floater in the secondary break after running a pick-and-pop with Jackson (at the 4 in this lineup). This was a strong attack off the dribble, and the shot was just short (and almost got a soft roll).
  4. Woods delivered a simple entry pass to Jackson on the left block. As Jackson tried to back down the shorter Matt Jones, he was stripped of the ball for a turnover. Despite the turnover, this was another good example of Woods making a simple play to get the ball to a good spot.
  5. Following a Brandon Robinson post entry pass to Kennedy Meeks on the left block, Woods made a great cut to the front of the rim (as Jones was caught ball-watching). Meeks fed Woods for an easy left-handed finish at the rim. Constant movement is a must in UNC’s freelance passing game, and cuts like this (an area in which Jackson also excels) show why it’s so effective.
  6. Woods collected the loose-ball defensive rebound after a Meeks block, then immediately pushed the ball the other way. After a behind-the-back dribble, he made an accurate left-handed pass to Jackson for a lefty layup in the primary break. Woods’ ability to use his off-hand as a ball-handler, passer, and finisher is already miles ahead of Joel Berry, and is definitely a strength for him. If anything, he needs to work on using his dominant hand more/attacking to the right.
  7. After a Tony Bradley block-to-block cross-screen for Jackson, both defenders followed Jackson (as Duke miscommunicated on the switch). This left Bradley open at the rim, and Woods fired a flashy no-look pass for a dunk. Woods was heading back downcourt before the pass had even arrived, demonstrating a little of that Ed Cota swagger after a slick pass. This play also demonstrates how a top scorer like Jackson can help the offense in subtle ways (by drawing the attention of multiple defenders, in this case).
  8. Woods received a secondary break dribble hand-off from Bradley, then made a simple perimeter pass to Luke Maye (who made a freelance cut to fill an open part of the floor). Maye knocked down a long 2 (foot on the line) from the left wing, giving Woods his third assist on as many possessions. The Heels had now scored on four consecutive possessions: a Woods hoop, followed by those three straight assists.
  9. Maye, after receiving a pass in the right corner, had his shot blocked as he attempted a spinning floater in the paint. Woods didn’t touch the ball on this trip.
  10. Using a high ball screen from Maye in secondary, Woods was able to get to his preferred left side to complete the play with an off-hand finger roll. This was a tremendously skilled finish, showcasing his great body control. Woods has been a poor finisher this year (42.3% (11-26) on close attempts, including 5-of-14 (35.7%) from the left-side of the rim and 9-of-19 (47.4%) off the dribble), but will take his scoring to a more dangerous level once he starts to make shots like this on a more consistent basis.
  11. Woods, again getting a secondary break ball screen (this time from Bradley), was able to split the double team (hedger and recovering on-ball defender) and get in the paint. After forcing a help defender to step up in the paint, Woods delivered a drive, draw, and dish to Maye on the right block. Maye had his layup attempt engulfed by Marques Bolden, but it was still a great job of creating a close opportunity by Woods. Had this pass been made to, say, Isaiah Hicks, it almost certainly would have been another assist. As it is, it’ll go down as a “potential close assist” in the charting stats. Woods’ handle was a little bit shaky when splitting the ball screen defense, but he was able to get through unscathed. Improving his ball-handling will be another way that Woods takes his game to the next level (allowing him to use his great quickness to make more plays like this one more easily).

2nd Half

  1. Nate Britt turned the ball over on an attempted primary break lob to Theo Pinson. No Woods touch on this possession.
  2. Another Woods mid-range assist on a routine freelance passing game feed to Maye. Maye again found a free spot to re-locate to, allowing Woods to hit him for a 16-footer from the left mid-paint extended. Nothing fancy here, but an example of making the simple play in the halfcourt offense.
  3. After a Woods station-to-station perimeter pass to Britt was deflected out of bounds by an overplaying Luke Kennard, Roy Williams opted to bring Berry back in the game to close out the last 6:57 of a 70-70 game. This was Woods’ only questionable decision of the night, as it could have easily led to a live-ball turnover and Duke run-out in the other direction.

I didn’t talk much about Woods’ defense against Duke, but he was very quiet (in a good way) on that end. Defending Jones and then Frank Jackson, Woods’ only defensive box score contributions were a deflection and a defensive board. He picked up the the deflection by stripping Jackson in the paint after a good Bradley help rotation allowed Woods to recover and get his hands on the ball (it would go out of bounds to Duke). In general, Woods’ defense has been solid all year. He’s certainly made some freshman mistakes (ball-watching, gambling for steals, etc.), but his defense has been an overall positive this season. He’s on track to develop into an above-average on-ball defender, probably as early as his sophomore season.

After his 4 assists/0 turnovers line against Duke, Woods’ A:TO in ACC play improved to 22:8 (after being 18:25 in non-conference competition). On a per-40 basis:

  • Non-conference: 4.8 assists / 40, 6.6 turnovers / 40
  • Conference: 11.7 assists / 40, 4.3 turnovers / 40

The 4.3 turnovers / 40 is still a bit high (though moving rapidly in the right direction), but the 11.7 assists / 40 (22 assists in 75 ACC minutes) is off-the-charts good. Adjusted for pace, that number is 11.2 assists / 40. Over the course of an entire season, only Kendall Marshall’s 11.4 / 40 in 2012 would top it (Marshall had 9.7 / 40 as a freshman in ’11; Ed Cota’s FR-SR numbers were 9.8, 9.3, 8.6, 9.0). Obviously Woods’ current ACC assist rate in not sustainable. Nobody is mistaking him for Marshall or Cota (or even Raymond Felton) as an all-time Carolina passer. But the truth is most certainly somewhere in the middle between his 4.8 / 40 non-conference rate and his gaudy 11.7 / 40 ACC one.

Let’s take a look at some season-to-date UNC passing leaderboards to see where Woods ranks (as seen by his non-conference/ACC splits, he’s been moving way up on these lists lately):

Assists / 40 (including FT Assists)

  1. Pinson: 9.72
  2. Woods: 8.19
  3. Berry: 6.20
  4. Britt: 5.88
  5. Robinson: 5.56

Potential Assists / 40

  1. Pinson: 16.66
  2. Woods: 16.55
  3. Berry: 14.61
  4. Britt: 12.52
  5. Robinson: 10.94

Potential Close Assists / 40

  1. Pinson: 7.64
  2. Woods: 5.16
  3. Robinson: 4.51
  4. Britt: 4.41
  5. Berry: 4.34

%Open Shots (Open Potential Assists / Potential Assists)

  1. Pinson: 34.2%
  2. Meeks: 22.5%
  3. Woods: 20.9%
  4. Hicks: 17.5%
  5. Britt: 17.3%

The bad news, of course, has been the rate of passing turnovers for Woods—nearly twice as high as the next-highest Heel (although, again, trending in the right direction) :

Passing TO / 40

  1. Woods: 3.55
  2. Berry: 1.86
  3. Maye: 1.42
  4. Britt: 1.24
  5. Williams: 1.03

Passing TO% (Passing TO / Potential Assists)

  1. Woods: 21.5%
  2. Meeks: 16.9%
  3. Maye: 15.4%
  4. Hicks: 15.4%
  5. Berry: 12.7%

Woods’ scoring (and scoring efficiency) has also been way done in ACC games. After scoring 11.4 points / 40 in non-conference play on a TS% of 48.5, those numbers have dropped to 5.3 and 24.7% in the ACC. Woods is also drawing significantly fewer fouls in league games (FTA Rate of 56.3 vs. 90.3 in the non-conference). That’s to be expected with Woods’ evolutionary journey of first eliminating the bad plays (which has made him less aggressive/more focused on making the simple play). Some of the good (attacking the rim to draw fouls/score) has been temporarily shelved since it didn’t outweigh the bad. But, as the Duke game may have portended, Woods may soon be to the next step in his journey as a Carolina point guard: a stage in which the good/aggressive plays are more prevalent, but not interspersed with so many bad ones (i.e., knowing when to attack and when to make the smart/simple/safe play). Learning the UNC system isn’t easy for any freshman point guard. But if the recent signs are to be believed, Seventh Woods is close to having a breakthrough.


Defending Duke’s Threes

Defending Duke’s Threes

Here’s a quick breakdown of how Duke created its 13 made 3-pointers on Thursday night. I only focused on the made 3s, but (generally) the missed 3s were created in the same manner—a combination of high-screen/iso drive-and-kicks and dribble hand-offs. Most of the misses were charted as “lightly contested” t00.

For the game, I categorized Duke’s 3s into the following levels of contestedness:

  • Open: 1-2
  • Lightly contested: 12-22
  • Contested: 0-3
  • Heavily contested: 0-0

Open can be interpreted as “wide open” (i.e., no one closing out at all). Lightly contested is what we’re more familiar with as Carolina fans: a defender closing out late following a help-and-recovery (or giving too much space on the perimeter/having his hand down, etc.). These 3s will be listed chronologically:

  1. Allen, lightly contested, right corner, drive-and-kick: Duke created this 3 in its secondary break. Tatum, after receiving a top of the key pass from Allen, immediately attacked Maye off the dribble. Allen smartly relocated to the corner, freeing himself for a kick-out after Berry reached in to slow Tatum’s penetration. Berry was in a tough spot here. Had he not reached in, Tatum would have (probably) finished over Maye at the rim or created a drive-and-dish to Jefferson for a rim attempt. Due to the Tatum-Maye mismatch, I would consider this an appropriate help rotation by Berry (whose recovery was slowed by Allen’s movement off the ball).
  2. Allen, lightly contested, left wing, high screen: This was another secondary break 3, as Jefferson set an early ball screen for Allen before the Devils got into any offensive set. Meeks flat-hedged the screen adequately, but Jackson made the cardinal sin of going under the ball screen versus a shooter. Capitalizing on this mistake, Allen quickly launched a deep 24-footer. I should note that not all “lightly contested” 3s are “easy” 3s. Allen had space here, but his quick release and ability to pull up off the dribble still made this a tough shot for the average college shooter. In general, though, there’s a high correlation between how contested a 3 is and how difficult it is.
  3. Jackson, lightly contested, left corner, high screen: Duke ran a 4/5 ball screen with Bolden setting one for Tatum. Maye and Meeks correctly switched this exchange, and Meeks did a nice job with his footwork and positioning to control Tatum’s drive. In this case (unlike 1.), Berry’s help was unwarranted and opened up a kick-out to Jackson in the left corner. This was a classic example of a Carolina overhelp against non-threatening penetration (Berry, Britt, and Pinson are the most frequent offenders here). Granted, in real-time, it’s not always easy to discern a “non-threatening” drive from a “threatening” one (and Carolina’s default is almost always to err on the side of helping early—although they will occasionally gameplan to stick to/not help off of certain shooters).
  4. Allen, open, right wing, transition: Allen got a wide-open 3-pointer in transition after Berry had his floater blocked before falling to the floor. The bad shot selection here essentially turned it into a live-ball turnover, exacerbated by the fact that Berry ended up on the ground/out of the play. In general, UNC’s struggled with floor balance following Berry drives (which usually falls on the other wings to be aware of their transition responsibilities/not crash for offensive boards).
  5. Jones, lightly contested, right corner, floppy set: Duke ran a floppy set for Jones, who, instead of curling around the screen like Kennard did all night, flared out to the corner. He read the defense well (which is why this set can be so effective), as Kenny Williams tried to take a shortcut around the screen. This resulted in a bad closeout angle for Williams, who got caught up in the Jefferson screen when trying to recover to Jones in the corner. Good offense here, but also a poor job of screen navigation by Williams.
  6. Allen, lightly contested, left wing, BLOB: In this half-ending play, Carolina got into its typical mismatch situations following opponents’ baseline out of bounds plays. Since the Heels were going small, the Pinson-on-Allen matchup wasn’t a terrible one. Even so, Duke isolated Allen and he was able to cross over Pinson (with some help from an extended off arm, perhaps) to create plenty of room for a 3 off the dribble. This is another one in the category of “lightly contested, but not easy” 3-pointers.
  7. Kennard, lightly contested, left corner, drive-and-kick: After Allen, driving from the right wing, beat Jackson off the dribble without the help of a screen, he kicked out to the left corner for a clean Kennard 3. This was a classic case of overhelping by Williams. Both Meeks and Maye were already in the paint as help defenders, and Williams became the fourth Heel in the paint when he needlessly rotated down from the corner.
  8. Kennard, lightly contested, right wing, transition: After a Jackson live-ball turnover (trying to save an offensive rebound while falling out of bounds), Duke pushed it the other way. After a failed Allen-to-Tatum lob, the ball was kicked out to Kennard. Berry was actually in pretty decent position, but was just a half-step slow to locate and recover to the shooter in transition.
  9. Allen, lightly contested, right wing, off the dribble: Duke didn’t run any type of set here at all. Allen simply recognized that Jackson was giving him too much cushion, and pulled up for a quick, deep 3 off the bounce. While Jackson does need to stick to shooters tighter, this was a big-time shot by Allen.
  10. Tatum, lightly contested, left corner, high screen: This was the first of three consecutive possessions that Duke ran a ball screen with Kennard and Giles (defended by Williams and Meeks). Williams fought over the top (each time) with Meeks flat-hedging it. On this one, Williams has late to the recover to the driving Kennard, forcing Meeks to recover late to the rolling Giles. Those late recoveries meant that Pinson needed to maintain his help position in the middle of the paint to prevent a dunk/lob for the rolling Giles. Kennard, who expertly uses change of pace when attacking off of ball screens, was able to kick out to the free Tatum in the left corner as Pinson’s closeout was way late (through no fault of his own). On the very next possession, a tentative Pinson (after just getting burned for a corner 3) did not get nearly as deep in the paint to help against the roller. Williams and Meeks were again slow to their respective recoveries, this time resulting in a Kennard-to-Giles pass for an open dunk. While Carolina fans often bemoan the Heels’ penchant for overhelping, these two consecutive (identical) plays show the risks associated with both overhelping (clean 3) and underhelping (open dunk) on a well-executed pick-and-roll. It’s often a lose-lose situation, especially when complicated by roster/personnel issues (i.e., Meeks’ lack of foot speed on recoveries).
  11. Allen, lightly contested, right wing, drive-and-kick: This one started with a great defensive sequence by Berry to force a deep Allen catch, then cut off his dribble penetration to force a kick-out. In another BLOB-generated mismatch, Tatum immediately drove on a much-smaller Britt. This forced Berry to make an early help/not-help decision. He actually did a good job with his help-and-recovery (after cheating off Allen a bit to slow Tatum’s penetration; probably the right call given the Britt size disadvantage), but Allen had his hands ready to shoot and received a perfect pass from Tatum. This all led to a super-quick release, enabling Allen to get off the shot before Berry could recover to adequately contest it. Good fundamentals (hands/feet in shooting position, accurate pass) and a talented shooter trumped a solid defensive play by Berry here. There’s a reason why Duke’s always such a good perimeter-shooting team (good sets, good fundamentals, good players/shooters).
  12. Tatum, lightly contested, right corner, drive-and-kick: Kennard received a pin-down screen from Jefferson to get the ball isolated on Williams on the right wing. He attacked off the dribble, but was pretty well-contained by Williams. Kennard used his exaggerated ball fake in the lane to draw an overhelping Pinson, setting up a kick-out to Tatum. This was a case where Pinson’s penchant for defensive disruption was probably counterproductive. By gambling for a steal/block, he left a shooter (albeit not a great one in Tatum) open. While Kennard’s more than capable of finishing in the paint, the best bet here is probably to make him do it over Williams rather than freeing up a kick-out opportunity.
  13. Allen, lightly contested, left wing, high screen: This action was similar to 2., but this time Jackson correctly fought over the top of the Jefferson screen. Meeks again flat-hedged it. Unlike the hard hedge/show, the flat hedge is intended to control the dribbler’s penetration and force him into a mid-range jumper or offensive reset/kick-out. By fighting over the screen, the on-ball defender can run the shooter off the 3-point line, where he’s then fenced in by the flat hedger until the on-ball defender can recover. In general, this concept has been working better for Carolina than its old hard hedge of the past (which resulted in fouls on UNC’s bigs, driving/splitting opportunities, etc.). This is a more conservative/less aggressive approach, but it’s been more effective with this group of Carolina bigs, in my opinion. Anyhow, Jackson, despite fighting over the top, was unable to run Allen off the line here. His quick release enabled him to pull the trigger on a 3 before Jackson could fully free himself from the pick. This was a huge 3 by Allen to extend Duke’s lead to 80-75. It wasn’t poorly defended by Carolina, but it did take advantage of how the Heels (generally) guard ball screens and Jackson’s (relative) lack of physicality when getting through solid screens. Oh, yeah, Allen’s release is really quick, too. To paraphrase “The Dude” from The Big Lebowski: “That creep can shoot, man.”

From a defensive charting perspective, I assigned responsibility for the Duke 3s to the following UNC defenders:

  • Jackson: 3-6
  • Berry: 3-5
  • Williams: 2-3
  • Pinson: 2-2
  • Meeks: 1-3
  • Maye: 0.5-2.5
  • Britt: 0.5-1.5
  • Bradley: 0-1
  • Robinson: 0-1
  • Team: 1-2 (the make was Allen’s transition 3 after Berry’s missed floater)

From a general defensive charting perspective, the Heels were pretty balanced in terms of who allowed the points. Six UNC defenders allowed double-digit points:

  • Maye: 14.5
  • Jackson: 14
  • Britt: 13.5
  • Williams: 11
  • Berry: 11
  • Pinson: 10

Maye’s 14.5 were allowed on 5-8 shooting (and 4-4 from the line) in 20 minutes—not a great defensive box score line for him (although not too dissimilar from Hicks’ typical ACC one). Carolina, who was -18 with Maye on the floor, also allowed 1.41 PPP with him in the lineup versus “only” 1.12 with him on the bench. Of those six above, only Pinson (barely) held opponents to a sub-50% shooting percentage (3-6.5). Duke only shot 25% (1.5-6) on shots that Meeks was responsible for defending.

In general, UNC continues to be very unlucky when it comes to opposing 3-point shooting. Duke made 13-24 open/lightly contested 3s (54.2%), bringing UNC’s ACC-only average on those types of 3 to 46.9% (122-260). In non-conference play, the Heels’ opponents made just 34.0% (80-235) of open/lightly contested 3s. The truth is usually somewhere in the middle: historically, UNC opponents shot between 37-40% on open/lightly contested 3-pointers. This isn’t to excuse Carolina’s 3-point defense; it’s been very poor lately. But there are two factors at play here: 1.) preventing as many clean 3-pointers (either by contesting more, or just outright denying them) in the first place, and 2.) having better/more typical “luck” on the clean 3s that are attempted. I’m confident that the second will “improve” (i.e., regress to the historical mean). The extent to which the first does could determine how much noise the Heels make in March.


UNC-Duke: Crunch-Time Execution

UNC-Duke: Crunch-Time Execution

As it’s somehow cathartic, I’ll probably write a few postmortems following Thursday night’s Carolina loss to Duke. I’ll definitely do one that breaks down the Devils’ 13 made 3s by how they were created and which Carolina defenders were responsible. I’m planning to highlight Seventh Woods’ high-quality first-half minutes, too, in more detail. To start, however, I’ll simply focus on late-game execution—a common theme here at The Secondary Break after a close game. Even in its close wins, UNC’s crunch-time execution (on both ends) has often left plenty to be desired. That was the case again on Thursday.

Let’s recap it possession-by-possession, starting right after Nate Britt split a pair of free throws to give the Heels a 71-70 lead with 6:50 remaining in the game.

Carolina’s lineup was Berry-Britt-Jackson-Maye-Meeks.

DUKE1 (71-72): With Grayson Allen on the bench with four fouls, Duke ran a floppy set for Luke Kennard to isolate him against Britt on the right wing. He used his five-inch, 27-pound size advantage to drive against a well-positioned Britt and simply shoot over him. Kennedy Meeks was a step late on his help-side rotation, and lacked the vertical lift to challenge Kennard’s release once it was in the air. It banked in to give the Devils a lead—the 17th and final lead change of the contest, as it turned out.

UNC1 (71-72): Carolina ran its freelance passing game after just a cursory attempt to execute its secondary break. Meeks, fronted by a hard-working Amile Jefferson, was unable to receive a post entry pass, so Britt called for “Fist” (the Heels’ high screen set) with about 15 seconds left on the shot clock. Maye came up set a screen for Britt, then popped to the left wing. Britt, isolated on Jayson Tatum after Duke switched the screen, settled for an elbow jumper off the dribble with five seconds on the clock. He missed, and is now shooting 17.4% (4-23) on mid-range pull-ups, 13.3% (2-15) in the last six seconds of the clock, and 19.4% (7-36, including 2-21—9.5%—on 2-pointers) in the last 12 seconds of the shot clock. I’d question whether a two-man game with Britt and Maye was Carolina’s best option in a possession this big.

DUKE2 (71-72): Duke came right back to its floppy set, again choosing the option of Kennard coming off a right-block Jefferson screen to get its top scorer a touch. This time, Meeks and Britt switched the screen with Meeks forcing a tough off-hand miss in the paint for Kennard. With the smaller Britt switched on to him, Jefferson was easily able to grab the offensive board but, luckily for the Heels, missed an open tip-in.

UNC2 (71-72): Meeks grabbed the defensive board and quickly threw an outlet to Berry to start Carolina’s break. Although Berry didn’t have numbers (it was a 2-on-2 that quickly crowded into a 3-on-3), he attacked the front of the rim and had his shot blocked by Frank Jackson. Though this wasn’t a prime transition opportunity, I don’t mind Berry attacking here and trying to finish/draw a foul.

DUKE3 (71-72): This time, Duke ran another NBA staple: the horns set. It iso’ed Tatum on the right elbow after making the horns entry to him. Using a slick spin move, Tatum was able to create space against Justin Jackson for a step-back jumper. He missed a clean look, with Berry grabbing the defensive board.

UNC3 (71-72): With the Heels again running their freelance motion, Berry waved Maye off the right block and called Meeks over to that spot. With Jefferson again fronting to deny the post entry (and effectively sealed off), Berry was able to drive baseline on Kennard and draw the fourth foul on a helping Duke big man. This was good, smart basketball by Berry, and an aggressive drive to create contact. The only bad news: he missed the front-end of the 1-and-1. With his 3-of-5 showing from the line on Thursday, Berry actually dropped from first (85.0%) to sixth (84.4%—fractions below Marcus Paige) on Carolina’s career free throw percentage leaderboard (among Heels with 50+ made FTs in their careers).

At the 4:49 mark, Theo Pinson and Kenny Williams checked in for Maye and Britt, as the Heels went small with Pinson at the 4. Allen also checked in Duke, returning with four fouls.

DUKE4 (71-75): Duke used a simple pin-down screen from Jefferson to isolate Kennard against Williams on the right wing. Kennard attacked off the dribble, but was pretty well-contained by Williams. He used his signature shot fake/spin in the paint, drawing the attention of an over-helping Pinson and allowing a kick-out to an open Tatum in the right corner. Although Tatum is not a great 3-point shooter (just 31.6% with 18 made 3s on the season), it was probably a poor decision by Pinson to commit to this level of help defense in the paint (since Kennard was contained). This 3 to make it a two-possession game was an absolute dagger.

UNC4 (71-75): Another freelance possession for the Heels: this time, Berry had Allen (and his four fouls) isolated on the right wing. Instead of choosing to attack, Berry opted to hit a curling Williams who was coming around a Jackson screen at the top of the key. Williams used that screen to create a drive-and-kick opportunity, hitting Berry on the right wing for a deep 3 attempt. Although Berry can hit big, deep 3s (and, in fact, is especially dangerous from the right wing), he missed this one. Hindsight being 20-20, one could argue that Berry should have taken the foul-plagued Allen off the dribble. Had Berry hit one of his patented big 3s, though, there wouldn’t be much grumbling about this possession.

DUKE5 (71-77): After a non-shooting foul was called on Berry (on what was nearly a clean help-side steal, in my opinion) led to the under-4 timeout, Duke entered the ball from its own baseline. Carolina played its typical BLOB defense (“size”—in this case Pinson— on the ball with a tight diamond zone behind it, then scrambling to match up after the ball’s entered), leading to its typical mismatches (Williams (and ultimately Jackson) on Jefferson, Meeks on Tatum, Pinson on Allen). Duke went into its horns action again, this time with Allen feeding Jefferson at the right elbow. Allen immediately followed his pass to receive a hand-off from Jefferson, who stood Pinson up with a solid screen. Jackson, defending Jefferson after the BLOB chaos, didn’t hedge or switch the exchange, giving Allen a free lane to the rim for an uncontested dunk (Williams was a half-step late on his help rotation, but would have allowed a kick-out left-corner 3 to Kennard even if it was on time; Jackson’s inability to slow down Allen at all doomed this one from the start).

UNC5 (74-77): For the first time in this sequence, Carolina ran a set play—not surprisingly, something from its box series. There was poor timing on the screens and cuts here, and nothing useful materialized from the set (after which, the Heels were basically running freelance again). Jackson drew a help defender following a left-wing drive, kicking out to Williams who filled in at the left wing. He turned down a look at a catch-and-shoot 3, instead opting for a mid-range jumper off the dribble (after potentially pushing off on Matt Jones). Tatum came over to block Williams’ jumper, with the resulting loose ball fortuitously ending up in Jackson’s hands on the left wing. Jackson immediately knocked down a deep, 24-foot 3 from his preferred location. A big shot, for sure: but more a function of good luck than good execution. After being extremely tentative all game on the offensive end, this was a strange time for Williams to decide to create his own shot.

After cutting the lead back to one possession, Roy Williams called a timeout with 2:57 left and re-inserted Britt for Williams.

DUKE6 (74-77): The Devils went right back to its horns action, and again used the hand-off action between Allen and Jefferson on the right elbow. This time, Meeks (a much more experienced defender at the 5) immediately switched the exchange to cut off Allen’s straight-line drive. Meeks did a nice job of defending in space, forcing Allen to attempt a tough step-back 3 from the right corner. Although Allen can (and did) hit some tough 3s, this one was well short. The long rebound bounced just past the reach of a crashing Pinson, allowing Jones to beat Britt to the loose ball to give Duke a second chance. After the offensive reset, Duke ran its floppy set to get Kennard another right-wing touch on Britt. It was defended well (with help from Pinson), forcing Kennard to quickly swing the ball to Allen at the top of the key. Allen drove a recovering Pinson, but Berry reached in as a help defender to get the strip/force the turnover. This was a really good defensive possession by the Heels—strong help-and-recovery by Pinson, and quick hands by Berry to get the steal.

UNC6 (75-77): After creating the live-ball turnover, Berry led a 3-on-1 primary break opportunity in the other direction. He was (wisely) fouled by Kennard prior to the shot, going to the line for two with UNC in the double bonus. Berry missed the first, but hit the second to cut the Duke lead to two points.

DUKE7 (75-77): Duke ran a set to isolate Tatum on the right block against Pinson. The Devils again got exactly what they wanted on the offensive end (although I don’t think the Tatum-Pinson matchup was as much as a post mismatch as they thought). Pinson defended Tatum’s post move well (with some help from Meeks), forcing him to throw the ball wildly off the glass. That acted as a pass to himself, allowing him to grab the offensive board. After getting Meeks up in the air with a pump fake, Tatum luckily blew the put-back dunk and was called for a violation for basket interference while on the rim.

UNC7 (75-77): Down two with a chance to tie or take the lead, Carolina again called for a box set. This time, it used a Britt backscreen to run Meeks from the left elbow to the right block. No one seemed especially surprised by this action, and Jefferson was able to again deny the post entry from Berry by fighting to front the post (despite Meeks working hard and creating a pretty good seal with a wide base; this was probably open briefly if Berry was a better/more confident entry passer). After turning down the entry, Berry hit Pinson on the right wing. Isolated on Tatum, Pinson immediately attacked off the bounce, missing a contested, off-balance layup after a slight bump. This was very similar to the “and-1” Pinson had earlier in the half—certainly the type of drive that he’s able to finish. Even so, I’m not sure that Pinson (especially in his rusty, still-recovering form) is who should be taking key shots for the Heels in the final two minutes of a one-possession game.

DUKE8 (75-80): Using a ball screen by Jefferson on the left wing, Allen hit a huge 3 off the dribble to extend Duke’s lead to five points with 80 seconds left. Meeks flat-hedged this screen to prevent Allen getting into the paint. Jackson correctly fought over the top of the ball screen, with the intent to run Allen off of the 3-point line (and, in conjunction with Meeks’ soft hedge, force either a mid-range jumper or offensive reset). Without being in the huddle, it appeared as if Carolina played this ball screen correctly (i.e., how it’s been defending them most of the season). Jackson certainly made a concerted effort to get over the top of a solid Jefferson screen. Allen has a really quick release, and this one’s probably just in the category of “good offense beats good defense” (although one could argue that the Heels should have blitzed/trapped the screen to force it out of Allen’s hands).

UNC8 (77-80): Looking to attack quickly in secondary/freelance, Berry took Allen off the dribble and fouled him out with a strong drive. Berry knocked in both free throws to again cut the deficit down to a single possession.

DUKE9 (77-81): After a Carolina halfcourt trap that was easily broken by Duke, the Devils again got into their horns set. This time, UNC trapped Jefferson following the right-elbow entry. He was forced to make a deep (beyond the 3-point arc) hand-off to Kennard, who was also trapped by the Heels. All that scrambling led to a wide-open Tatum near the top of the key. Luckily (or not; he is just a 32% 3-point shooter), he missed the open 3 which resulted in another long rebound. This time, Matt Jones simply beat Berry for a true 50-50 ball, giving Duke the ball back with just a two-second differential between game and shot clocks. After letting a few seconds tick away, Meeks fouled Frank Jackson to set up a 1-and-1 opportunity for the freshman. He made the first, but missed the second.

UNC9 (77-81): Berry used a really clever hesitation dribble (faking a step-back 3) to explode to the rim. However, Jefferson’s timely help rotation forced him to settle for a contested reverse lay-up. Given that Jefferson was playing with four fouls, going directly into his body would have probably been the right play here. Either way, Jefferson’s help defense made this a tough finish for Berry (who’s really struggled in ACC play to finish at the rim against length). This missed lay-up (and subsequent Tatum defensive rebound) effectively ended the game, as Tatum was fouled immediately and made both shots to extend Duke’s lead to six with 16 seconds left.

A couple of concluding thoughts:

  • Duke’s really good. Just like in 2010, it has three high-usage scorers (Allen, Kennard, Tatum) that it runs almost the entire offense through. It also has two elite role players (Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek in 2010; Jones and Jefferson this year) who don’t care at all about getting shots, but are willing to do all the dirty work (screens, loose balls, outstanding defense) for the Devils. Obviously Allen/Kennard/Tatum got most of the glory and headlines (and certainly points) last night. But I was really impressed by all the little things that Jones and Jefferson did to secure this victory for Duke. Those guys are consummate senior leaders. I feel gross now after writing this; back soon after a quick shower.
  • Say what you will about Coach K’s NBA connections, but his NBA-heavy sets are way more effective than Carolina’s stale box formations, in my opinion. As detailed above, Duke ran a steady diet of “floppy” and “horns” down the stretch to consistently create advantageous opportunities for its best scorers. The Heels’ box sets didn’t create anything useful, and the freelance motion was still riddled with questionable shot selection and decision-making (most notably, the late-clock jumper by Britt and Williams’ mid-range jumper). I’m not wild about micro-managing games down the stretch (like K was doing last night), but you can’t argue with the looks that Duke was creating. Even when they missed, it was a good opportunity for one of its go-to options.
  • Carolina will need to outscore Duke in Chapel Hill. I can’t see either team getting consistent stops (especially with Hicks back on the court), so it might once again come down to late-game execution. UNC’s freelance stuff can work (especially if the Heels can get back to owning the offensive glass), but I wouldn’t mind seeing a few more sets designed to get Jackson the ball in space or on the move (e.g., curling off an elbow screen).

More on Carolina-Duke over the next couple of days…

Learning to Finish

Learning to Finish

Up nine with about six minutes left, Carolina had a perfect opportunity to step on a lesser opponent’s throat. Due to some suspect late-game execution, though, the Heels had to force a last-second stop to escape with a victory. While a win’s a win, especially in the ACC, it would be nice to see the Heels develop the mentality to consistently put away inferior teams. And that starts with a dedication to the defensive end and stringing together consecutive stops.

Let’s break down the last several minutes of Tuesday’s contest to see what went wrong (and right) for UNC.

Following a Kennedy Meeks passing turnover (after he tried to kick it out to the wing following a post double; Nate Britt didn’t do him any favors by being completely stationary), Pitt took over down 68-59 with 5:30 left in the game. We’ll go possession-by-possession from that point on:

PITT1 (68-62): Pitt ran a staggered high ball screen, then had the second screener (Sheldon Jeter) immediately set a screen for the first (Michael Young) to free him for a three from the top of the key. You may remember this exact set from when Syracuse ran it twice for Tyler Lydon (see below) to victimize Isaiah Hicks. Hicks was again targeted here, and he simply needs to do a better job of anticipating and navigating screens away from the ball. I love this set, by the way, and wouldn’t mind if RoyW stole it to use in a key postseason possession with Jackson as a small-ball 4 (playing the Lydon/Young role).

UNC1 (68-62): For the second straight possession (with Pitt back in its man-to-man defense), Meeks received a touch on the right block (this time on a Justin Jackson post entry). Unlike on the previous turnover, Britt immediately relocated to the left corner, allowing Meeks to hit him with a nice pass after the Panthers again doubled. Britt had a clean mid-range look from about 17 feet, but wasn’t able to connect.

PITT2 (68-65): Following the Pitt defensive rebound, Jeter simply outraced Meeks down the court. He called for help, forcing Jackson to pick up Jeter at the rim (and causing Hicks to pick up Jackson’s man). In the ensuing confusion, Meeks was a step late to locate/close out on Young, who caught a simple secondary break reversal pass at the top of the key and splashed his second straight 3 from that spot.

UNC2 (70-65): Joel Berry missed a contested left-wing 3 after a simple perimeter exchange with Britt (and using a bit of a brush screen by Meeks). This was a shot that Berry can make, but the Heels didn’t do enough to shift/break down the defense before settling for it. Hicks, however, crashed the glass for the offensive board. After missing an open put-back with his left hand, he grabbed a second offensive rebound and drew the foul on UNC’s third chance. Hicks made both free throws.

PITT3 (70-65): The Panthers got Young a post touch on the left block against Hicks. As he started into his post move, Britt, helping from the top of the key, made a late swipe at the ball. Young easily located Britt’s man (Jamel Artis) for a clean 3-point look. Luckily for the Heels, Artis’ 3 rimmed out. This was probably a low-percentage gamble from Britt considering the time, score, and skill level of Young as a passer.

UNC3 (71-65): After a Hicks defensive rebound, Berry pushed the ball hard in transition against a scrambled defense, drawing a foul at the rim. He split a pair of free throws to push the Heels’ lead back to six.

PITT4 (71-68): But the Panthers would quickly slice that lead in half, creating another 3-pointer by screening Hicks away from the ball. This one started when Jackson and Hicks switched an exchange earlier in the possession, leaving Jackson on Young (who was demanding the ball in the post against him) and Hicks on Cameron Johnson. Artis, after being denied a dribble hand-off by Britt, set a little down screen (more of a brush than a solid pick) for Johnson. Hicks did a poor job of getting through the commotion, allowing Johnson a clean look for his sixth 3-pointer of the night.

UNC4 (71-68): With the shot clock under 10, Berry received a ball screen from Hicks, who then set a screen for a curling Jackson. Berry hit Jackson on the right wing, who then shot-faked, took a single dribble, and launched an open 3 from near the top of the key. This was good patience by Jackson to create a clean perimeter opportunity; he simply misfired. Despite the miss, this was good late-clock execution by the Heels to get their top scorer a look (and to engage its other top options in a ball screen).

PITT5 (71-68): Sensing an exploitable opportunity, Pitt again set an off-ball screen (a Johnson down screen from the left wing) to free Hicks’ man (Young) for a 3-pointer. Hicks took another bad route (losing contact with his man) which allowed Young to flare out for a clean left-wing 3. Though right on line, this one missed a little long. Even on Pitt’s misses, it was consistently creating high-caliber chances during this final stretch.

UNC5 (71-68): Britt grabbed a strong defensive rebound in traffic and was immediately fouled. With the Heels still in the single bonus, he missed the front-end of a 1-and-1.

PITT6 (71-70): After his missed free throw, Pitt went immediately after Britt on the other end. The Panthers posted up the much-bigger Artis on Britt on the left block. Using a couple of powerful back-down dribbles, Artis was able to spin to the hoop for a little floater to cut the lead to a point. As long as Carolina continues to play its 2-PG lineups (and, with Pinson out, there will be long stretches when it’s necessary), Britt’s size will keep being exposed by bigger, more athletic wings like Bruce Brown and Artis.

UNC6 (74-70): With under two minutes left and the Heels clinging to a 71-70 lead, Berry seized the opportunity to make another big play. He used another ball screen from Hicks to get all the way to the rim and finish over Johnson while drawing the foul. It was Berry’s fourth drawn “and-1” of the season, and he’s now completed all four of them by making the foul shot. A key to this finish is that Johnson had switched onto Meeks earlier in the possession, meaning that a Pitt wing was tasked with the help-side rotation rather than one of its bigs. This allowed Berry—who’s struggled recently at the rim (in fact, he had missed 11 straight close shots, and 12 2-pointers in a row dating back to very early in the Boston College game)—to explode to the rim rather than being overpowered by help-side strength/length.

PITT7 (74-73): Following his big play on the offensive end, Berry gave it right back defensively. He gambled for a steal while overplaying the passing lanes, ending up on the floor after the failed attempt. This gave Pitt a 5-on-4 advantage against a scrambling Tar Heel defense. Chris Jones hit Artis on the right wing for a 3-pointer that cut the lead back to 1. While overplaying passing lanes is a central tenet of UNC’s defense, and Berry is among the team leaders in forcing turnovers/getting deflections, this was a really bad gamble given the time and score implications. Despite being a veteran team, Carolina still has some issues with situational awareness that could haunt it in March.

UNC7 (76-73): Jackson, upon receiving a perimeter pass on the left wing, aggressively attacked off the dribble, getting all the way to the rim for a layup. Meeks, who was posting up on the left block, did a nice job of lifting his defender (Young) a step above the block to give Jackson a driving angle and to make Young’s help rotation a bit tougher (as he was wrestling a bit with Meeks for post position). Meeks makes a bunch of little under-the-radar plays like this that speak volumes about his basketball IQ. Kudos to Jackson, too, for not settling for a jumper (or giving the ball up) and instead taking it to the rim with a purpose.

PITT8 (76-73): With Jackson again on Artis (UNC switched Britt off of him immediately after the post move that made it 71-70), the Pitt star attempted to attack him off the bounce. Jackson did a good job of cutting him off, forcing Artis to change directions with a behind-the-back dribble, and setting up Meeks to block his shot in the paint. Both Jackson and Meeks defended this excellently, and the call to take Britt off of Artis was definitely a smart one from the bench (though one could argue that matchup should have never occurred in the first place).

UNC8 (78-73): Following Jackson’s defensive rebound of Artis’ blocked miss, UNC had the ball up 3 with a 13-second differential between shot and game clocks. Berry, who had the ball against light defensive pressure, gave it up to Britt, who the Panthers immediately fouled. While Britt (who’s connected on plenty of big close-and-late free throws as a Tar Heel) did knock down both shots, this is another example of suspect situational awareness. I saw no reason for Berry to give up the ball at all on this possession (unless/until Pitt trapped him, etc.).

PITT9 (78-76): As it would do over the last couple of possessions, UNC subbed in Kenny Williams for Meeks for perimeter defense reasons. Pitt had a sidelines out-of-bounds entry following a Britt deflection, and UNC forced the Panthers into a contested corner 3 (that was created by a perimeter pass against a set defense—no screens, or drive-and-kicks, etc.). Jones ended up knocking it down over Berry, but there’s not much to say about this one other than it was a tough shot. Berry certainly doesn’t want to foul in this situation and, given his size/length, he contested it about as well as he could have.

UNC9 (79-76): During a Pitt timeout, Meeks came in for Williams to throw the in-bounds pass. The Panthers didn’t put anybody on the ball, instead opting to shadow Berry with a second defender. Given that Pitt took away the Heels’ top free throw shooter, Meeks did a good job of finding Jackson, who split a pair of free throws. His late-game issues at the line have been pretty well-documented.

PITT10 (79-78): With Carolina only having five team fouls and 10 seconds left in the game, Roy Williams decided to put the Panthers on the line rather than giving them a potential game-tying 3. I thought this was absolutely the correct call, and I applaud the staff for making it. I do wish that Jackson would have allowed another second or two to come off the clock prior to the first (non-shooting) foul, but that’s a tricky spot (since the worst thing to do is foul in the act of shooting, which Artis tried to do on the second foul). Overall, Jackson executed this really well, and UNC had a one-point lead with five seconds left after Artis hit both free throws.

UNC10 (80-78): This time, Pitt had a defender on the ball during Meeks’ in-bounds attempt. That meant that Berry was single-covered (with Artis shadowing him), but Carolina didn’t set a screen for him and was unable to get the ball into his hands. Hicks used his quickness to break to the ball and receive a Meeks pass, but he too split a pair of crucial free throws. Carolina’s press-breaker doesn’t generally involve setting screens (it’s more free-lance motion and just cutting to open spots of the floor—and sending players deep, too), but it might be a nice wrinkle to help maximize the chances of Berry getting the ball for late-game free throws.

PITT11 (80-78): On Pitt’s final possession, Artis had four seconds left to get the ball up-court to create a game-winning opportunity. He mishandled the ball almost immediately, triggering a level of desperation on his part. Pitt was able to set a brush ball screen in transition, but Hicks (who I’ve maligned a bit in this piece for his inability to recognize situations/fight through screens) did a fantastic job of switching it instantly and forcing a heavily contested running 3 by Artis that never had a chance. After the way that the Villanova and Kentucky losses occurred, this one had to feel good for Hicks, as his perimeter defense here was top-notch.

So, despite hanging on to win, the Carolina players gave the coaching staff plenty of teachable moments during film review. The late-game execution continued to be inconsistent at best, and careless at worst. Ultimately, though, the Heels made just enough plays to win. As a (somewhat spoiled) fanbase, we’d like to see more going for the jugular and less squeaking by. If history’s taught us anything, however, Tar Heel fans should expect Roy and the staff to have this team peaking by late-February and into March. In this case, that will involve cleaning up a lot of the defensive mistakes that have plagued UNC over the last few weeks.


Rock You Like a Hurricane

Rock You Like a Hurricane

After a quick 11-2 start on the road, things were looking good early on for Roy Williams’ Tar Heels. But following a Jim Larranaga timeout at the 16:37 mark of the first half (after Justin Jackson’s transition finish extended UNC’s lead to nine), and Miami’s subsequent switch to a 2-3 zone, Saturday’s game turned quickly and dramatically.

Let’s take a look at the first several possessions after that timeout, and see how Hurricanes were able to completely take the game over.

UM1 (11-5): Miami’s first post-timeout possession began with a cheap hand-check foul on Joel Berry, who was applying good ball pressure on Ja’Quan Newton. I’m not sure if this played a factor in dissuading the Heels’ defensive aggression, but it certainly didn’t help. The bigger issue, though, was the complete lack of made shots after which UNC could set its defense/apply three-quarter-court ball pressure. As Williams is prone to do after a timeout, Carolina came out and applied a half-court trap. It didn’t lead to either a turnover or a Miami attack, simply an offensive reset. The ‘Canes then had Kamari Murphy set a ball screen for Bruce Brown, with Kenny Williams and Kennedy Meeks defending it for the Heels. Isaiah Hicks was (correctly) helping in the paint against the rolling Murphy, opening up Anthony Lawrence on the left wing for a 3-pointer over a late-recovering Hicks. This was simply good pick-and-roll offense/shot-making by Miami. UNC shut down the main options (Brown drive, Murphy roll), but took its chances with a Lawrence 3-pointer (he’s hit 20 in 20 games, and went 1-4 behind the arc on Saturday).

UNC1 (11-5): After allowing 11 points in six man-to-man trips, Miami’s first possession of zone ended with a missed Berry 3 from the left wing. This shot was well-defended, and occurred after a routine perimeter pass from Williams in the secondary break. There were no paint touches (either via the pass or the dribble) prior to this shot and, although Berry can hit tough ones, this qualified as poor shot selection. As they’d do on all five misses during this run, the ‘Canes controlled the defensive rebound.

SUBSTITUTION: Nate Britt in for Kenny Williams

UM2 (11-8): Davon Reed received a down screen from Netwon, then curled to accept a dribble hand-off from Murphy. Jackson, who was knocked off course by the Newton screen, was a step behind the entire time on the curl. Meeks flat-hedged the dribble hand-off, preventing Reed from turning the corner but allowing him a clean look from behind the arc (as Jackson was too late to recover). Reed knocked down the right-wing 3, as Jackson’s poor navigation of the Reed curl put Meeks in a no-win spot as the help defender.

UNC2 (13-8): With Miami showing a bit of confusion about whether it was in man or zone, Hicks rifled a high-low secondary-break entry into Meeks, who had established deep position in the middle of the paint. He immediately turned over his left shoulder to connect on a little 5-foot leaning hook.

UM3 (13-11): Miami ran big-big ball screen action with its 5 (Murphy) setting a screen for its 4 (Lawrence). Hicks and Meeks correctly switched this exchange, with Hicks blanketing the rolling Murphy. Britt, however, was caught over-helping in the paint against the (covered) roller, then bumped into Hicks a bit when starting his closeout to the wing. All of that resulted in a clean right-wing 3 for Brown. Britt was in the right (initial) spot as a pick-and-roll help defender (just like Hicks’ help in UM1 above), but lacked the situational awareness to realize that the bigs had switched the screen and snuffed out the roller. He also took a bad route on the closeout.

UNC3 (13-11): On this zone possession, UNC got a high-post touch for Meeks near the left elbow, and he immediately kicked out to Jackson near the top of the key. This type of inside-out ball movement worked great on several occasions against Virginia Tech’s zone, but Jackson’s 3-pointer was blocked by a recovering Brown. At 6’8″, Jackson’s not used to having his jumpers affected (much less blocked), and this was just a testament to Brown’s tremendous length and athleticism on the wing.

UM4 (13-13): The blocked Jackson 3 served as a type of live-ball turnover, with Newton able to get the whole way to the rim in transition for an athletic finish against a scrambled defense.

UNC4 (13-13): With Miami’s zone really over-shading to prevent perimeter looks for Berry and Jackson, the Heels overloaded the left side with both their shooters. This opened up Meeks in the left short corner for a lightly contested 10-foot catch-and-shoot jumper (Serge Zwikker would have been licking his chops!). Though Meeks can hit this shot, he missed this one. This was good zone offense by the Heels, but also probably a case of them taking what Miami was giving rather than taking what they wanted.

SUBSTITUTION: Luke Maye in for Isaiah Hicks

UM5 (13-15): Miami ran a staggered ball screen for Newton with its two bigs. Berry got over the top of the initial screen (by Maye’s man), but went underneath the second one (by Meeks’ man). By going underneath, Berry created a bad recovery angle (impeded by the flat-hedging Meeks), which allowed Newton to turn the corner and get into the paint. Once there, he ran into Maye, who had made an excellent help rotation and was setting a pretty textbook defensive wall. Newton, however, simply jumped right into Maye’s body, hanging in the air to finish at the rim. This is simply a case where a positional paint defender got scored over by a more athletic guard—a good example of where UNC’s lack of a rim protector/shot-blocker can hurt it in some lineup combos.

UNC5 (16-15): Maye’s first offensive possession worked out much better than his initial defensive one, though. After Jackson found him in the left short corner, Maye immediately attacked a gap in the Hurricanes’ zone. By taking a single dribble towards the middle of the paint, Maye was able to collapse the zone and free up a kick-out opportunity to Jackson on the left wing. Jackson knocked down the 3, and this was one of UNC’s better zone possessions of the game.

UM6 (16-18): Miami ran the identical staggered screen for Newton that it used on the previous possession. This time, Berry and Meeks did a much better job of the hedge-and-recovery choreography (although Berry again went over the first and under the second screen) which resulted in an offensive reset. Late in the clock, the ‘Canes ran a ball screen for Reed with Jackson defending the ball and Meeks hedging. Britt, again, was helping in the paint against the roller. This time, Britt did a much better job with his recovery timing/route, closing out to Brown in good position. With five seconds left on the shot clock, however, and Brown launching a deep 23-footer from the left wing, Britt made a silly foul to give Miami three foul shots (Brown made them all). This was actually one of UNC’s better defensive possessions of the half, and it resulted in a deep, contested 3 against an expiring clock. It was only a freshman mistake by one of Carolina’s seniors that turned an empty trip into a(nother) 3-point one.

SUBSTITUTIONS: Brandon Robinson and Tony Bradley in for Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks

UNC6 (16-18): In another possession against the Miami zone, the Heels were unable to get any paint, high post, or short corner touches. They did lightly probe gaps with the dribble a bit, including Berry’s drive-and-kick to set up a right-wing 3 for Britt. With five seconds left on the shot clock, Britt missed his 3 (he’s now 2-of-13 this year in seconds 25-30 of the clock—though most of those are contested mid-rangers off the dribble rather than clean catch-and-shoots behind the arc) and the ‘Canes again forced a one-and-done by corralling the defensive board.

UM7 (16-20): Berry played pretty good transition defense to stop Newton’s advance with the ball, leading to a dribble hand-off exchange with Brown. Robinson was bumped slightly off course by Newton following the hand-off, allowing Brown to get into the heart of the paint. When Maye stepped up to help against the drive, it set up a drive-and-dish opening with Murphy receiving the pass. Tony Bradley actually made a strong help-the-helper rotation to contest Murphy’s layup at the rim; the 5th-year senior just overpowered the Carolina freshman in the air to finish through contact.

UNC7 (16-20): Robinson threw a nifty little bounce pass against the zone to locate Maye in the high post. Maye immediately faced up and launched a 17-footer from the left elbow, which missed short. The front-rim miss resulted in a long rebound, which Britt casually pursued from the right wing. Britt’s lackadaisical effort allowed Newton to win a 50-50 ball, and immediately trigger Miami’s transition game (since Britt was out of position after unsuccessfully crashing for the offensive board). Berry, who had retreated as a safety in transition, was forced to pick up Dewan Huell to prevent a hit-ahead dunk. This led to a Newton vs. Maye mismatch on the ball, one in which Newton was easily able to exploit by getting all the way to the rim for a left-hand finish. Berry immediately pushed the ball back the other way after the make, but his layup attempt was altered at the rim. It would be knocked out of bounds to the Heels, setting up the under-12 timeout with 11:49 left in the first half.

As documented above, Miami scored on eight consecutive possessions as part of its 20-5 run. Moreover, half of those scores were worth three points (three 3s and a 3-shot foul), as the ‘Canes put up a gaudy PPP of 2.50 over their run. Defense wasn’t the only issue (or even the biggest issue) for the Heels, though. The two empty trips to end this run (UNC6 and UNC7) began a 19-possession span in which UNC would score only two points (allowing Miami to open up a 35-18 lead). After scoring 16 points in its first 11 possessions (PPP of 1.45), Carolina would score just six over the final 23 of the opening half (PPP of 0.26).

This is game in which UNC missed Pinson’s presence on both ends, but most notably as a taller wing defender. Williams did a solid job on the athletic, 6’5″ Brown, but UNC really struggled defensively in its 2-PG lineups in the first half (i.e., with Britt at the 2). I’m still wrapping up the defensive charting, so might have more (or revised) thoughts on that once I’m finished.


Carolina’s 3-Point Barrage

Carolina’s 3-Point Barrage

The Heels had season-highs in both made (14) and attempted (30) 3s on Thursday night against Virginia Tech, as the perimeter explosion fueled a PPP of 1.42—another season-best. Let’s give a quick rundown of those 30 attempts:

By location:

  • Left corner: 1-3 (Berry: 0-0, Jackson: 0-1, Others: 1-2)
  • Left wing: 6-11 (Berry: 1-3, Jackson: 3-6, Others: 2-2)
  • Top of key: 4-7 (Berry: 2-4, Jackson: 1-1, Others: 1-2)
  • Right wing: 2-7 (Berry: 2-3, Jackson: 0-3, Others: 0-1)
  • Right corner: 1-2 (Berry: 0-0, Jackson: 1-1, Others: 0-1)

Jackson continues to sizzle from the left wing this season, as he’s now converting 52.8% of 3s (28-53) from that part of the court. Similarly, he continues to struggle on right-wing 3s, falling to 27.9% (12-43) on the season from that spot.

Berry’s numbers against Virginia Tech were also consistent with his season-to-date shooting trends. He’s now making 51.4% (19-37) of right-wing 3s and 48.1% (13-27) from the top of the key. From the left wing, however, Berry’s converting just 33.3% (11-33) from behind the arc.

By possession type:

  • Half-court: 11-24
  • Primary break: 2-3
  • Secondary break: 1-2
  • BLOB: 0-1
  • Zone: 9-18 (Berry: 4-6, Jackson: 4-9, Others: 1-3)

The Heels got most of their 3s in the half-court, as Virginia Tech basically conceded defensive rebounds to UNC in order to focus on floor balance. Between that and their zone defense, the Hokies did effectively slow down Carolina’s pace (a season-low 64 possessions). They didn’t, of course, slow down Carolina’s offense. Led by Berry and Jackson, the Heels were able to shoot Buzz Williams right out of his match-up zone. Jackson, who entered the game just 4-of-19 (21.1%) on 3s against the zone this season, hit four zone 3s in this one alone.

By potential assister (actual 3-point assists-potential 3-point assists):

  • Berry: 3-4
  • Pinson: 2-4
  • Unassisted/off-the-dribble: 1-4 (Berry: 1-2, Jackson: 0-1, Williams: 0-1)
  • Williams: 0-4
  • Maye: 2-2
  • Woods: 2-2
  • Meeks: 1-2
  • Hicks: 1-2
  • Jackson: 1-2
  • Britt: 0-2
  • Bradley: 1-1
  • Robinson: 0-1

As noted here, Carolina continues to be a very deep team in terms of assist distribution. All 11 of its rotation members had at least one potential 3-point assist against Virginia Tech; eight of the 11 had at least one 3-point assist (Kenny Williams was a bit unlucky to not be the ninth). In just 5:03 of court time, Theo Pinson set up four 3-pointers for his teammates—a pair of which they knocked down (Britt and Jackson). In his nine offensive possessions against the Hokies, Pinson scored on two of them and had potential assists on another five.

After missing its first three 3s, Carolina went on a tear that included seven made 3s (on nine attempts) in a 13-possession span. That red-hot shooting turned an 8-2 deficit into a 29-19 Tar Heel lead. The only two missed 3s in that stretch were both rebounded by UNC—one leading to a Pinson put-back, and the other a missed Jackson second-chance. Carolina then hit 3s on its first three possessions of the second half to extend an 11-point halftime lead to 17, and effectively TKO the Hokies’ hopes for a comeback.

Let’s chronologically recount how the Heels created their 14 made 3s (I have detail on all 30, but will focus on only makes for the sake of brevity):

  1. After UNC fell behind 8-2 just three possessions (two VT 3s and a layup after Berry-Meeks botched a ball screen) into the game, Berry hit one of his trademark big shots to wake up the Dean Dome. This one was in the secondary break, and involved a simple kick-back pass from trailing big Meeks at the top of the key. This one was from the deep (about 25 feet) left wing.
  2. Against Virginia Tech’s zone, Justin Jackson entered the ball to Luke Maye in the right short corner. With the Hokies consistently trapping the corners out their zone, Maye made a really nice escape dribble to the right corner before skipping a pass to Berry at the top of the key. This was a really good zone offense possession—hockey assist to Jackson, primary assist to Maye.
  3. On the very next possession, Maye and Berry teamed up again. This time, Williams entered the ball to Maye on the left block. After shot-faking, he again used an escape dribble to avoid the trap and set up an inside-out, right-wing 3 for Berry. More really good zone offense.
  4. Seventh Woods attacked a gap in VT’s zone defense, setting up a (long) dribble hand-off to Pinson who was stepping right into the shot at the top of the key.
  5. After collecting a live-ball steal, Pinson pushed the ball hard in transition, setting up a left-corner 3 for Nate Britt in the primary break.
  6. This time, it was Berry who attacked a gap in the Hokies’ match-up zone off the dribble. That drive from the right wing set up a nifty bounce pass to the right corner for a Jackson 3.
  7. Jackson received a routine perimeter pass against the zone from Pinson, knocking down a deep 24-footer from the top of the key (and taking advantage of some slight VT confusion/miscommunication). Unlike some earlier possessions, this wasn’t great zone offense execution (no paint/high post/short corner touches, or attacking of gaps with the dribble). It was simply great shot-making from Jackson. While the zone execution was significantly better/cleaner than against Georgia Tech, the shot-making/shot luck was much better, too. As Ol’ Roy likes to say, “It looks a lot better when the ball goes through the net.”
  8. Following a missed Berry 3, Britt grabbed a long offensive rebound, took a dribble back to reset the offense, then immediately entered the ball to Tony Bradley on the left block (VT was out of its zone by this point, and the Heels were looking to get the bigs involved in the post). After feeding the post, Britt instantly set a screen for/exchanged with Brandon Robinson, who received an inside-out pass from Bradley to hit a left-wing 3. Well-earned hockey assist for Britt.
  9. On the first possession of the second half, Virginia Tech came out in an extended 1-3-1 zone. UNC found Hicks in the right corner and, following a skip pass, found Williams in the left corner. Williams again reversed the ball to Jackson, who found Berry spotted up in his favorite right-wing location for the 3. More good zone offense, as the Heels made several side-to-side reversals to stretch the defense.
  10. Berry pushed the ball in secondary to get Meeks a high-post touch as the trailing big (a deeper initial touch than the usual top-of-the-key one). Meeks collapsed the defense with a single dribble into the paint, then kicked it out for a Williams-to-Berry-to-Jackson perimeter passing exchange that ended with a Jackson 3 from the left wing. I credited Meeks with the hockey assist here (on Berry’s primary assist).
  11. On the defensive end, Meeks got switched on to Seth Allen following a ball screen and easily drove him to the rim. Jackson’s strong help defense allowed him to block a shot (after an Allen drive-and-dish), which Meeks recovered to rebound. A quick Meeks outlet to Berry allowed the Heels to get out in transition, with Berry hitting Williams with a diagonal pass to set up an open left-wing 3 in the primary break.
  12. Britt threw a post entry to Hicks on the left block, with Jackson relocating to an open spot in the zone as defensive eyes focused on the paint. Hicks kicked out for a left-wing Jackson 3, another good example of UNC’s inside-out offensive system.
  13. The only unassisted 3 of the evening, Berry pulled up at the top of the key in transition and confidently stroked one off the dribble.
  14. UNC’s final 3 of the game (incidentally, UNC’s record for made 3s in a game is 17 by the great-shooting ’95 team vs. FSU (17-25); perhaps more impressively, the ’09 champs went 16-25 on the road at Maryland) occurred following late-clock Woods-Hicks ball screen action. Unable to create in isolation, Woods kicked it to Jackson (in a bad spot) with only a couple seconds left on the shot clock. Jackson bailed him out by drilling a deep 28-footer from his preferred left wing. A play nearly identical to this happened against Davidson, with Jackson bailing out Britt with a deep one from the same location.


Pounding the Post

Pounding the Post

After a couple games of abandoning its traditional feed-the-post scheme, Carolina made a concerted effort to get its bigs involved early and often against Boston College. The Heels threw only nine post entries against Florida State, a response to early foul trouble to its bigs/smaller lineups, the Seminoles’ interior size, and the way FSU likes to pressure the ball to deny easy entries (while opening up driving opportunities). Against Syracuse’s patented 2-3 zone, UNC threw only 11 (low-post) entries, attacking instead by hitting a big at the high post or short corner (or, on some possessions, not getting a paint/big touch at all while settling for perimeter ball movement and long 3s).

But in Chestnut Hill on Saturday, Carolina got back to its preferred strategy of force-feeding the low post. The Heels threw 30 post entries in the 90-82 win, higher than their season-to-date average of 24.3. While all four primary posts (Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Tony Bradley, and Luke Maye) received at least a handful of entries, it was Meeks who did the heaviest lifting. Here’s the breakdown of post catches by big, as well as what resulted following that entry pass. For example, if Maye catches a pass and kicks out to Berry for a missed 3, that will be shown here as a missed field goal (even though Maye himself did not directly miss a shot on a post move).

  • Meeks: 14 post catches—7-13 FGAs, 1 reset (he shot all 13 of these FGAs himself; the “reset” was simply a re-post in which he immediately received another post entry leading to a FGA for him)
  • Bradley: 6 post catches—2-3 FGAs, 1 foul, 2 turnovers
  • Hicks: 5 post catches—1-1 FGAs, 2 fouls, 1 turnover, 1 reset
  • Maye: 5 post catches—0-3 FGAs, 1 turnover, 1 reset

Using my simple Success:Failure metric (in which made FGs/fouls are considered “successes” and missed FGs/turnovers are considered “failures”), Hicks had a 3.00, Meeks a 1.17, Bradley a 1.00, and Maye a 0.00. Entering the game, Carolina had a team Success:Failure of 0.94 on its post entry passes.

From an entry pass perspective, the Heels spread the wealth, with eight players throwing at least three passes. Here’s the breakdown of UNC’s 30 entry feeds, as well as the Success:Failure for each:

  • Justin Jackson: 6 passes, 0.25
  • Theo Pinson: 5 passes, 1.00
  • Seventh Woods: 4 passes, 1.00
  • Nate Britt: 3 passes, 1.00
  • Joel Berry: 3 passes, 0.50
  • Kenny Williams: 3 passes, 3 successes
  • Luke Maye: 3 passes, 0.50
  • Isaiah Hicks: 3 passes, 2.00

So now, let’s focus on Meeks’ 18 paint touches: 14 from post entry passes, three from offensive rebounds/second-chance opportunities, and one from a scramble situation:

  1. Left-block touch from a Williams left-wing entry (made FG): on UNC’s very first possession, it found Meeks on the block via some secondary break action (down screen for Williams); he took a couple dribbles middle, before spinning baseline for a sweet turnaround jumper
  2. Left-block touch from a Williams left-wing entry (miss FG): using a back screen from Williams in secondary, Meeks was rejected at the rim after taking two dribbles to the middle, then spinning back/drop-stepping to the rim
  3. Right-block touch from a Jackson right-wing entry (miss FG): after two lefty dribbles to the middle, Meeks spun back to the right baseline and missed a jump-hook that he tried to bank in—pretty move/shot, just rimmed out
  4. Left-block touch from a Britt left-wing entry (reset/re-post): Meeks took a single dribble to the middle, then recognized that BC was doubling down (the Eagles basically played UNC’s posts straight-up all game) and kicked it back to Britt
  5. Left-block touch from a Britt left-wing entry (miss FG): after kicking back out to Britt, Meeks immediately re-posted and got another entry; he took one dribble middle, faked a turnaround jumper over his right shoulder, then settled for a (long) jump-hook over the left shoulder
  6. Offensive rebound (made FG): Meeks set a ball screen for Berry in the secondary break, then rolled to the rim and grabbed and put back an air-balled Berry elbow jumper
  7. Right-block touch from a Pinson right-wing entry (made FG): Meeks faced up on this one, then knocked down a step-back jumper off of a single dribble
  8. Left-block touch from a Hicks top-of-key (high/low) entry (miss FG): Hicks spun in a nifty left-handed high/low entry to Meeks on the left block; he took one dribble middle, getting (and missing) a clean look at his preferred righty hook
  9. Right-block touch from a Hicks top-of-key (high/low) entry (made FG): this time, Hicks threw a secondary break high/low pass to the right block with his right hand—Hicks’ entry passing was promising in this game; it hasn’t always been a strength of his; Meeks took one dribble, turning over his left shoulder to bank in a jump-hook
  10. Right-block touch from a Jackson right-corner entry (made FG): this was vintage Carolina secondary break basketball—all five Heels touched the ball within five seconds (Hicks in-bounds to Berry, hit-ahead to Williams on the right wing to Jackson in the right corner to Meeks in the deep paint); Meeks established really deep low-block position, and Jackson’s entry led him right to the rim for an easy lay-in
  11. Offensive rebound (made FG): after Jackson missed a floater following a secondary break ball screen, Hicks crashed in for the offensive board before finding Meeks with a clever interior pass for an easy lay-up
  12. Left-block touch from a Woods left-wing entry (made FG): against the BC zone (which it played exclusively an baseline out-of-bounds sets), Meeks ducked in to receive an entry from Woods; he used his signature move from the left block—a one-dribble-middle, over-the-left-shoulder jump-hook
  13. Right-block touch from a Woods right-wing entry (made FG): this was one of the only poor entries to Meeks all day, as a tough angle by Woods led to a pass that was almost stolen by a defender fronting over the top; once Meeks gained control, he took two lefty dribbles to the middle and, following a Mo Jeffers flop, hit a little turnaround jumper over his right shoulder
  14. Right-block touch from a Pinson right-wing entry (miss FG): Meeks again took a pair of left-handed dribbles to the middle before spinning back over his left shoulder to the baseline and missing a contested jump-hook that was well-defended by Jeffers
  15. Offensive rebound (miss FG): with the clock under 10 seconds, Berry used a ball screen to get all the way to the basket; he drew a help defender to contest his lay-up, freeing Meeks for a tip-in opportunity (that he missed)
  16. Left-block touch from a Berry left-wing entry (miss FG): this was actually more of a left-mid-post touch, as Meeks was pushed a step or two from his preferred post-up spot; questionable decision by Berry to enter the ball here, in my opinion, and it resulted in a contested jump-hook after Meeks took two dribbles to the middle
  17. Scramble (made FTs): Meeks knocked down a pair of free throws after getting a drive, draw, and dish from Pinson; Williams and Hicks hit the floor to win a loose ball, setting up UNC for score; Pinson would win another 50-50 ball later in the second half to set up a second-chance opportunity for Hicks (with a similar drive-and-dish pass to set up free throws)
  18. Left-block touch from a Williams left-wing entry (made FG): for the first time all game, Meeks immediately spun baseline following a left-block touch, using a pair of lefty dribbles to set up a reverse lay-up (where he used the rim to guard against a potential blocked shot); in general, I’d like to see a little more of this immediate drop-step, as Meeks tends to fall in love with turning middle over his left shoulder (and will occasionally drop-step back to the right shoulder as a counter move rather than a primary/go-to move)

Meeks made just 2-of-7 jump-hooks against BC, but made up for it by hitting both of his turnaround jumpers plus his only face-up J. He also scored on two of his three post-up opportunities at the rim (one set up by a Jackson entry, and the other two by Meeks off-the-dribble with spins/drop-steps). I don’t know if the 10 jumpers/hooks-to-3 rim finishes ratio is ideal for Meeks, but he had some success with it against the Eagles. A couple of his jump-hooks were excellent looks, too, and the type that he usually reliably converts.

Boston College didn’t double the post at all, giving Meeks ample time to back defenders down and get into his post moves (and counter moves). Obviously against a team like Virginia, which will bring quick big-to-big doubles, Meeks will have to make quicker decisions (which will generally involve passing it out of the post). Post passing has been a strength of Meeks’ game this season, but he didn’t do it at all against the Eagles, who dared him to be a low-post finisher rather than a facilitator. Also, as a result of the ample amounts of time and space that Meeks had, he took at least one dribble (and usually multiple dribbles) before every post-up shot. He’s shown the ability to get quickly into his post arsenal without a dribble (and, actually, I think that the quick, no-dribble jump-hook from the left block is his most efficient scoring move), but took advantage of space/time to back defenders down against BC.

Meeks’ post game really is very polished: plenty of moves and counter moves, the ability to finish over either shoulder, and the ability to put the ball on the floor with either hand. Throw in his excellent vision and passing skills (not on display against BC because of how it chose to guard him), and he can be a reliable back-to-the-basket scoring option. He, of course, lacks the explosiveness to finish over post defenders (either at the rim, or by elevating on his hooks/turnaround jumpers), so will continue to rely on deep position, backing defenders down to create space, and his deceptively quick feet (to create drop-step/counter spin opportunities at the rim).

I took a closer look at (all 13 of) Ky Bowman’s baskets, too, so will try and post some defensive charting-related thoughts later.



What to Do About the Starting 5

What to Do About the Starting 5

First: the big story of Monday night’s game was indisputably Roy Williams securing his 800th win (against only 212 losses—the second-fastest coach to reach that milestone). I don’t want to gloss over that achievement, so congratulations to Coach Williams for another impressive accomplishment in a Hall-of-Fame career. So now let’s move on to the type of decision for which all-time great coaches earn their millions to make.

It took nearly 20 games, but Carolina fans finally got to see its expected starting 5 of Joel-Berry-Theo Pinson-Justin Jackson-Isaiah Hicks-Kennedy Meeks take the floor. In the first three games of Pinson’s return, he had played just a minute (and change) at the 2G spot. And even that was paired alongside Brandon Robinson at the 3 (rather than Jackson). For the first 31 minutes against Syracuse, it was more of the same: a mix of exclusively Pinson at the 3 to relieve Jackson, or as a small-ball 4 alongside him. But, over the last nine minutes against the Orange, Pinson logged six minutes at the 2. Let’s break down how that lineup did against Syracuse, then consider the pros and cons of Kenny Williams versus Pinson as the starting 2.

Against Syracuse:

After playing Pinson at SG for about 2.5 minutes as part of a lineup with Nate Britt at PG and Jackson at SF, Coach Williams subbed in Berry for Britt at the 6:40-mark of the second half with the Heels leading 70-59. Let’s take a quick possession-by-possession look at how that Berry-Pinson-Jackson-Hicks-Meeks unit performed.

SU1 (70-61): After springing a halfcourt trap on Tyler Lydon, he located Tyus Battle in the right corner, who was able to penetrate against a scrambling defense to draw a foul on Pinson at the rim. Battle hit both foul shots.

UNC1 (72-61):  After lots of perimeter passing against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, Pinson finally attacked a gap and kicked it out to Jackson it the right corner. Jackson penetrated baseline and missed a contested floater, but Hicks battled for the offensive board and finished with a follow-up hoop in the paint.

SU2 (72-64): Lydon hit a top-of-the-key 3 following a nifty SU set in which it used a staggered ball screen for the point guard, then had the second screener (Thompson/Roberson) set a downscreen for the first (Lydon). The Orange used this action twice for Lydon 3s, and Hicks really struggled to navigate the  downscreen each time. I thought this was a really clever play design, and wouldn’t mind seeing RoyW steal it to create Jackson 3s in small-ball lineups. Hicks does need to be more aware defensively, however. Here’s a quick clip of the two plays (including the one to make the score 72-64).

UNC2 (72-64): UNC got a high-post touch for Meeks, who immediately looked opposite to Pinson on the right wing for an open 3. This was pretty good zone offense, as it created a clean inside-out lo0k for a perimeter player (albeit one, in Pinson, who’s an inconsistent (at best) 3-point shooter).

SU3 (72-64): The Orange turned the long rebound on Pinson’s missed 3 into a transition opportunity, finding spot-up specialist Andrew White in the right corner for a 3. Pinson did a nice job of locating White in transition, and closing out to contest the shot. Jackson grabbed the defensive rebound.

UNC3 (74-64): For the second straight trip, the Heels missed a right-wing 3 against the zone—this time by Berry. Unlike last time, though, when it came following some side-to-side reversals and a high-post touch, this one  came after just two perimeter passes. While Berry can certainly make this type of deep 3, I’m sure the staff would recommend better patience against the zone. Following the miss, Hicks was free on the left baseline for a stick-back dunk. It was his fourth dunk of the night, and his ACC-leading 30th of the season.

SU4 (74-64): After Pinson and Hicks switched on a ball screen (the Heels were switching all exchanges 1-5 at this point in the game), Lydon attempted to exploit the mismatch by taking Pinson to the post. The Orange looked for a high/low entry feed to Lydon, but Meeks, anticipating the entry, was able to deflect it twice and ultimately corral the loose ball for a turnover. This was terrific defensive awareness by Meeks, and his hands were excellent as usual.

UNC4 (76-64): Like so often happens with the Tar Heels, a live-ball turnover was quickly converted into a primary-break bucket. Meeks immediately threw a diagonal outlet to Jackson, who found Berry filling the lane for a transition layup. Hockey assist to Meeks, box score assist to Jackson.

SU5 (76-64): The Orange iso’ed Lydon at the top of the key, and he looked to attack Hicks off the dribble. He spin-moved into a righty hook shot in the paint that was well-contested by Hicks, resulting in one his Lydon’s rare misses on the night (he was 11-of-14 from the field). Meeks controlled the defensive board.

UNC5 (76-64): More good zone offense here, although it again didn’t result in a score. Jackson threw a high-post entry to Meeks from the right wing, then took a couple decoy steps to the left before cutting back hard to the right to receive the Meeks kick-out pass. This catch-and-shoot action was analogous to coming off of a screen to receive a pass (and resembled Jackson’s big late 3 against Wake Forest), which is a more comfortable type of shot for Jackson than having his feet set against a zone defense. This shot was directly on line, just a bit long.

SU6 (76-64): Another long rebound led to another Syracuse run-out, with White missing an alley-oop dunk. The Heels were obviously fortunate here to collect their fourth consecutive defensive stop.

UNC6 (79-64): Jackson grabbed the defensive rebound on the missed slam, then proceeded to take it coast-to-coast and finish with the right hand from the left side while drawing a foul. Finishing through contact hasn’t always been a strength of Jackson, so it was nice to see him convert here. It was his fourth “and-1” of the season, of which he’s completed two (including his one to increase the Heels’ lead to 15).

Following the Jackson free throw, Williams and Maye would check in for Pinson and Hicks. The presumed starting 5 would return for one more possession on each end with just 65 seconds left on the clock. They’d get their fifth consecutive stop as a unit, with Hicks contesting a Battle pull-up 3 after switching a ball screen with Berry (following a Syracuse baseline underneath entry). Pinson gathered the defensive board, and was fouled immediately by the Orange, knocking down both free throws to extend the Carolina lead to 85-68. At this point, Jim Boeheim called off the dogs, removing his starters from the game (with RoyW quickly following suit).

In total, the Berry-Pinson-Jackson-Hicks-Meeks quintet played 3:16 together, leading 11-5 in those minutes (an efficiency margin of +85.7). Seeing this lineup back on the floor, one had to wonder if the Heels are considering a shake-up to the starting lineup. Let’s briefly make the case for keeping Kenny Williams in the starting 5, then the counter-case for inserting Pinson in with the starters.

The Case for the Current Starting 5:

  • “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Carolina’s current starting 5 has played 171 minutes together this season, posting a strong efficiency margin of +37.6 (offensive efficiency: 129.0, defensive efficiency: 91.4). In 110 minutes against Pomeroy Tier A/Tier B opponents (i.e., top-100 teams, after adjusting for venue), that lineup’s posted a strong efficiency margin of +27.7 (124.2-96.5). Moreover, the Heels’ starters have been getting them off to some strong ACC starts—at least at home (the starting 5 led 16-4 against NC State, 14-5 against Florida State, and 9-2 against Syracuse prior to the initial Carolina substitution).
  • Kenny Williams might be a better fit alongside the “Big 4” of Berry/Jackson/Hicks/Meeks. With four relatively high-usage offensive players on the court, Williams’ brand of offense (take open shots, otherwise move the ball quickly) works well. He hardly ever acts as a ball-stopper by probing off the dribble or looking to isolate/attack in space. If an open look is there, he (generally) takes it. If not, both the ball and himself are moving quickly to keep the offense running smoothly. He provides floor spacing benefits as a 3-point threat, but is about as low-maintenance a fifth scoring option as you’d ever want.
  • Williams off the bench is an unknown commodity. While Pinson has proven that he can provide production, impact, and energy off the bench, Williams has never been in a 6th-man type role. It likely wouldn’t matter, but this gets back to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mantra from above. More interestingly, perhaps, it’s possible that Pinson—a more capable facilitator and shot-creator (for himself and others)—is a better fit with UNC’s bench-heavy lineups (generally a mix of Britt/Woods, Maye, and Bradley, plus a starter or two) than Williams would be.

The Case for the New Starting 5:

  • As I wrote about here, Pinson has been great alongside the other two juniors (Berry and Jackson). Additionally, the Berry-Pinson-Jackson combination at the 1-2-3 spots played really well to begin last season (in the six games that Marcus Paige missed due to injury). This lineup isn’t a total unknown: there’s historical precedent that predicts it being very successful.
  • Berry, Pinson, Jackson, Hicks, and Meeks are Carolina’s five best players (at those respective positions), and should therefore start. This isn’t really how basketball works, of course, as there are often compelling reasons to bring more talented players off the bench. This one could be re-framed as “Pinson was expected to be the starter pre-injury, and should therefore not lose his starting status because he got hurt.” These considerations really aren’t that important at all, though, in my opinion. Roy Williams earns a lot of money to make these types of chemistry/lineup fit decisions, and his 800-212 record/Hall of Fame resume suggest that he’ll generally make the right choice.
  • Maybe it is broken. In the six ACC games, the (current) starting 5 has played 73 minutes and posted an efficiency margin of +10.3 (115-9.105.6). All other lineups, have posted a +19.5 (114.5-95.0) during 172 ACC minutes. Especially on the defensive end, the starting 5 has taken a big step big during conference play. The usual caveats apply here: six games is a tiny sample for this type of super-noisy +/- analysis. But the fact remains that the starting 5 hasn’t been dominant lately (it was outscored 24-19 in its final two stints vs. Syracuse after starting the game 9-2). That alone makes it easier to insert Pinson into the starting 5.
  • Pinson makes those around him better (like Hicks). By surrounding him more often with more talent, you’re maximizing the impact he can have on his teammates. The logic here is that Pinson can make Hicks better than he can make Maye, just because Hicks is better-suited athletically to take advantage of what Pinson provides.

There could also be a third category here, loosely summarized as “it doesn’t matter who starts, it matters who finishes.” While the crunch-time, close-and-late lineup is ultimately most important (I suspect it will include Pinson—either at the 2, or as a small-ball 4 with (situationally) Hicks or Meeks at the 5), the starting 5 matters, too. It is, by an order of magnitude, the lineup that plays the most minutes in a given game/season in a Roy Williams system. If the team is trying to maximize, say, the amount of minutes that Pinson-Hicks (or Pinson-Jackson) combos play together, inserting Pinson as a starter is the only feasible way to do that. That (i.e, how to maximize shared court time for given player pairs/combos) may or may not be something the staff is considering. But, to the extent that they are considering it (and I’d be shocked it they weren’t—see again: 800 wins), the starting 5 is absolutely vital to that lineup calculus.

My guess: RoyW moves Pinson back into the starting lineup soon. I think he skillfully (and intentionally) avoided the Pinson + “Big 4” lineups until late in the Syracuse game. But the move then to return Pinson to the 2 was a test run of sorts, a harbinger of things to come. Kenny Williams has been a really valuable contributor this season. He’ll need to continue to be one if the Heels are to reach their postseason goals. But, for Carolina to maximize its chances of cutting down the nets this April, the Berry-Pinson-Jackson-Hicks-Meeks lineup will need to be doing the heaviest lifting (which, at least to me, implies starting each half together).