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Big Game Berry

Big Game Berry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Pinson’s Passing

Pinson’s Passing

Those of you who like alliterative titles have come to the right place (“Pinson’s Pinpoint Passing Paralyzes Pitt”?)!

While the story of the game (along with another monster scoring performance from Justin Jackson) was probably Carolina’s second-chance points (led by Kennedy Meeks’ offensive glass dominance), let’s focus on the passing of Theo Pinson. He was officially created with seven assists in 24 minutes, but even that doesn’t truly do justice to how well he passed the ball on Saturday. Let’s break it down one potential assist at a time (in chronological order):

  • On UNC’s very first possession of the game, Pinson bounced a pass in from the right wing to Isaiah Hicks on the right block. Hicks missed a turnaround jumper that was well-contested by Pitt’s Michael Young.
  • Against Pitt’s 1-2-2 zone, Jackson hit Hicks in the left short corner, then cut middle before flaring out to the opposite (right) corner. Hicks kicked it out to Pinson at the top of the key, who skipped it to Jackson in the corner. The pass led Jackson away from the recovering defender to set him up for a 3 that he knocked down. This was really nice possession of zone offense: the short corner touch to flatten the zone, the quintessential Jackson cut/movement without the ball, and the well-executed skip by Pinson to get the assist.
  • Pinson bounced one in to Jackson at the (left) high post against the Pitt zone, who then dribbled out to the left wing before returning the ball to Pinson at the top of the key. Pinson immediately whipped it back to Jackson, who missed a left-wing 3.
  • Another high-post Pinson entry against the zone, this time to Hicks at the right elbow, leads to a high-low pass to Meeks for a reverse layup. Primary assist to Hicks, hockey assist to Pinson.
  • Hicks, as the trailing big in secondary, cut to the hoop against the Pitt zone. The attention drawn on the perimeter by Jackson and Berry allowed Pinson to have a clear passing lane to hit Hicks for a layup attempt. He missed at the rim, with imposing Roselle Nix contesting.
  • Pinson again found Hicks, this time whipping a touch pass to him in the right short corner. Hicks attacked the rim, missing a contested lefty reverse over Nix and Young.
  • Pinson brought the ball up after grabbing a defensive board, hitting Berry on the left wing. Berry got it back to Pinson at the top of the key and, after pausing a beat and looking to the interior to suck in the zone wing defender, he returned it to Berry for a left-wing 3. Berry missed a clean look, but it was a good example of Pinson subtly shifting the zone with a pass fake (and his threat to thread the needle for interior entries). All of the action up until now occurred in the starting five’s first shift of the game (5:18 of game time). In six Carolina possessions, Pinson had six potential assists and a hockey assist.
  • With Pitt now in man-to-man, Pinson received a ball screen from Meeks on the left wing, then hit a rolling Meeks on the left block. He made an agile spin move to the middle to create a short jump hook over his left shoulder, earning another assist for Pinson in the process.
  • Another Pinson-Meeks ball screen, this time on the right wing, caused Pitt to shift its help defense to compensate for the Meeks roll. Realizing this, Pinson hit an open Hicks at the left elbow, who drew a foul with an immediate drive. Pinson got credit for a “free throw assist” in the charting stats for this one (a pass leading directly to a shooting foul).
  • Following a hit-ahead from Seventh Woods in transition, Pinson tried to fit one in to Hicks filling the lane. This probably should have been a bounce pass, and resulted in a deflection from a recovering Nix. Hicks ran down the loose ball in the right corner, handing it off to Pinson who immediately threw a slick bounce-pass entry to Meeks for an open layup. The first pass was ill-advised, but the second was a beauty.
  • With Pitt back in the zone, Jackson flashed to the right elbow to receive a high-post entry from Pinson. Jackson missed a contested turnaround jumper from 14 feet.
  • As the shot clock dwindled down, Pinson bounced a gorgeous entry pass in to Meeks on the right block. Meeks, in the process of drop-stepping to the hoop, allowed the shot clock to expire, resulting in a Carolina turnover. This was a risky entry by Pinson given the clock situation, but probably worth rolling the dice since it nearly set up another easy hoop.
  • On the first possession of the second half, Jackson used a little brush pin-down screen from Berry to flash to the right wing. Pinson hit him there for a clean 3-point opportunity, but Jackson was unable to knock it down.
  • In a quintessential Carolina free-lance motion possession, a Pinson-Meeks ball screen coincided with a block-to-block screen from Jackson to free Hicks. Pinson whipped a well-timed bounce pass entry to Hicks, who used the Jackson screen to exchange from the left block to the right block. Hicks missed the layup at the rim, a shot he’ll nearly always convert. Despite the miss, this was beautiful offensive execution by the Heels.
  • In one of Pinson’s rare bad decisions against Pitt, he picked up his dribble 30 feet from the hoop. Trying to relieve pressure by passing to Jackson, Pinson threw the ball away, leading to an easy transition dunk for Cameron Johnson on the live-ball turnover.
  • With Sheldon Jeter in foul trouble and Nix (at 300+ pounds) unable to play long stretches, Pitt was forced to go small for parts of the second half. That resulted in plenty of low-block mismatches which were ruthlessly exploited by the Heels. In this one, Jamel Artis was matched up on Hicks on the left block. Pinson threw a simple entry from the left wing, allowing Hicks to back down the smaller defender for the easy layup. Pinson wasn’t credited with an assist here (since Hicks’ back-down dribble/drop step set up the score), but his ability to make the easy play (and recognize the advantage) set up the score.
  • This time, it was Tony Bradley who had the mismatch. With Johnson trying to front him in the paint, Bradley easily sealed him off to create a lob entry angle. Pinson delivered it perfectly from the right wing, allowing Bradley to finish at the rim without ever bringing the ball down.
  • After setting a ball screen for Pinson, Bradley rolled to the left block to receive an entry against a slow-recovering Nix. Bradley powered up to draw the foul, giving Pinson his second free throw assist of the game (and 10th of the season).
  • Immediately following a Pitt basket, Woods threw a hit-ahead pass to Pinson on the left wing. Pinson dropped a slick little bounce pass to Bradley, who filled the lane for an easy dunk after beating Nix down the court in transition.
  • Pinson threw a right-block entry to Hicks from the right wing, then cut to the opposite block. The undersized Panthers scraped down on Hicks in the paint, allowing him to find a wide-open Pinson for the easy layup.
  • With Jeter just returning to the court with four fouls, UNC executed a set play that ran Pinson off of staggered screens from Meeks and Jackson to receive the ball on the left wing. Meeks, upon setting the screen, immediately sealed Jeter to set up a great entry angle for Pinson, who led him right to the rim with the pass for an easy layup.
  • Another low-post mismatch, this time with 6’1″ backup point guard Justice Kithcart on Hicks, resulted in another Pinson entry from the right wing. Carolina wisely identified this matchup right away, isolating Pinson and Hicks on the right side for the lob entry against a helpless Kithcart (with no Panther defender able to help their fronting post defender due to the iso/floor spacing). The final result was another Hicks dunk set up by a Pinson pass.

Adding it all up, Pinson had 17 potential assists against Pitt, resulting in seven box-score assists plus two free throw assists in his 24 minutes. Ten of those potential assists created layups or dunks (or fouls at the rim)—that is, “potential close assists.” On the season, Pinson easily leads the Heels in this metric with 7.71 per 40 minutes (his rate against Pitt—16.67 / 40—was much higher than his season-to-date mark).

Of Pinson’s seven assists against Pitt, three went to Meeks, two to Bradley, and one to Hicks. Both of his free throw assists went to UNC’s bigs, too (one to Hicks, the other to Bradley). On the year, 25 of Pinson’s 37 box-score assists, or 68%, have gone to the Carolina post quartet of Meeks/Hicks/Bradley/Maye. His distribution of assists looks as follows:

  • Meeks: 9
  • Hicks: 7
  • Bradley: 5
  • Maye: 4
  • Jackson: 4
  • Williams: 3
  • Britt: 3
  • Berry: 2

Pinson’s mark of 68% is far higher than most of Carolina’s other guards/wings. Only Jackson at 67% is close: 48% of Berry’s assists have gone to UNC’s bigs; Woods (50%), Britt (49%) and Williams (39%) are likewise at or below 50% in this metric.

That highly correlated combination of creating a ton of close opportunities and creating a ton of shots for UNC’s bigs makes Pinson a perfect fit for a Roy Williams offense. In a system that runs a double-post offense with an emphasis on getting deep paint touches, Pinson’s passing skills are an ideal fit. He can make high-degree-of-difficulty deliveries, but also the simple entries that often present themselves in Williams’ offensive structure. When low-block entries aren’t available (due to fronting the post, strong post defense/pushing the UNC bigs off the blocks, etc.), Pinson’s also capable of getting to the rim off the dribble. He’s been a dangerous handler on UNC’s ball screen sets (both out of secondary and in the freelance passing game)—both as a passer (like against Pitt), and as a slasher/finisher.

Pinson’s ability to distribute the basketball is what frees up Berry and Jackson to launch 20 3-pointers (and hit nine) like against Pitt. Likewise, his ability to feed the post helps the Heels to dominate the paint. If Carolina continues to get that inside-out offensive balance, it’ll be a very tough out in March. And, if Pinson keeps on facilitating like he did against Pitt, that seems like a safe bet.

The Saturday Clipboard

The Saturday Clipboard

A few charting-related nuggets to pass along before the Carolina-Pitt game tips off at noon:

First, let’s break down Carolina’s top scorers (Jackson and Berry) by their early offense vs. half-court offense splits.

  • As seen, each player uses roughly half his weighted shots (FGAs + 0.475*FTAs) in each segment. Combined, Berry and Jackson score 16.6 points per game in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, and 16.7 in seconds 11-30.
  • Both players shoot 2-pointers better in the early offense (due to transition opportunities), but 3-pointers better in the halfcourt. Jackson’s 3-point split is more dramatic. Also, not surprisingly, both players draw significantly more fouls in the early offense (against oftentimes unset/scrambling/transitioning defenses).
  • Both players also shoot more 3s (as a proportion of total FGAs) in the halfcourt. The combination of 3-point volume and efficiency from Berry and Jackson in seconds 11-30 is why Carolina’s offense has been so good and balanced (between early and halfcourt) this season.
  • Jackson 3-point percentage actually gets higher and higher and the shot clock gets shorter and shorter:
    • 1-10: 31.3% (26-83)
    • 11-17: 41.8% (28-67)
    • 18-24: 48.6% (18-37)
    • 25-30: 60.0% (6-10)
  • Only three Tar Heels have taken double-digit FGAs in the final six seconds of the shot clock (Meeks and Hicks each have nine FGAs).
    • Berry: 50.0 FG% (11-22), 60.0 3Pt% (6-10), 67.7 TS%
    • Jackson: 62.5 FG% (11-16), 60.0 3Pt% (6-10), 83.2 TS%
    • Britt: 11.8 FG% (2-17), 20.0 3Pt% (1-5), 14.7 TS%
    • Berry’s actually been trending in the wrong direction here (after a really efficient start to the season in late-clock situations). Jackson’s been consistently great all year with an expiring shot clock; Britt’s been consistently bad.
  • UNC’s leaders in off-hand FGAs:
    • Meeks: 13-17
    • Jackson: 9-15
    • Britt: 9-11 (doesn’t really have an “off” hand, I guess—these are lefty attempts (all at the rim), though)
    • Berry: 5-7
    • Pinson: 3-7
    • Hicks: 3-7
    • Woods: 4-5
    • Williams: 4-4
    • Maye: 2-4
    • Bradley: 2-2
    • Meeks has been using his left hand more and more from the left-side of the rim, and has been steadily raising his close FG% from that side. It’s still at just 50.0% (31-62), though, compared to 65.4% (17-26) from the close middle and 69.2% (63-91) from the close right. Bradley, likewise (who still doesn’t use his left hand much), is shooting 58.1% (25-43) on close left attempts. That’s below his close middle (63.0% on 17-27) and close right (71.4% on 20-28) marks.
  • Jackson’s left wing/right wing 3-point splits continue to be extremely pronounced. He’s made 35-of-67 3s from the left wing (52.2%), but only 15-of-55 (27.3%) from the right wing. From the top of the key, he’s somewhere in between at 35.7% (15-42).
  • The Maye-Bradley frontcourt has been heavily used by Roy Williams in the ACC, and has had fantastic +/- results. It’s actually the second-most-used frontcourt in conference games, and has the highest efficiency margin of any combination.
    • Hicks-Meeks: 224 ACC minutes, +18.1 efficiency margin
    • Maye-Bradley: 93 ACC minutes, +33.5 efficiency margin
    • Maye-Meeks: 85 ACC minutes, +6.5 efficiency margin
    • Pinson as 4: 57 ACC minutes, +3.9 efficiency margin
    • Jackson as 4: 55 ACC minutes, -7.9 efficiency margin
    • Hicks-Bradley: 49 ACC minutes, +17.0 efficiency margin
    • Bradley-Meeks: 14 ACC minutes, +24.9 efficiency margin
  • As the above data shows, Carolina’s small-ball lineups have not been effective (from a +/- perspective) in the ACC. Pinson’s efficiency margin splits by position have been:
    • As a 2: 72 minutes, +26.4 efficiency margin (110.4-84.0)
    • As a 3: 65 minutes, +32.9 efficiency margin (115.9-83.1)
    • As a 4: 57 minutes, +3.9 efficiency margin (124.8-120.9)
    • The offensive efficiency has been great with Pinson at the 4. However, the team’s inability to get consistent stops has more than offset any gains in scoring production. The defense has been terrific in Pinson’s wing minutes (whether at the 2 or the 3). His minutes have been pretty evenly split across all three spots so far; since Kenny Williams’ injury, of course, they’ve been shifting more heavily to the 2.
  • Berry-Pinson has also clearly been UNC’s best backcourt against top competition. In minutes against Pomeroy Tier A&B opponents (top-100, venue-adjusted competition), Berry-Pinson has an efficiency margin of +27.1 in 60 minutes. Berry-Williams and Berry-Britt have both played 221 minutes against Tier A&B foes, with respective efficiency margins of +14.5 and +6.9.

 

Facing Top Defenses in the Williams Era

Facing Top Defenses in the Williams Era

Despite allowing a startling 1.45 PPP (90 points on 62 possessions) in its last game against Virginia Tech (at home, no less!), Louisville remains fifth in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. Always stout defensively under Rick Pitino, the Cardinals have ranked in the top-5 in this metric for a staggering seven straight seasons (assuming they can hold on to it this year).

So how has Carolina performed against top-10 defenses (based on Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency) in the 14-year Roy Williams era? Let’s take a look. All these numbers are from the 2003-04 season through the Virginia game this year. It should be noted that these are using the end-of-year numbers rather than the time-of-game ones.

  • UNC vs. teams with top-10 offenses and defenses: 4-9
  • UNC vs. teams with top-25 offenses and defenses: 20-28
  • UNC vs. teams with a top-10 defense only: 31-22
  • UNC vs. teams with a top-10 offense only: 27-26

Louisville this season, ranked 17th in offensive efficiency and fifth in defensive efficiency, falls into the top-25/top-25 bucket. Not surprisingly, Carolina has struggled some to beat this elite, balanced teams during the Williams era. In the halcyon days under RoyW (2005-09), the Heels went 9-4 against teams with this statistical profile (including 1-1 against top-10/top-10’s—an ’05 championship-game win over Illinois, and a Final Four loss to ’08 Kansas). But in the other nine season under Williams, UNC has gone just 10-23 (UNC was 1-2 last year against top-25/top-25—splitting with Virginia, and losing to Villanova in the championship game; the Heels split with Florida State and Kentucky in their only two such games this season).

As seen from the records above, Carolina has played better against teams with elite (top-10) defenses/non-elite offenses (58.5 winning percentage) than it has against elite offenses/non-elite defenses (50.9%). So far this season, UNC is 2-1 against both of these types of teams: wins over Oklahoma State and Wake Forest, and a loss to Duke in the elite offense/non-elite defense tier, and wins against Wisconsin and Virginia, and a loss to Georgia Tech in the elite defense/non-elite defense bucket.

Not surprisingly, the Heels were also much better against these types of opponents during the 2005-09 high-water period. They went 9-5 against elite offense/non-elite defense teams (vs. 18-21 in all other Williams seasons), and 15-5 against elite defense/non-elite offense opponents (vs. 16-17).

Not a ton to read into this, probably. It’s not breaking news that good, balanced teams are tough to beat. Ranking fourth in offense and 26th in defense, Carolina itself is right on the cusp of being an elite/elite team. Perhaps after tonight’s game, the Heels will find themselves back in that rarefied air.

Shifting gears, let’s briefly discuss how good UNC’s post quartet of Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Tony Bradley, and Luke Maye has been in terms of assist-to-turnover ratio this season. In some cases (Bradley), it’s been more about great ball security. In other cases (Maye), it’s been a function of an above-average assist rate. Meeks has been pretty solid in both A:TO areas. Even Hicks, who’s the worst in the rotation at 0.69, has improved considerably from his sophomore (0.32) and junior 0.57) marks.

As the table below shows, this post rotation currently has the best A:TO of the Williams era:

A couple notes from the table:

  • Stretch 4s are (pretty obviously) always solid in this metric: Noel, Hairston, Jawad Williams, and Watts posted some of the best ratios on the list. Luke Maye fits that mold currently (with the A:TO to match).
  • Henson (from 0.39 to 0.98) and McAdoo (from 0.43 to 1.23) made dramatic and impressive A:TO improvements from their sophomore-to-junior seasons. Both improvements were driven primarily by drastic reductions in turnover rates.
  • The Tylers (Hansbrough and Zeller) were never really into the whole “passing” thing. Still legendary Carolina posts, of course—just not stellar A:TO numbers. It’s not always that crucial of a stat for a post player, but it’s a nice feature for this UNC team since it lacks a go-to post scorer like Hansbrough or Zeller (and instead depends on ball movement and passing democracy).
  • Joel James was obviously a terrific Tar Heel ambassador and locker room/bench presence. A pretty solid fourth big, too. But his career 0.25 A:TO (including 0:15 as a senior in ’16) hasn’t really been missed very much. It was better than Alex Stepheson’s career mark (as a Tar Heel) of 0.20. Believe it or not, Stepheson’s A:TO actually declined to 0.14 (14:101) in his two seasons at USC.
Justin Jackson’s Historic 3-Point Improvement

Justin Jackson’s Historic 3-Point Improvement

After making just 29.2% of his 120 3-pointer as a sophomore, Justin Jackson has improved to 39.4% on 178 attempts as a junior. That increase of 10.2 percentage points is obviously a healthy one. But where does it rank in ACC history among season-over-season improvements?

The only caveat here is that a player must have at least 100 3-point attempts in each season to qualify for this list (to prevent cases like Donald Williams’ freshman-to-sophomore improvement in which he went from a seldom-used reserve to a starter; while those are also clearly improvements, they fall into a different class than what we’re trying to measure here).

 

  • Prior to this season, only 11 ACC players had ever had a 10-percentage-point increase in their season-over-season 3-point percentage. So far this year, three other players (Kennard, Holmes, and Jackson) are currently poised to join that club. Virginia Tech’s Seth Allen will probably be a fourth. He’s currently shooting 47.8% from behind the arc on 90 attempts. Last year, he made just 28.0% on 157 3s. He’ll qualify for the list once he gets 10 more attempts to reach the threshold of 100.
  • Calabria, Felton, and Hairston give Carolina three members on this list (Jackson would be the fourth). No other team has more than two (Kennard would be Duke’s third; Allen would be the third for Virginia Tech).
  • Some UNC near misses on this list are: Hubert Davis (+9.3: 39.6% on 111 attempts in 1990 to 48.9% on 131 in 1991), Vince Carter (+7.5: 33.6% on 107 attempts in 1997 to 41.1% on 107 attempts in 1998), Ademola Okulaja (+17.3: 25.8% on 93 attempts in 1998 to 43.1% on 137 attempts in 1999—just missed the 100-attempt cutoff in season one), and Reggie Bullock (+8.6: 29.6% on 98 attempts in 2011 to 38.2% on 186 attempts in 2012).

Some other Jackson-related 3-point tidbits.

  • UNC’s all-time record for made 3s in a season is 95 by Shammond Williams in 1997. Next is Marcus Paige (94 in 2015), P.J. Hairston (89 in 2013), Reggie Bullock (88 in 2013), and Jeff Lebo (88 in 1988). So far this season, Jackson’s made 74 in 28 games. Assuming that UNC plays 10 more games (four regular-season games plus anywhere from 2-to-9 in the postseason; we’ve chosen six for this forecast), Jackson is projected to end the season with exactly 100 3s. Whether he breaks the single-season record (and becomes the first Heel with a triple-digit made 3-point season) figures to be a function of how deep Carolina advances in the postseason.
  • Jackson (74) and Joel Berry (63) have combined to make 137 3s so far this season. The most by any pair of UNC teammates is:
    • 177: Hairston (89)/Bullock (88), 2013
    • 162: Ellington (85)/Green (77), 2009
    • 154: K. Smith (87)/Lebo (67), 1987
    • 153: D. Williams (87)/Calabria (66), 1995
    • 144: Calabria (77)/McInnis (67), 1996
  • Assuming 10 more games this season, Jackson and Berry would end the season with 186 made 3s, placing them at the top of this list. Even with a shorter-than-expected postseason, that duo figures to easily climb to at least No. 2 on the list.
  • Jackson and Berry are both also in the Carolina all-time top 20 for made 3s. Berry is currently 15th with 148, while Jackson is 19th with 137. Jackson’s career 3-point percentage of 34.3% is the second-lowest of any Tar Heel in the top 20 (only Leslie McDonald at 33.3% is lower). It’s obviously been trending in the right direction this season, though.
Luke Maye Busts Out

Luke Maye Busts Out

Luke Maye set a career-high against NC State with 13 points, the continuation of a positive trend in scoring volume and efficiency. The table below shows his season splits divided into three segments: 1.) non-conference games ((Maye played in nine of the 14); 2.) the first seven ACC games; and 3.) the last six ACC games.

As seen in the table, Maye’s per-40 scoring rate, as well as his True Shooting%, have skyrocketed over the past few games. That’s been driven by a huge spike in his 2-point FG% (both at the rim and from mid-range). He’s also committed just a single turnover over  his last six games (77 minutes), while maintaining (actually slightly improving) his solid per-minute assist rate. The only bad news in Maye’s play has been a precipitous decline in rebounding rate (especially on the defensive boards), although he did grab seven against NC State (including three on the defensive end). In the early part of the ACC season, Maye was absolutely dominant on both backboards (highlighted by his 15-rebound performance vs. Florida State). Both his 3-point rate (steadily) and his free throw rate (sharply) have declined segment-to-segment. While the 3-pointer is still part of his offensive arsenal (especially of the pick-and-pop and trailing-big-in-secondary varieties), Maye—always confident—is showing more discretion from behind the arc. Against NC State, he turned down a couple of clean perimeter looks (including the one that he turned into a driving dunk after pump-faking Omer Yurtseven).

Next, let’s break down Maye’s shot attempts by type and length. These are split into non-conference and ACC buckets. As implied by the data above, Maye’s shooting percentages have been improving across the board as the conference season progresses. This is especially true of his close FG%. Maye made 5-of-7 close attempts against the Wolfpack after starting the ACC campaign just 9-of-24 (37.5%) at the rim. Although his close FG% is way down in ACC play, he’s getting dramatically more attempts at the rim (in part due to his improved offensive rebounding; Theo Pinson’s presence is also helping here, as it has with getting all UNC’s bigs easier looks).

After missing all four of his mid-range catch-and-shoot jumpers in non-conference play, Maye has converted 6-of-1o in the ACC (including three against Duke alone). From 10-20′ overall, he’s shooting 64.7% in league play, while nearly doubling his non-conference attempts from that distance. During ACC games, Maye has clearly been Carolina’s most prolific and efficient mid-range option. He’s been particularly adept at finding openings in opposing defenses within the freelance passing game. His smart cuts/relocations have resulted in several clean mid-range looks recently.

Finally, let’s break down Maye’s 11 field goal attempts in the NC State game. He knocked down five of his first six shots before slumping a bit down the stretch.

  1. Wide-open tip in after a missed Britt 3 from the corner (created by a Jackson drive-and-kick); Dorn closed out on Britt after Jackson’s drive scrambled the State defense, but Smith never switched on to/boxed out Maye
  2. After a secondary break post entry from Britt to Bradley (who beat Anya down the court) on the left block, Bradley immediately hit a cutting Maye (the trailing big in secondary) for a layup; great cut by Maye, and a beautifully-executed transition possession by the Heels
  3. Missed a pick-and-pop 3 from the left wing after setting a ball screen for Pinson
  4. Another open tip in, this one was created by running right past Kapita after setting a screen to free Berry for a (missed) 3 on a baseline out of bounds (BLOB) set; Maye’s energy/effort/activity level was just consistently higher than the Pack’s bigs all night
  5. The famous Maye dunk following his shot fake to get Yurtseven in the air (terrible close-out), then a disinterested help rotation by Smith; this was the first close shot that Maye has created off the dribble all season (in only three attempts), and only his second dunk of his career; it was a terrific move, but NC State’s defense/effort was just abysmal on this play (bad enough to get a coach fired, even)
  6. Another beautiful secondary break set resulted in a Pinson lob to Maye after he received a back screen from Jackson; this is a quintessential secondary option for the Heels, and a great delivery by Pinson to create another open, close opportunity for a UNC big
  7. After out-fighting Kapita for another offensive rebound, Maye’s stick-back attempt was blocked from behind by Henderson as Anya also heavily contested the shot; finishing in the paint over size/through contact is an area where Maye continues to struggle as an undersized post player lacking elite ACC athleticism
  8. Maye knocked down a left-wing 3 after a BLOB dribble hand-off to Berry flowed directly into a Berry/Maye pick-and-pop
  9. On another BLOB set, Maye this time faked the dribble hand-off to Berry and attacked off the dribble; he missed a little leaning hook shot (the release was somewhat Hansbroughian) after using a pump fake to get Smith in the air (and probably draw an (uncalled) foul)
  10. He got his own rebound after the above miss, failing to convert a put-back opportunity that he should have finished.
  11. Maye missed a left-wing 3 (all three of his 3s vs. NC State were from the left wing) as the trailing big in the secondary break; Pinson got the potential assist for this one; Maye’s now just 2-8 (25.0%) on left-wing 3s, and 3-13 (23.1%) on 3s from either wing; he’s 4-7 (57.1%) on top-of-key 3s, and has also made his only corner attempt from behind the arc.

Maye probably won’t continue to score nearly 22 points / 40 like he was over his past six games. But his mix of 4-level scoring (at the rim, post moves (generally either a jump hook or turnaround jumper), mid-range jumpers, and 3s) is versatile enough to make him a constant threat. Working hard/high motor is a skill, and one that Maye possesses in abundance. That will always lead to a few “garbage” opportunities for him in transition, the offensive glass, or on loose ball/scrambles situations. Those aren’t just lucky bounces/breaks, though—they’re a function of Maye playing hard and smart (timely cuts, good anticipation of missed shots, etc.). His physical limitations will always limit his upside as a go-to post scorer in the ACC (simply since he’ll (probably) never finish at the rim efficiently enough). But his overall offensive game makes him a great complementary big to pair with a back-to-the-basket scorer like Meeks or Bradley.

Speaking of Maye-Bradley combos, the +/- numbers have been very favorable to that frontcourt duo in ACC play. Though it’s no guarantee that those two will pair in the post as starters next season, Carolina fans should feel more and more comfortable if that’s what ultimately happens.

Tony Bradley’s Development

Tony Bradley’s Development

Earlier this week, we took a look at Seventh Woods’ recent emergence. Fellow freshman Tony Bradley, who started off the season so strong (11.5 PPG (with a FG% of 72.2) and 6.8 RPG in 17.8 MPG through the first six games of his collegiate career), didn’t leave himself as much room for noticeable growth. But that doesn’t mean that his game hasn’t been developing in some areas.

Let’s break down Bradley’s numbers from his first 12 games (through Kentucky) and his last 12 games (10 of them in the ACC).

Bradley as a Scorer:

The good news is that, despite facing a higher quality of opponent/athlete, Bradley is getting more close attempts during the second half of the season, and also converting them more efficiently. What’s actually happening is that many of his free throw opportunities in the early season (when Bradley had a FTA Rate of 87.5 in games 1-12) are merely shot attempts now (his FTA Rate over the last 12 games has dropped to 46.4—still solid, but not off-the-charts high). So his total impact around the rim (in terms of both volume and efficiency) hasn’t changed much at all from one season segment to the next. Still, maintaining a high volume of efficient close finishes against ACC-caliber frontcourts is probably the most important element to Bradley’s offensive game. That he’s proven to be able to do it bodes well for his future as a go-to post scorer for the Heels.

Almost all of Bradley’s non-close attempts have been in the form of hook shots. He’s been making those shots much less consistently in ACC play (and, anecdotally, has definitely been affected by longer/stronger post defenders). The next steps for Bradley as a post scorer will be to develop a reliable go-to move, then a counter move or two. He’s also been taking (and missing) more catch-and-shoot mid-range jumpers in ACC play. It’s still a tiny part of his offensive repertoire, but being able to reliably hit an elbow or short-corner jumper will be part of Bradley’s offensive maturation, too.

Bradley’s turnover rate has climbed a bit from 1.58 / 40 in games 1-12 to 2.65 / 40 in games 13-24. Offensive fouls, however, continue to be his biggest source of turnovers, accounting for half his total in both season segments (0.79 in first half, 1.32 in second half). Some of these have been questionable calls (whistled when Bradley tries to create/maintain deep post position), and will probably start to (largely) disappear once he becomes a more established (and respected) post scorer.

Bradley as a Rebounder:

  • First 12 games: 23.0 OR%, 15.5 DR%, 14.6 rebounds / 40 minutes
  • Last 12 games: 18.5 OR%, 20.9 DR%, 15.1 rebounds / 40 minutes

While Bradley’s become slightly less dominant on the offensive glass (but still elite), his defensive rebounding has made big strides recently. He’s close to becoming a rare 20-20 guy in terms of OR%-DR%. Overall, his per-minute rebounding rate has trickled up a bit over the second half of the season (despite an uptick in competition level). That’s obviously a good sign for the Heels next season (in a post-Meeks world).

Bradley as a Defender:

  • First 12 games: 1.37 blocks / 40, 62.3 Stop%, 39.5 TS% Allowed, 13.2 points allowed / 40
  • Last 12 games: 2.34 blocks / 40, 57.5 Stop%, 43.8 TS% Allowed, 12.8 points allowed / 40

Bradley’s per-minute block rate is up about 70% in the second half of the season. That’s a great sign. While his Stop% is lower in ACC minutes, it’s actually relatively higher (compared to the team average) than his non-conference Stop%. In non-conference play, his TS% allowed was tied with Meeks for the best mark on the team. In league games, it’s second to Meeks’ mark of 42.9%. Bradley is still not a classic rim protector, but he’s starting to develop into something more closely resembling that.

Bradley’s On-Court Impact:

Through the first 12 games of the season, the Heels were slightly better (on both ends) with Bradley on the floor. His on-court/off-court differential was +2.34 (UNC was 0.07 points / 100 better on offense in his minutes, and 2.27 points / 100 better on defense) over that timeframe. During ACC play, Bradley was logged a team-high efficiency margin of +18.6. Carolina has been 11.1 points / 100 possessions with Bradley on the floor than with him on the bench. All of that impact has been on the defensive end:

  • ACC minutes with Bradley—Offensive Efficiency: 116.8, Defensive Efficiency: 98.2, Efficiency Margin: +18.6
  • ACC minutes without Bradley—Offensive Efficiency: 117.5, Defensive Efficiency: 110.0, Efficiency Margin: +7.5

Against Pomeroy Tier A&B opponents (i.e., top-1oo venue-adjusted competition), Bradley’s efficiency margin of +11.2 is third-best on the team behind Theo Pinson (+11.7) and Isaiah Hicks (+11.2).

While Tony Bradley’s statistical splits haven’t changed dramatically from the first half of the season (21.5 points / 40 on a TS% of 60.7, 14.6 rebounds / 40, 1.37 blocks / 40) to the second half (19.7 points / 40 on a TS% of 55.6, 15.1 rebounds / 40, 2.34 blocks / 40), he has shown improvements in some key areas (defensive rebounding and shot-blocking to name two). He’s also shown the ability to maintain his close scoring efficiency against bigger, better frontcourts. Nothing that’s occurred in the second half of the season has changed my (high) opinion of Bradley’s potential as a go-to post scorer for Carolina.

 

 

Pinson vs. Division I: The Stat-Stuffing Showdown

Pinson vs. Division I: The Stat-Stuffing Showdown

Last month, Adrian posted a comparison of Theo Pinson’s amazing productivity in points, rebounds, assists, and steals this season to box-score-busting years by past Tar Heels. I thought I’d take a look at how #1’s stat line stacks up to players nationwide this season.

Notes:

  • All raw data used here comes from RealGM.com, a site I find user-friendly, well-organized, thorough, and always up to date (they’ve updated Carolina’s stats the same day as a game sometimes this season.) Stats.ncaa.org has the advantage of listing games started in its season boxes, but can be very shaky on keeping updated.
  • The averages I give (besides mpg) are in my preferred tempo-free normalization, which asks “At this player’s per-possession production, what would his averages be if he played 35 games at about 30 mpg on a 70-possession-per-game team (thus playing 53 offensive and defensive possessions per game) and saw 26 rebounds/game grabbed at each end of the floor?” This projects a player’s stats to a fairly typical starter’s role on a fairly typical college team, and I find it more intuitive than things like (with a tip of the cap to our esteemed host) per-40 stats or rebounding percentages.

So Theo’s per-53 numbers are currently at 10.6 P, 9.4 R, 5.6 A, 0.2 B, 1.7 S, 2.5 PF, and 0.5 TO. As of this morning, RealGM lists 3,162 players who have played at least 100 minutes at at least 10 mpg (out of 4,785 players overall). I (actually my poor, overworked MS Excel and Access) calculated each of those players’s percentile rank for each of the seven counting stats. Pinson’s steals put him in the 94.2 percentile, his boards at 96.8, assists 99.1, and his 2 turnovers in 116 minutes in the 99.5 exosphere.

No other player in the country ranks in the top 5.8% in any four of the seven stats. Theo Pinson is the four-course national champion. Can we get David Noel to lend him that title belt?

Notable stat-sheet stuffers around Division 1:

 

Joel Berry’s Up-and-Down Season

Joel Berry’s Up-and-Down Season

It’s hard to argue that junior point guard Joel Berry hasn’t been Carolina most important (if not always its best) player this season. More than any other Heel, the team’s fortunes seem to rise and fall with Berry’s level of performance. Unlike Justin Jackson, who’s been a consistent scoring threat all season long, Berry has been prone to some peaks and valleys.

Let’s break Berry’s season down into four even segments: 1.) the first half of the non-conference season (Tulane through Wisconsin); 2.) the second half of the non-conference season (Indiana through Monmouth—Berry missed 2.5 games during this stretch); 3.) the first half (to date) of the ACC season (Georgia Tech through Syracuse); and 4.) the second half (to date) of the ACC season (Boston College through Duke). The following table summarizes Berry’s stats in some key categories for those chronological buckets. As I’ll describe below, each season segment’s statistical profile has described a different type of point guard.

Non-Conference Games 1-7—Joel Berry: All-American

Through the first seven games of the season, Berry’s gaudy numbers were threatening to place him in the pantheon of great Carolina point guards. While the average competition wasn’t as stout in this stretch, he did dominate two (Pomeroy) top-20 teams in Maui (Oklahoma State and Wisconsin), plus a top-75 Chattanooga squad. Not only was Berry scoring 25.0 points / 4o minutes, he was doing so with a True Shooting% of 72.1. Even the ultra-efficient Ty Lawson of ’09 could “only” boast a TS% of 65.9 that season. Per 40 minutes, Berry also averaged 6.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists during the season’s first seven games. Perhaps most importantly, he was fueling Carolina’s (at that point) elite defense with his ball pressure and proclivity for wreaking havoc/forcing turnovers. His Stop% (a defensive charting summary statistic) was at a season-high 69.3 to start the campaign. He was at his most aggressive and attacking in this segment—the only one in which he shot fewer than half his attempts behind the arc, and the one in which he recorded his highest (by far) rate of free throws.

Non-Conference Games 8-14—Joel Berry: Pass-First Point Guard

During the last half of the pre-conference slate, Berry became more of a traditional pass-first point guard. He shot less frequently (15.5 weighted shots / 40 vs. 17.3 in the previous segment), and also much less efficiently. Both his 2-point and 3-point percentages plummeted and, in conjunction with his lower usage, led to a drastic reduction in his per-40 scoring. However, Berry’s per-40 assist rate rose significantly over this period of games. In fact, his 8.4 assists / 40 was nearly on par with Lawson’s ’09 season mark of 8.78. Berry also recorded a (nearly) Lawsonian assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.00 during this timeframe. His individual defense remained very strong, as he posted a terrific Stop% of 65.0 to close out the non-conference schedule. Overall, Berry’s out-of-conference Stop% was a team-high 66.9. His proportion of 3-pointers began to climb, corresponding with a drop in free throw rate.

ACC Games 1-6—Joel Berry: Shoot-First Lead Guard

As the ACC campaign began, a different Berry emerged. The good news is that his scoring efficiency rose closer to his All-American form to start the season. Both his 2-point and 3-point percentages spiked, resulting in a TS% of 64.3. Likewise, Berry’s shooting volume again rose—this time to a season-high 18.1 weighted shots / 40 (a weighted shot is FGA + (0.475 * FTA)). Scoring 23.2 points / 40 (including 26 against Florida State and a season-high 31 against Clemson) at that level of efficiency is no small feat. The bad news, however, is that Berry’s play-making plummeted during this segment of the season. Relative to the previous segment, his assists / 40 dropped by over half to 3.7. Likewise, his rate of turnovers / 40 climbed to a season-high 3.9, dropping his A:TO to an unacceptable 0.95. Additionally, his stellar defense from earlier in the season began to rapidly decline once league play began. During this six-game span, Berry’s Stop% fell to 52.1.

ACC Games 7-12—Joel Berry: Slumping Star

Over his most recent stretch, Berry’s numbers have slumped in many key categories. Similar to the second half of the non-conference season, the latter part of the ACC campaign has been marred by poor Berry shooting. In particular, his 2-point percentage has dropped precipitously to 25.9% (7-27). His free throw percentage, declining across all segments, bottomed out below 70% (capped off by the two huge misses against Duke). Overall, his TS% has dropped below 50% (48.0%), despite a solid 38.5% on 3-pointers. Like his previous poor-shooting segment (non-conference games 8-14), Berry’s inefficiency was associated with a lower usage rate (a season-low 15.2 weighted shots / 40—running contrary to the expected usage-efficiency trade-off for scorers). Unlike that previous segment, however, the lower rate of shot attempts has not been linked to a rise in assists. Berry’s assists / 40 mark has inched up only slightly to 4.1—still far below his non-conference number of 7.1. In better news, his turnover rate has also fallen (from 3.9 / 40 to 2.2 / 40). While his A:TO is an improved 1.82, it’s still far below his non-conference (2.48), 2016 (2.44), and 2015 (2.19) numbers. As Berry’s inability to finish at the rim has emerged as an issue, he’s been compensating by taking more and more of his shots from behind the arc (a season-high 59% this segment). He’ll need to re-establish himself as a dangerous 3-level scorer to regain his scoring form/efficiency from earlier in the year. While not a huge concern for a point guard, Berry’s rebounding numbers have also been consistently declining segment-over-segment. Over the past six games, his rebounds / 40 number has bottomed out at 2.6 (down nearly 60% from his early-season peak). What is a huge concern is his still-declining Stop%. It fell even more to 48.1% this segment and, in all ACC games, has dropped to 50.1% (from 66.9% in non-conference).

The Rest of the Way

For the Heels to hold on to their lead in the ACC standings and, more importantly, have the postseason success that everyone hopes for, Berry will need to snap out of his recent funk. While he doesn’t need to revert to the All-American from games 1-7 who was doing everything (scoring volume, scoring efficiency, rebounding, passing, defending) at an elite level, he’ll need to at least do a couple of things at a high level. Given Carolina’s relative paucity of perimeter weapons, scoring volume will probably be an area in which Berry must excel. And, for the Heels to reach their potential, his defense will need to return closer to its non-conference level. With Theo Pinson’s return, play-making is probably one area in which Berry—never a natural distributor—can take a backseat. He will need to maintain his lower turnover rate, though. Basically, UNC will need the scoring version of Berry from the early ACC games (segment 3) mixed with more defensive energy and better decision-making/ball protection. That sounds like a lot to ask for, but Berry’s shown in the past to be capable of all that and more. His 2016 postseason run and 2017 start to the season were both sustained runs of excellence. And, if that All-American/Maui version of Berry wants to re-emerge, he can cement his legacy among great Tar Heel point guards by leading UNC to postseason glory.

 

Carolina’s ACC Rotation and +/-

Carolina’s ACC Rotation and +/-

With Carolina two-thirds of the way through its ACC schedule, let’s check out how the different lineup combinations are shaping up. As usual, small sample size caveats are in effect for the plus-minus numbers—a dozen games really isn’t enough to draw meaningful inferences about the future. In terms of describing how the Heels’ conference rotations have looked (and performed) so far, though, it can be a helpful exercise.

Let’s start with the cumulative ACC-only plus-minus numbers:

  • The first thing that might stick out is how many bench players are above the team average (and, correspondingly, how many starters are below it). Of the starting 5, only Isaiah Hicks has had an efficiency margin that’s higher than UNC’s ACC average for all minutes.
  • In general, lineups with the bench players have been worse-than-average on the offensive end. But that’s been more than outweighed by how (relatively) strong those lineups have been defensively. This is especially true in the case of lineups with Seventh Woods at point guard (albeit in only a 76-minute ACC sample size). The starters have the opposite pattern: above-average offensively, but well below the mean for defensive efficiency.
  • While I certainly wouldn’t advocate playing Berry-Jackson-Meeks fewer minutes going forward, this does demonstrate that there’s room for defensive improvement in the starting 5.
  • It’s also, of course, true that the bench is playing a significantly higher proportion of its minutes against opposing benches (and/or tired starters). As always, there is plenty of noise and confounding variables in any plus/minus metric. That said, the Carolina bench (primarily Woods/Robinson/Bradley) is grading out well from a defensive charting perspective. And, from a pure “eye test” analysis, those bench lineups are clearly bringing good defensive energy and effort.

Next. let’s break it down by frontcourt and backcourt combinations. We’ll also focus on the 3 position in isolation (rather than try to make things even more granular with 1-2-3 combinations).

  • Both the starting frontcourt (Hicks-Meeks) and the (primary) bench frontcourt (Maye-Bradley) have similar efficiency margins in league play. As was the trend above, however, Hicks-Meeks has been the vastly superior offensive frontcourt and Maye-Bradley the much stronger defensive combo.
  • Small-ball lineups have been unsuccessful. With Pinson at the 4, the offense has been great but the defense poor. With Jackson at the 4, the defense has been above-average but with poor offensive efficiency (which is a historical aberration for UNC’s small-ball lineups—they tend to be strong offensively, below-average defensively).
  • With a couple minutes against Duke, the Bradley-Meeks pairing has now played in two ACC games (Virginia Tech, Duke). In all games, it’s played about 27 minutes. Most of that time (77%) has been against Pomeroy Tier A&B opponents (i..e, top-100 teams), during which the Bradley-Meeks frontcourt has an efficiency margin of +20.7 (while posting above-average efficiency on both ends). I know why the staff doesn’t use that combo much (especially against stretch 4s), but it actually hasn’t been exploited yet defensively during its limited minutes. I’d be curious to see how that frontcourt would do with some more extended minutes (like it got in the Oklahoma State/Wisconsin games in Maui).

  • Unlike in non-conference play when the Berry-Williams backcourt was vastly superior to Berry-Britt on both ends, it’s much more even in ACC minutes. Berry-Williams has been the better offensive backcourt (used heavily with the other three starters, of course), but Berry-Britt has been the better defensive duo (used more heavily with the bench frontcourt).
  • Though the minutes are split somewhat equally, the Woods-Britt combo has been significantly better than the Woods-Williams one. Most of that advantage has been on the defensive end.
  • Pinson hasn’t played much 2 yet, but it’s been very successful in its limited use. The Berry-Pinson-Jackson 1-2-3 trio was great last year, too (used heavily when Paige was injured), so it will be interesting to monitor Pinson’s time at the 2 (and possibly even his insertion into the starting lineup as a 2).

  • The Heels have also been very successful with Pinson at the 3 this season. While the Jackson-at-the-3 lineups are Carolina’s best offensively, the team defense has been significantly better with Pinson in that spot.
  • Williams at the 3 (alongside a 2-PG lineup—generally Berry-Britt) hasn’t been working in league play. It was below-average in non-conference games, too.
  • Just like in the non-conference schedule, UNC’s been strong defensively with Robinson on the floor, but well below-average on the offensive end.
  • After a dominating non-conference run, the starting 5 has regressed to slightly above-average in league games. While it’s still an excellent offensive unit, that quintet’s ability to get stops has fallen precipitously.
  • Given the lack of dominance, might a Pinson-for-Williams swap in the starting 5 be in order? It obviously depends on many factors (Pinson’s health, team chemistry/how Williams might perform off the bench, how to best utilize Pinson between the 2/3/4 positions, etc.). From a pure efficiency standpoint, however, I think the Berry-Pinson-Jackson-Hicks-Meeks lineup is probably Carolina’s strongest (although there not much (if any) drop with Bradley at the 5).