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The Primary Break: UNC-Louisville Quick Takes

The Primary Break: UNC-Louisville Quick Takes

Some (semi-)quick takes on Carolina’s 74-63 win over Louisville on Wednesday night.

I’ll be finishing the charting for this one soon, so will be break with a more detailed breakdown of the victory.

  • Justin Jackson’s ACC scoring remains incredibly consistent. He scored 21 last night, and has now tallied between 18 and 22 points in 11 of the 15 conference games. His game-by-game ACC output is: 16, 18, 21, 19, 22, 19, 22, 26, 21, 20, 16, 21, 14, 20, and 21 (an average of 19.7 with a standard deviation of 2.93). The Heels can count on 20 a night from Jackson, plus or minus a few points. It’s been the most consistent scoring season in the Roy Williams era (a coefficient of variation of 0.148), and the lack of really bad performances is one reason why Jackson’s an ACC Player of the Year frontrunner.
  • Although it wasn’t Jackson’s best floor game (2 assists, 4 turnovers), the two assists came on consecutive possessions to push the Heels’ lead to from eight to 12 (57-45). He threw a couple of great entry passes to get easy hoops for Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley in one of UNC’s jumbo-frontcourt lineups.
  • Speaking of the Bradley-Meeks jumbo formations, they played an ACC-high 6:54 together because of Isaiah Hicks’ foul trouble and Luke Maye’s relative ineffectiveness against UL’s size/athleticism (which also limited the court time for Carolina’s small-ball units). Although Bradley-Meeks frontcourts were outscored 14-12, those combinations looked comfortable and will give Williams another option (especially against traditional double-post lineups).
  • Carolina also led 10-2 in Seventh Woods’ 5:19 on the floor. With him at point guard, UNC cut a 12-7 Louisville lead to 14-12 in the first half, then extended a 48-43 second-half margin to 53-43. Woods didn’t do anything spectacular (and, in fact, had a couple of slightly out-of-control plays), but continued to play excellent defense while getting the team good looks on the offensive end.
  • Stilman White also saw his first meaningful action in a couple of months. He played shooting guard alongside the other four starters (Berry-Jackson-Hicks-Meeks), contributing a basket and an assist to a 7-2 run that turned a 14-12 Louisville lead into a 19-16 Carolina one. While the Heels would be tied a couple of times (at 30-30 and 40-40) after that White stint, they’d never trail again. That’s one of those nice “senior moments” that makes the Carolina program so special.
  • Carolina’s defensive efficiency was spectacular for the second straight game against a top-4o offense. The Cardinals, who have an adjusted PPP of 1.17 this season (22nd in the country), scored just 63 points on 74 possessions (a PPP of 0.85). Like Virginia, they helped out the UNC defense by missing 15 of 20 3-pointers (including plenty of clean looks) and nine of 13 free throws. Despite the shot luck, Carolina’s defensive effort was strong, and its perimeter players did an especially good job of working hard to get over the top of the Cardinals’ myriad ball screens. After falling into the 40s in adjusted defensive efficiency, the Heels have quickly rocketed back up to No. 20 in this metric (to complement their top-5 offense).
  • With his 14-point, 1o-rebound double-double, Meeks passed Rusty Clark on both the all-time scoring and rebounding lists. He moved into the top 10 in rebounding with 939 in his Carolina career. He should pass Eric Montross (941) for ninth place in UNC’s next game at Pitt. The top 8 all have 1,000+ career boards (Brad Daugherty’s eighth with 1,003). Meeks moved into 40th on the career scoring list with his 1,348 points. He’s 20 behind Danny Green and 27 behind Ty Lawson, who are 39th and 38th, respectively. Though it’s not always been the prettiest, Meeks’ four-year production as a collegian has been pretty impressive (he’s also 13th in blocks with 136, 25th in FG% at 54.8%, and 59th in steals with 87).
  • Held scoreless, Isaiah Hicks is stuck on 989 career points. He’ll look to bounce back against Pitt and become the 76th member of Carolina’s 1,000-point club (joining teammates Jackson, Meeks, and Berry). Hicks, with 489 career rebounds, is also looking to become the 50th Tar Heel with 500 in his career.
  • By knocking down a pair of big 3s, Theo Pinson moved into 50th place in Carolina history with 31 career made 3s. His 29.5% from behind the arc is the second-lowest of anyone in the top 50, however, ahead of just Jackie Manuel (28.2%).
  • All three of Berry’s assists (with zero turnovers!) were for Jackson 3-pointers. Berry’s now assisted on 35 Jackson field goals this season (most of them behind the arc), the highest of any Carolina combination this season (Berry-to-Meeks with 26 is next, followed by Jackson-to-Hicks with 22).

More on this win soon, once I get caught up with charting.

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.

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…

The Primary Break: UNC-VT Quick Takes

The Primary Break: UNC-VT Quick Takes

Here are some quick statistical nuggets from Thursday night’s 91-72 victory over Virginia Tech. I’ll be back with a more thorough breakdown after I have a chance to chart this one.

  • Both UNC’s 14 made 3s and 30 attempted 3s were season highs, topping the 12 and 27 against NC State.
  • Carolina shot 19 first-half 3s, more than it’s shot in 10 full games this year (and almost as many as its average of 19.5 entering the game).
  • Justin Jackson and Joel Berry combined to make 10 3s, and have now made 117 in 22 games (5.32 / game). The UNC record for a pair of teammates belongs to P.J. Hairston (89) and Reggie Bullock (88) in 2013, who combined to make 177 (4.92 / game).
  • At 64 possessions, this was UNC’s slowest game of the season. Northern Iowa (66), Wisconsin (67), and Syracuse (68) were the only other games under 70 possessions.
  • The Heels allowed 17 points on their first nine possessions, and 23 in their final 15. In between, they gave up just 32 points in 40 possessions (PPP of 0.80).
  • Carolina led 16-4 in Pinson’s 5:03 on the court prior to his ankle injury.
  • UNC drew three charges against the Hokies: two by Kenny Williams and one by Joel Berry. Williams leads the team with 12 offensive fouls drawn on the season, while Berry’s next with seven.

UNC Career Leaderboard Updates

  • In his 100th game as a Heel, Justin Jackson’s 26 points pushed him past 1300 in his career. He moved by York Larese, Joe Forte, George Karl, and Kevin Madden, and now ranks 42nd on UNC’s career leaderboard with 1303.
  • Kennedy Meeks moved past some big names—including Felton, Cota, Jones, and Carter—into 47th on Carolina’s scoring list. With 15 points against Virginia Tech, he now has 1269 in his career. Meeks’ 14 rebounds also moved him past John Henson and into a tie with Ademola Okulaja for 11th place in UNC history with 890. He’s looking like a safer and safer bet to reach 1000 in his career (he’d be the ninth Tar Heel to join that club; Brice Johnson became the eighth last season).
  • Nate Britt scored career point 700 when he knocked down a first-half 3. He’s got 702 as a Tar Heel.

Check back soon for some more content related to this big win. I’ll probably do something about Carolina’s 3-point shooting.


The Primary Break: UNC-Boston College Quick Takes

The Primary Break: UNC-Boston College Quick Takes

Some quick (pre-charting) statistical nuggets from Saturday’s UNC-Boston College game in Chestnut Hill:

  • For both teams, it was a tale of two halves in terms of offensive efficiency. Carolina scored 34 points on 37 first-half possessions (offensive efficiency of 91.9), followed by 56 points on 37 second-half possessions (151.4). BC, likewise, had an offensive efficiency of 86.8 (33 in 38) in the first half, followed by 132.4 (49 in 37) in the second. In total, the teams had a PPP 0.89 on the first 20 minutes and 1.42 in the second 20.
  • Theo Pinson played the final 5:54 at the 4 (or the 5, I guess, in the last 25 seconds), with the Heels leading BC 22-19 in those minutes. Pinson scored eight points (two tip-ins and 4-4 from the line) in those minutes, adding an assist and a FT assist (a pass to Hicks which directly led to a foul at the rim after yet another Pinson offensive board).
  •  In the first half, UNC scored 16 points on 10 possessions with its starting 5 on the floor (in about 6 minutes), leading 16-8. The Heels only scored 18 points in 27 other first-half possessions, trailing 25-18 in non-starter minutes. In the second half, the rotation was much tighter.
  • Kenny Williams became the 10th Tar Heel to throw down a dunk this season, recording the first slam of his collegiate career. It was UNC’s only dunk of the game, as it ranks third in the ACC with 67. The Eagles, despite having just 27 dunks on the year (second-to-last in the conference), had three in this one.
  • Joel Berry, who knocked down a 3 off the dribble with five seconds on the shot clock to extend UNC’s lead to 81-72, is now shooting an incredible 9-for-12 this season with seven or fewer seconds left on the clock. That includes a perfect 6-of-6 from behind the arc. Including his 5-for-5 from the free throw line in late-shot-clock situations, Berry’s True Shooting% is actually above 100% (100.9%) on the season.
  • With his 22 points, Justin Jackson passed Raymond Felton (1260), Ed Cota (1261), Bobby Jones (1264), and Vince Carter (1267) to move into 46th place on UNC’s all-time scoring list with 1277. Kennedy Meeks, who scored 20 against the Eagles, is now tied with Ademola Okulaja for 50th in Carolina history with 1254 points.
  • Jackson, with four rebounds, also became the 75th Tar Heel to collect 400 in his career (he’s at 401).
  •  Carolina continued its dominance on both backboards, securing 73.0% of possible defensive rebounds and 43.2% of possible offensive boards. The Heels capitalized on their second-chances, too, scoring 23 points on 16 offensive rebounds.
  • Lineups of the night:
    • Berry-Williams-Jackson-Hicks-Meeks: led 22-13 in 7:31
    • Berry-Williams-Jackson-Pinson-Hicks: led 16-9 in 4:10 (two different stints over the final 6 minutes to push the UNC lead from 5 to 12)
Throwing a Knockout Punch

Throwing a Knockout Punch

107-56. That was fun. It’s hard to remember a more thorough and convincing beatdown of an ACC opponent during the Williams era. The 51-point margin of victory is the highest against a conference team since Roy’s returned to Chapel Hill. And, according to my “performance above expectation” metric (see here and here for more on it), this was Carolina’s second-best ACC showing of Williams’s tenure. The Heels were nearly 42 points / 100 possessions better than the teams’ season-to-date Pomeroy rankings would predict. It’s just the seventh time under Williams that UNC’s been at least 30 points / 100 better than expected versus an ACC foe:

  1. @UNC 99, Virginia 54 in 2006: +45.60
  2. @UNC 107, NC State 56 in 2017: +41.88
  3. UNC 95, @NC State 71 in 2006: +37.26
  4. UNC 106, @Boston College 74 in 2011: +36.54
  5. UNC 81, @Georgia Tech 49 in 2015: +35.51
  6. UNC 78, Notre Dame 47 in 2016 (ACC Tournament): +31.73
  7. @UNC 92, Virginia Tech 53 in 2008: +30.92

And, although UNC’s 20-0 run to push the lead to 26-4 wasn’t actually the Heels’ largest (they had a 22-0 run in the second half to extend the advantage from 77-48 to 99-48; any historians know if  Carolina has ever had multiple 20-0 spurts in a single game?), it was clearly the knockout blow from which the ‘Pack would not recover. It happened pretty quickly—21 possessions (11 by UNC, 10 by NC State) over about 5:20 of game time (from 16:55 to 11:35 in the first half)—and, before NC State knew what hit it, the Heels had a 22-point lead and were cruising to a historic rout. Let’s break down those 21 decisive possessions one-by-one:

  • UNC1 (8-4): After an Abdul-Malik Abu tip-in over Isaiah Hicks (who he bullied under the rim with sheer strength) cut UNC’s lead to 6-4, Joel Berry (who had already gone coast-to-coast for an earlier transition lay-up) would get to work again. He turned down a Hicks ball screen in the secondary break, opting instead to drive left (from the left wing) on Dennis Smith. Smith, anticipating the screen, was beaten off the bounce by Berry and forced to foul. The nearly-automatic Berry (he has a current streak of 15 straight made FTs, following a streak of 26 earlier in the season) converted both free throws to push the lead to 8-4.
  • NCSU1 (8-4): After pounding the ball himself for 12 seconds, Smith missed a contested mid-range jumper off the dribble. Berry’s challenge forced Smith to fade away on the shot and, while he can make this shot, it was undoubtedly a bad NC State possession (no one but Smith touched the ball). Justin Jackson grabbed the rebound to finish the defensive possession for the Heels.
  • UNC2 (11-4): Following Berry drawing another (non-shooting) foul with secondary break penetration, the Heels would inbound the ball from the baseline. UNC ran its freelance motion BLOB, and Berry entered the ball to Kennedy Meeks in the right short corner (an unusual spot for a BLOB entry due to how compressed/shaded to the ball-side State’s defense was). Meeks immediately kicked it to a wide-open Kenny Williams on the right wing for a made 3-pointer—another high-basketball IQ play by Meeks, who didn’t hesitate on this delivery at all.
  • NCSU2 (11-4): Smith again over-dribbled at the top of the key before, a full 10 seconds into the possession, finally deciding to give the ball up. He made a lazy high-post entry pass to Omer Yurtseven, enabling Meeks (nimble feet for a big man!) to sneak around for the deflection and steal.
  • UNC3 (14-4): Meeks immediately turned this live-ball turnover into a primary-break bucket. He deftly went coast-to-coast for a lay-up, powering through Smith, who committed his second early foul, in the process. It was Meeks’s team-leading eighth “and-1” of the season and, for just the third time, he completed it with a made free throw.
  • NCSU3 (14-4): With Markell Johnson now running the point for the ‘Pack with Smith on the bench with foul issues, NC State ran a set to create a look for Terry Henderson. Williams took a bit of a bad (high) angle fighting around the screen, allowing Henderson to penetrate after receiving the ball in the right corner. A good help rotation by Hicks forced Henderson to give it up to Abu, and Berry’s help-the-helper rotation caused a deflection and near-turnover. Abu, however, was able to kick out to the perimeter, allowing NC State to swing the ball for a lightly contested left corner 3 for Torin Dorn (with Meeks working hard to close out late). Abu out-battled Hicks again for the offensive rebound, falling to the floor to ultimately  corral it. Pressure (and floor burns) by Jackson, Meeks, and Williams caused Abu to throw the ball into the backcourt for another NC State turnover.
  • UNC4 (14-4): UNC’s first of three empty trips during the run, this one was still defined by really good offensive execution. The Heels ran the “elevator doors” option for Williams out of their box set. With Williams well-defended on the initial option, Berry opted to hit Jackson in the left corner before exchanging with Williams (who never stopped moving) on the left wing. Williams received the pass from Jackson before missing a lightly contested 3 from the wing. Despite not scoring, Carolina created a good luck even though its primary option was taken away.
  • NCSU4 (14-4): NC State ran Johnson off of a UCLA cut on the left elbow, feeding him on the left block. Berry defended the cut well, forcing Johnson to back the ball out and settle for a contested left corner 3-pointer. Hicks grabbed the airball (aided by a superb Williams box-out) to hold the ‘Pack to only one shot.
  • UNC5 (14-4): On the ensuing secondary break, Berry fed Meeks (good entry angle, and well-delivered pass), who had established deep post position on the right block. Meeks drop-stepped to get right to the rim, only to have his shot contested by Yurtseven’s length. This showcased the good (ability to carve out space in the paint, quick feet to get to the rim) and bad (inability to finish against length) of Meeks’s post game. It probably would have been a dunk for Brice Johnson last year and, despite the miss, this is the type of look that Roy Williams will take an every single possession.
  • NCSU5 (14-4): Abu received a post entry on the right block, then powered up against Hicks. The 6’9″ senior from Oxford was up for the challenge, however, blocking the shot after forming a textbook defensive wall. Though there were many to choose from, this may have been my favorite defensive play of the game, as it demonstrated how Hicks can use fundamental soundness to avoid fouls while still impacting the game with his athleticism.
  • UNC6 (16-4): Berry grabbed the loose-ball rebound following Hicks’s rejection and turned it into a primary break opportunity. He dropped a perfectly-timed bounce pass to Williams for the quick transition score.

NC State called a timeout after this transition hoop, halfway through the 20-0 run (it clearly didn’t work). Carolina checked in Britt and Maye for Williams and Hicks during the stoppage of play.

  • NCSU6 (16-4): After good ball pressure by Berry caused NC State some difficulty getting into its offense, the ‘Pack finally set up a pick-and-roll between Maverick Rowan and BeeJay Anya with 10 seconds left on the clock. Berry and Meeks switched the screen, forcing Rowan to find Abu for a contested 17-footer.
  • UNC7 (19-4): Berry boarded the air-balled Abu jumper, pushing the ball back the other way. Maye and Meeks both beat the State bigs (Anya and Abu) down the court, forcing Wolfpack wing Rowan to help defend the paint in transition. This allowed his man, Justin Jackson, to step into a wide-open transition 3 at the top of the key. Berry delivered the pass perfectly, and Jackson knocked down his 99th career 3 (he’d end the game with 104) to stretch the lead to 15.
  • NCSU7 (19-4): Soon after Britt checked in, NC State ran Henderson off another screen and isolated him against the smaller Heel on the right wing. He beat Britt off the bounce to the baseline, drawing a shooting foul in the process. Luckily for UNC, Henderson missed both free throws (State made just 3-of-11 foul shots in the game—the type of aberrations a team generally needs on its way to a record-breaking victory margin).

Between foul shots, Theo Pinson checked into the game to a raucous standing ovation from the Smith Center fans. He replaced Jackson at the 3, where he’d play almost all of his minutes in his return to action off the bench (although he’d also play brief stints at both the 2 and the 4 in this game).

  • UNC8 (19-4): Immediately upon Pinson’s arrival on the floor, chaos ensued as both he and Britt ran to the left wing in secondary (with no one on the right side of the court). Berry threw it off Britt’s back for UNC’s first turnover of the game after 14 clean possessions. Not sure what Britt was doing here, as the 2 generally fills the right wing in the secondary break (and he and Pinson were aligned accordingly on the second free throw). This wasn’t a huge deal, but it’s the type of possession that Carolina can’t afford to give away in closer contests.
  • NCSU8 (19-4): NC State fed Anya on the left block against Meeks, and the massive Wolfpacker immediately tried to back him down. Meeks held his ground well to force a really tough, off-balance hook shot which was rebounded by Pinson.
  • UNC9 (21-4): Pinson pushed the ball hard himself and, although it didn’t lead to early offense, it did showcase another dimension that he’ll bring to the table to help the Heels’ transition game. UNC got into its freelance motion, and Meeks was posting hard on Anya for about 15 seconds before Pinson entered the ball to him on the right block. Not having good, deep position, Meeks faced up the larger, slower defender and attacked him with the dribble. That led to a fall-away jumper from about 11 feet, which he converted while also drawing a foul (his ninth “and-1” of the year). He’d miss the free throw.
  • NCSU9 (21-4): Sensing the game slipping away, Gottfried checked Smith, his star freshman PG, back into the game. After getting switched onto Smith on a guard-to-guard exchange, Britt allowed penetration after gambling for a steal on a wing overplay. Maye made a timely help rotation to force Smith to kick it back to Yurtseven for an elbow jumper (with Berry and a hustling help-and-recover Maye closing out). This was a decent look for NC State, but a Yurtseven 16-footer is a vastly superior option for UNC than having Smith get to the rim. Anya outfought Meeks to grab the offensive board, then Pinson committed a reach-in (non-shooting) foul. Bradley checked in for a tired Meeks at the whistle, and promptly helped to force an NC State BLOB entry turnover with his length/pressure on the ball. Anya’s lack of mobility as a receiver also contributed to this miscue, as it was largely unforced by UNC.
  • UNC10 (23-4): Protecting Smith with two fouls, NC State switched to its first possession of zone in the game. Pinson quickly located Maye in the high post, who confidently stroked a 17-foot catch-and-shoot jumper from near the right elbow.
  • NCSU10 (23-4): NC State used a (right) side ball screen from Yurtseven for Smith on its next possession. Maye flat-hedged on Smith, allowing Berry time to recover and somewhat contain the explosive Smith off the dribble. The State star was able to drive deep into the paint, drawing help from both Bradley and a recovering Maye. Smith left his feet with nowhere to go, but was able to hook around an athletic pass to Anya on the right block. Britt, scraping down for his help-the-helper rotation, was able to get a hand on the pass and ultimately come up with the steal. A big with better hands could have caught this pass for an easy lay-up, but the help rotations throughout this defensive possession made both the Smith pass and Anya catch high-degree-of-difficulty ones. Anya fouled Britt immediately after the steal.
  • UNC11 (26-4): State was in its zone again, this time looking fairly confused (lots of finger-pointing) by UNC’s ball and player movement. The result was a wide-open Pinson 3-pointer from the top of the key. His game jumper looked a little rusty, clanging hard off the back iron. Maye was about to corral a contested offensive rebound, immediately locating Berry on the right wing for a second-chance 3-pointer. Berry, who loves the right wing (now 12-23 on 3s from that spot this season) cashed in to cap off the Heels’ 20-0 run. This was a quintessential Maye possession, as his movement and energy played a key role: he first received the ball in the short corner, then skipped to to the top of the key; Maye then flashed to the right high post to occupy a defender and free Pinson for his 3 attempt, before finally crashing the glass to capture the rebound (and set up his assist).

Smith would end the run on NC State’s next possession after hitting a tough isolation 3-pointer over Berry using a series of foot fakes. But, in vintage Joel Berry style, he’d answer the Smith 3 with one of his own on the very next trip. Spotting up in the left corner against the ‘Pack’s zone, he received the ball following some crisp Britt-to-Pinson-to-Berry around-the-horn movement. Another favorite part of the court, Berry’s now 5-of-8 on left corner 3s this season. He did some woofing at the State bench and crowd, too, after this one—and the score prompted another Gottfried timeout. In their first three possessions against the NC State zone, the Heels scored eight points.

Following this 20-0 run to push the margin to 22, the Wolfpack wouldn’t cut the lead under 20 the rest of the way. While it won’t always be this easy for Carolina, the ability to deliver a well-timed knockout punch and score points in spurts will pay dividends all season long.