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