While most Carolina fans have probably moved past the Duke game and onto the ACC Tournament (or March Madness/bracketology concerns), I still have a few loose ends to tie up regarding that big win to conclude the regular season. So let’s start tying:
Efficiency by Possession Length
Let’s break the offensive efficiencies for Carolina and Duke down by length of possession:
- Like usual, Carolina was more prolific in the early offense. The Heels used 46% of their total possessions in the first 10 seconds, compared to just 34% for Duke. Those numbers were strikingly similar to the first matchup, when UNC used 42% of its possessions early vs. 34% for the Devils.
- Like in the first game (Duke: 126.1, UNC: 121.4), Duke had a slight edge in early-offense efficiency. Carolina’s transition defense tightened up a bit in the second half, however. After allowing 19 early-offense points in 14 first-half possessions, the Heels only allowed 12 in 10 second-half ones.
- As it’s been doing for much of the season, the Heels won this game with its half-court offensive efficiency. Although Carolina had seven fewer half-court possessions than Duke, it was only outscored 52-48 on trips that lasted longer than 10 seconds. Most of UNC’s big hoops down the stretch (Jackson 3: 22 seconds, Maye layup: 16 seconds, three late Berry hoops: 23, 22, and 22 seconds) occurred in the final half of the shot clock.
- Limiting Duke’s transition and second-chance 3-pointers was a big key to the win. The Devils got a late transition 3 (Kennard-to-Allen in the corner), but Carolina limited the early-offense kick-out 3s (following offensive rebounds) that can be so deadly against Duke.
- Like in the previous game against Virginia, many of Carolina’s favorite secondary break options were limited against Duke due to familiarity and good preparation. Well-coached ACC teams will usually do a good job of taking away the back screens, slips, and easy entries that create early offense through UNC’s secondary break. Berry, however, was aggressive in probing the defense early, and able to get some quick baskets off the bounce. In general, the Heels went to more secondary break ball screens and dribble hand-off action to create early offense.
- Another secondary break wrinkle that I loved seeing was the post-up for Justin Jackson. After cutting backdoor against an overplaying Matt Jones (denying the Meeks secondary reversal pass), Jackson immediately looked to post up the smaller defender. Rather than kicking back to Seventh Woods on the left wing, Meeks instead took a couple of dribbles to the right wing to set up an entry angle to Jackson. This type of secondary option is a great way to get early touches for Jackson on the block against a smaller defender (with the backdoor option available for keeping overplaying defenses honest). Not sure if this was a Duke-specific secondary set that the staff implemented, or if it was just Jackson and Meeks making a play in the moment.
Pinson as a Passer
Despite not scoring for the second game in a row, Theo Pinson’s offensive impact was still profound. Unlike the Virginia game, when the Heels’ offense sputtered (and more Pinson off the dribble may have been an option worth pursuing), it’s hard to argue with 90 points on 72 possessions. Pinson was clearly Carolina’s top play-maker against Duke, leading the team in assists (7), potential assists (12), and hockey assists (3). His 12 potential assists set up the following shots for the Heels:
- A made Hicks layup in secondary after a Pinson post entry
- A made Jackson primary break dunk
- A missed Meeks face-up jumper after a Pinson post entry
- A made catch-and-shoot Maye jumper from just inside the foul line
- A missed Maye 3-pointer
- A made Jackson lefty layup
- A missed Meeks jump hook after a Pinson post entry
- A made Maye leaner
- A made Hicks layup in secondary after a Pinson post entry
- A missed Britt 3-pointer
- A missed Jackson 3-pointer
- A made Jackson primary break layup (against late Duke pressure)
Pinson also threw two entry passes to Hicks that resulted in unassisted layups (since Hicks backed down smaller defenders off the dribble). Likewise, two of his entry passes turned into hockey assists after inside-out 3-pointers. For the game, Pinson threw a team-high nine post entry passes. Those passes resulted in six made baskets, two missed baskets, and a turnover. The clip below shows one of the Pinson post entries to Hicks that didn’t result in an assist. Still, Pinson’s ability to recognize the mismatch (Kennard on Hicks) and get the ball to the right spot is one reason why his presence is so important to UNC. On this play, Berry failed to take advantage of either of his mismatches (taking Jefferson off the dribble, or feeding Hicks in the post). Pinson, however, immediately capitalized on Carolina’s advantage—something he’s been excellent at doing all season. None of Pinson’s assists against Duke were super-flashy. And his two turnovers could have easily been more (he had some questionable passes that were deflected, but not outright stolen). Still, his ability to seamlessly mix in the simple pass with the high-risk/high-reward one has paid great dividends for the UNC offense, while allowing Berry to focus on his strengths (scoring, perimeter ball movement) rather than his weaknesses (feeding the post).
Carolina’s Defense / Guarding the 3
In the first matchup against Duke, Carolina’s defense allowed 13 made 3-pointers on 27 attempts. Of those attempts, I charted 24 to be open or lightly contested (including all 13 of the makes). So how much did UNC improve its perimeter defense in the second Duke game? Of the 19 Duke 3-pointers (already a big improvement!), only 12 were categorized as open/lightly contested. Duke went 5-of-12 on its clean 3s, a little less lucky than the 13-of-24 it shot on them in Cameron. So, while better shot luck also played a role, the bigger factor was the Heels’ ability to cut the rate of clean 3-point looks in half relative to the first Duke game.
That reduction in clean 3-point looks came at a cost, however. Since Carolina was more committed to sticking to shooters, it put a bigger onus on its on-ball and interior help defenders to stop dribble penetration (rather than using its wings to help early). Duke relentlessly attacked off the bounce, drawing a ton of free throws (usually against UNC’s primary defender, but sometimes against late-helping bigs). It more than doubled its free throw rate from 28.1 in the first matchup to 64.8 this time around. Using the wings to help early against the drive sets up the drive-and-kicks that Duke’s 3-point attack thrives on. But not helping with the wings will put a ton of pressure on ball defenders to curtail wing penetration without fouling (especially difficult against Duke since they’re aggressive, talented, and coached to draw/exaggerate contact). There’s not necessarily a right and wrong way to defend Duke—UNC allowed 1.27 PPP in the first game and 1.19 in the second (both pretty bad). It’s really just a matter of trade-offs: what are you hoping to take away, and what are you willing to live with? Duke’s good enough offensively t0 take advantage of what you give it (penetration/drawing fouls/finishing in the paint last Saturday). That said, I thought the defensive adjustment to take away 3s was the appropriate one. While it’s annoying to watch your rival parade to the line 35 times, that strategy did take away most of the back-breaking, momentum-generating 3s that the Duke offense has historically feasted on. With a different crew of referees (and/or some better UNC defensive discipline), that strategy could have been even more effective.
One play (late in the game) in which the Heels did help early from the wing is highlighted below. Berry starts the defensive possession with good ball pressure to blow up a Duke ball screen. He then makes an excellent help-and-recovery close-out to content a Frank Jackson 3. This was more of a fake-and-retreat move, as Berry was already recovering back to Jackson before Tatum even released the kick-out pass. If Berry was longer (like Jackie Manuel, Danny Green, or Theo Pinson), this type of play would be even more effective. It represents the ultimate form of defense against Duke: help early from the wings to prevent deep penetration/fouls, but still recover to shooters in time to contest the 3. It takes a perfectly timed help-and-recover (plus some combination of length/lateral quickness) and, of course, introduces the possibility of overhelping. These help decisions are really hard to make in real time, but Berry did a great job on this late possession.
OK, on to Brooklyn!