All posts by isaacschade

Quick Hitters – UNC vs. Duke

Quick Hitters from North Carolina‘s 90-83 win over Duke:

  1. I wrote this down with about four minutes left in the game: “Win or lose, these two regular season games between North Carolina and Duke have been incredible.” I stand by it. Even though the final margins were eight and seven, both games were played at such a high level. Tonight’s game had 18 (EIGHTEEN!) lead changes in the first half.
  2. Love the senior night tradition of starting the seniors, even the walk-ons. This year was particularly fun because there are exactly five seniors who make up a sensible line-up – Nate BrittStilman WhiteKanler CokerIsaiah Hicks, and Kennedy Meeks.
  3. Heels finish the year undefeated at home – 16-0.
  4. I did not like hearing the crowd chanting “overrated” at Harry Giles. The poor kid has struggled with knee injuries and surgeries. Not classy. Sorry, Duke fans.
  5. You might recall that the Tar Heels scored just 43 points Monday night against Virginia, a Roy Williams-era low. When did they hit 43 in this game? With 2:55 left in the first half. In fact, it was a huge basket of a pretty cut by Brandon Robinson to put Carolina back in the lead.
  6. There are many things to point to as the “main factor” in this game. One of them was Isaiah Hicks, who missed the first Duke game with an injury, and has not played well of late. Can’t overstate how huge it was to have him back on the floor this time. On Hicks’ senior night, he scored 21 points, had nine rebounds, shot 7-8 from the free throw line, and, most importantly, only had two fouls. He picked up both fouls in the first half but then did a fantastic job in the second half of moving his feet and not fouling. He needs to learn, as Jay Bilas said tonight, that “you can get a basket back, but you can’t get a foul back.” Also, let’s just never talk about that missed dunk. Okay? Okay, great.
  7. Congrats also to Isaiah Hicks for becoming the fourth Tar Heel this year to reach 1,000 points for his career. Kennedy Meeks, Justin Jackson, and Joel Berry also hit that mark this year.
  8. As well as Hicks played, Joel Berry is the MVP of this game. 28 points on 5-5 from deep. Several huge shots down the stretch. His performance, particularly in the first half, was very reminiscent of the National Championship.
  9. As hot as Berry was, Justin Jackson really struggled with his shot in this game. He started off 0-6 from deep before getting his seventh to fall. However, following that made three-pointer he had several nice assists and finished with four assists and no turnovers.
  10. As good a year as Jackson has had, I’ve got to give the Conference Player of the Year to Luke Kennard. He matched Joel Berry’s 28 points and hit tough shot after tough shot, often with really good defense in his face. In a year of inconsistency for Duke, Kennard has brought consistency and is the most indispensible player on that team.
  11. The Tar Heels were much better at running Duke off the three-point line tonight than in the first game. The Blue Devils had 13 made threes in the first game and seven tonight. That’s a big deal.
  12. Another key in this game was the free throw line. The numbers heavily favored Duke for most of the game, and indeed they outscored Carolina 28-16 from the line. However, after starting off 25-28 from the free throw line, the Blue Devils shot 3-7 after the under 4:00 media timeout.

Does Duke Dominate the ACC?

As I sat in the discouraging aftermath of Villanova’s 2016 National Championship, not only was the loss hard, but the impending personnel loss weighed heavy as well. This was the end of an era. Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson, the players responsible for 35 of Carolina’s 74 points that night, including the final 10, would never again don a University of North Carolina Tar Heel uniform.

As the offseason unfolded, things got worse as I realized how loaded Duke’s roster would be in the 2016-17 season. Just days after Marcus Paige’s miraculous three-pointer, Grayson Allen announced he was coming back to school for his junior year. A few weeks later, big man Amile Jefferson was granted another year of eligibility after a foot injury held him out most of the 2015-16 season. Duke had already signed three of the top 10 recruits in the class (depending on which recruiting site you go by), but then another top 20 recruit (Marques Bolden) picked the Blue Devils over Kentucky. Once again, Duke was picked to run away with not only the ACC Championship, but also the National Championship.

I realized I was beginning to have this fear that Duke was dominating the ACC year after year after year and that no one else could keep up with their talent, recruiting, and on-court victories. My perception was that the Blue Devils were in a class of their own of late, winning all sorts of regular season and conference championships.

So I decided to actually look at the results to help confirm my suspicions.

This is Roy Williams’ 14th season coaching the Tar Heels. Here are the ACC regular season conference champions during that span:

  • 2004 – Duke
  • 2005 – North Carolina
  • 2006 – Duke
  • *2007 – North Carolina, Virginia
  • 2008 – North Carolina
  • 2009 – North Carolina
  • *2010 – Duke, Maryland
  • 2011 – North Carolina
  • 2012 – North Carolina
  • 2013 – Miami
  • 2014 – Virginia
  • 2015 – Virginia
  • 2016 – North Carolina
  • *2017 – North Carolina (Notre Dame can share the championship if they win and North Carolina loses today)

*the ACC allows co-champions when teams tie, regardless of head-to-head results. Notre Dame can tie North Carolina this year if the Irish beat Louisville today AND the Heels lose to Duke.

Looking at the results, North Carolina actually has eight regular season championships, compared to Duke’s three. Virginia also has three, but no other school has more than one. Okay, I guess I can breathe a little easier.

If it isn’t regular season championships, perhaps my feelings of Duke’s domination of the ACC are based on ACC Tournament championships. Here are the results of the championship game for the past ten years:

  • 2007 – North Carolina 89 – NC State 80
  • 2008 – North Carolina 86 – Clemson 81
  • 2009 – Duke 79 – Florida State 69
  • 2010 – Duke 65 – Georgia Tech 61
  • 2011 – Duke 75 – North Carolina 58
  • 2012 – Florida State 85 – North Carolina 82
  • 2013 – Miami 87 – North Carolina 77
  • 2014 – Virginia 72 – Duke 63
  • 2015 – Notre Dame 90 – North Carolina 82
  • 2016 – North Carolina 61 – Virginia 57

So that’s not it either. North Carolina and Duke have each won three ACC Tournament championships in the past ten years. In fact, during that ten-year span, the Tar Heels have made the ACC Championship game seven times while the Blue Devils have only advanced to the final four times. Interestingly, a different team has won the ACC Tournament each of the past six years.

Taking a deeper look, Duke has actually not won an ACC regular season or tournament championship since the conference expanded to 15 teams in the 2013-14 season.

Maybe if we expand the scope further, we can uncover my fears of Duke supremacy. Perhaps my worries are due to the fact that Duke has had more success that Carolina in the NCAA Tournament. Here are the NCAA Tournament results for both teams in the Roy Williams era:

  • 2004 – UNC: 2nd Round; Duke: Final Four
  • 2005 – UNC: National Champions; Duke: Sweet Sixteen
  • 2006 – UNC: 2nd Round; Duke: Sweet Sixteen
  • 2007 – UNC: Elite Eight; Duke: First Round
  • 2008 – UNC: Final Four; Duke: Second Round
  • 2009 – UNC: National Champions; Duke: Sweet Sixteen
  • 2010 – UNC: NIT Finalist; Duke: National Champions
  • 2011 – UNC: Elite Eight; Duke: Sweet Sixteen
  • 2012 – UNC: Elite Eight; Duke: First Round
  • 2013 – UNC: 2nd Round; Duke: Elite Eight
  • 2014 – UNC: 2nd Round; Duke: First Round
  • 2015 – UNC: Sweet Sixteen; Duke: National Champions
  • 2016 – UNC: Finalist; Duke: Sweet Sixteen

North Carolina:

  • National Champion – 2
  • Finalist – 1
  • Final Four – 1
  • Elite Eights – 3
  • Sweet Sixteen – 1
  • Second Round – 4
  • First Round – 0
  • NIT Finalist – 1

Duke:

  • National Champion – 2
  • Finalist – 0
  • Final Four – 1
  • Elite Eight – 1
  • Sweet Sixteen – 5
  • Second Round – 1
  • First Round – 3
  • NIT – 0

These results don’t point to Duke dominance either. In the 13 NCAA Tournaments of the Roy Williams era at North Carolina, both teams have two National Championships to their name. The Tar Heels were relegated to the NIT the year after the 2009 championship, while the Blue Devils have made the NCAA Tournament each year. Carolina has never lost in the first round (the REAL first round) of the NCAA Tournament in the Williams era, while Duke has been knocked out three times at that level. Carolina’s biggest advantage in NCAA Tournament success is that they have made it to the Elite Eight or beyond in seven of the 13 years, while Duke has advanced that far four times. Needless to say, NCAA Tournament results also do not explain my fear of Duke dominance.

Perhaps my worries are unfounded? Maybe my fears are irrational and Duke hasn’t actually dominated the ACC?

Then it hit me. I needed to narrow my scope, not broaden it. Here is Carolina’s record against Duke each year of the Roy Williams era:

  • 2003-04 – 0-2
  • 2004-05 – 1-1
  • 2005-06 – 1-1
  • 2006-07 – 2-0
  • 2007-08 – 1-1
  • 2008-09 – 2-0
  • 2009-10 – 0-2
  • 2010-11 – 1-2
  • 2011-12 – 1-1
  • 2012-13 – 0-2
  • 2013-14 – 1-1
  • 2014-15 – 0-2
  • 2015-16 – 1-1
  • 2016-17 – 0-1

In the Roy Williams era at North Carolina, the Tar Heels have a total record of 11-17 against Duke. Duke holds a comfortable lead in the series during this time span, but since Carolina’s 2009 championship, the Blue Devils have absolutely dominated. From the 2010-11 season through the present, the Tar Heels have a 4-12 record against Duke.

Mystery solved. My fears of Duke ACC dominance are actually based on the fact that they have absolutely owned North Carolina head-to-head in the Roy Williams era. It is always nice to beat your rival, but, at the end of the day, give me the championships every time!

 

 

Will tonight’s regular season finale be a turning point in the series for the Tar Heels? Or will it be a step in the right direction for a Duke team that was supposed to run away with the 2016-17 season?

A Tale of Two Halves: Joel Berry’s Free Throw Shooting

The free throw line is the loneliest and most pressure-filled place on a basketball court. Some basketball players thrive on this moment. Others? Weeeeeelllll, not so much.

Two players in NBA history have shot over 90% for their careers (Steve Nash, 90.4% and Mark Price, 90.4%). Stephen Curry (90.4%), though still active, shares the same distinction. Coming in just behind these three is Rick Barry who famously shot his free throws underhanded (and technically rounds up to 90% free throw shooting himself).

On the other side of the coin are the “not-so-much-ers”. We all know about the “Hack-a-Shaq” tactic of fouling an opponent even when he doesn’t have the ball. Why? Because he’s so awful at shooting free throws that the percentages say you are better off giving that player two free shots from 15 feet rather than letting the opposing team run their offense. It’s become so rampant that the NBA has been forced to employ rules discouraging the use of this tactic. As you would imagine, this strategy is so named because teams started doing this to Shaquille O’Neal. While Shaq is a poor free throw shooter, and believe me, he is bad, the Big Aristotle actually more than half of his free throws (52.7%) for his career.

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Believe it or not, there are actually several NBA players with worse free throw shooting percentages than Shaq. One of the most famous players of all time – Wilt Chamberlain – shot just 51.1% from the charity stripe. Several NBA players have shot under 50% – Chris Dudley (45.8%), DeAndre Jordan (42.1%), and Ben Wallace (41.4%).

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Finally, coming in under 40% free throw shooting is Andre Drummond at 38%.

Wikimedia.org

When it comes to the best free throw shooters in North Carolina basketball history, Shammond Williams leads the way at 84.9% (292-344). As recently as last year, it looked as though that Williams’ career record would fall. Entering his senior year, Marcus Paige had actually eclipsed Williams in career free throw percentage at 86.5% (275-318). Paige, as you might recall, had an “off year” (by his standards) in the 2015-16 season, shooting “just” 77.4% (72-93). When all was said and done, Paige wound up fifth on the all-time list for UNC at 84.4% (347-411), behind Williams, Kim Huband, Marvin Williams, and Danny Green.

Shammond Williams also holds the single-season record for free throw percentage at 91.1% (133-146) in 1997-98; the only Tar Heel to shoot above 90% for an entire season. Marcus Paige holds two of the top nine single season free throw percentage marks. He hit 87.7% (128-146) in 2013-14 (third place) and 86.5% (96-111) in 2014-15 (ninth place).

This brings us to Joel Berry. Berry did not begin his Tar Heel career as a candidate to be one of the best free throw shooters in North Carolina history. During his freshman year, Berry shot 75.7% (28-37). Things changed, though, in his sophomore year when Berry shot 86.7% (91-105), which is the eighth best single-season mark in Tar Heel history. This incredible sophomore year allowed Berry to begin his junior year at 83.8% (119-142) for his career, which is seventh on the all-time list.

Joel Berry entered his junior year with great possibilities of continuing to move up the career free throw percentage list as well as having one of the best single seasons of free throw shooting in UNC history. Right out of the gate, that’s exactly what Berry did. Oddly though, Joel Berry’s free throw shooting in 2016-17 has been a tale of two halves.

Let’s use the natural dividing of non-conference schedule and conference schedule to create those two halves.

First, the good. In non-conference, Berry hit 39 of 42 free throws over the course of 11.5 games (he missed most of the second half against Radford after suffering an ankle injury and the subsequent games against Davidson and Tennesee). That’s a 92.9% clip during roughly the first third of the season. That free throw percentage would give Berry the best single season number in Carolina history; beating Shammond Williams’ 91.1% mark for a single season by almost two percentage points. This hot start also propelled Berry to 85.9% for his career, a full percentage point above Williams’ career record.

As the conference part of the schedule began, everything changed. Let’s call this part the “not-so-good”. The Tar Heels have played 17 conference games (and have one more to go against some team from eight miles down the road). In those games, Joel Berry has shot 35-47 from the free throw line, which is 74.5%; a drop of 18.4 percentage points from the non-conference portion of the schedule. This is a respectable number, but not an “all-time-best-in-program-history” type of number. The worrisome part is that things have continued to get worse. Over the last 11 games, Berry has shot just 68.8% (22-32) from the line. Remember, this is statistically one of the greatest free throw shooters in Carolina history.

Here’s a telling way to look at things. In the non-conference schedule, Berry shot free throws in nine of the 11.5 games he played in. In those nine games, he hit every free throw he took seven times. By contrast, Berry has shot free throws in 11 of the 17 conference games. Of those 11 games, he’s made every free throw he’s taken just twice.

It’s also troubling to notice the discrepancy in the number of free throws Joel Berry has attempted when comparing the non-conference and conference. In his 11.5 non-conference games, Berry shot 42 free throws. In the 17 conference games, he’s shot 47, just five more. That means that in non-conference games, Berry 3.65 free throws a game, which dropped to 2.76 per game during the conference schedule. In the non-conference schedule, there were three games when Berry didn’t shoot any free throws. In conference, there have been six such games.

It’s hard to say exactly what is causing the drop in Joel Berry’s free throw percentage. Perhaps it’s the fatigue of playing point guard for Roy Williams over the course of a grueling season. Perhaps it’s a problem of shot mechanics. Perhaps Berry is in his own head. Perhaps the hot start was an anomaly. Perhaps it’s a lack of focus.

Whatever the reason, while Justin Jackson has been the most consistent scorer this year for North Carolina, Joel Berry is the heart and engine of the team. In order for this year’s version of the Tar Heels to reach, and possibly exceed, what the 2015-16 team achieved, Berry will have to continue to be that driving force as the regular season gives way to postseason tournaments. And it wouldn’t hurt if he hit a couple more free throws along the way.

Quick Hitters – UNC @ Virginia

Quick Hitters from UNC Basketball’s 53-43 road loss to Virginia on Monday night.

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Joel Berry gets about as open a look as you’ll get against Virginia. Unfortunately, there were not enough of these opportunities as the Cavaliers slowed down the Tar Heels, 53-43. Photo Credit: J.D. Lyon, Jr.
  1. Win or lose (lose, by the way), this game was a tough proposition. Back-to-back road games tipping 55 hours apart is extremely difficult. Add to this that Virginia has been struggling of late and was desperate for a big win.
  2. My hope was that I could say, “Hey, here’s one nice take-away: Isaiah Hicks became 76th Tar Heel to score 1,000 career points.” Nope. Things were so bad that Hicks, who needed just three points to make it to 1,000, scored how many? You guessed it. Two.
  3. This game was doomed from the beginning. Carolina’s first shot was a Justin Jackson air ball from three. For just the third time all year Jackson droyidn’t score in double-digits.
  4. Remember being worried about being outworked and outmuscled by Louisville last week? That happened tonight against Virginia. Prime example? 12 (TWELVE!) first half turnovers for Carolina. If you want to win on the road, you have to be stronger with the ball. A positive sign was that the Heels had only two more turnovers in the second half.
  5. Another sign of a lack of competing showed up in the rebounding numbers. Sure UNC won the overall rebounding battle 38-35. But this is a team that is leading the nation in rebounding margin by a large berth. This is a team that is winning in large part due to their ability to overwhelm their opponents on the glass. For reference, when these teams played nine days ago, Carolina owned the boards, 44-26.
  6. Here’s what’s even more befuddling about the rebounding. Virginia elected to start a small line-up that hadn’t started together all season. The Tar Heels could not take advantage of this glaring mismatch.
  7. In the first meeting, Virginia shot 2-20 from three. Tonight they hit their second three just six-and-a-half minutes in, and the third ninety seconds later. For the game the Cavs were 10-24 from deep. This is what Roy was saying after the first game about wide-open shots just not falling. Well, tonight they did and it really hurt Carolina’s ability to win.
  8. For Roy Williams run-and-gun fans, playing Virginia is painful. It’s similar to playing Georgia Tech in football. You must stay disciplined for 25+ seconds on nearly every possession on both sides of the ball. Virginia didn’t score until almost four minutes into the game, but they didn’t care. They just kept plugging away and out-competing the Heels.
  9. While Syracuse’s 2-3 zone tricks you into shooting lots of mid-range jumpers and threes, Virginia’s defense forces you to do the same.
  10. Call me a whiner (I’m a big boy, I can take it), but the officiating was rough in this game. Virginia’s defense is stellar, but because of the reputation they get away with a lot that other teams would be called for.
  11. Another missed free throw for Joel Berry. I need to study up on the decline of Berry’s free throw shooting this year and write an article about it. It really is hard to believe the difference from early in the season.
  12. Well, it never fails, unless something crazy happens with Louisville, Florida State, and Notre Dame this week, Carolina will be playing Duke to earn the outright regular season championship. Just to be clear, Duke cannot win the regular season title; they can only stop Carolina from doing so. Louisville and Notre Dame play this week, so it cannot be a four-way tie. However, we are looking at a possible three-way tie for the regular season ACC championship.

 

Quick Hitters – UNC @ Pittsburgh

Quick Hitters from Saturday afternoon’s 85-67 road win over Pittsburgh:

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Tony Bradley dunks during UNC’s 85-67 victory over Pittsburgh. Photo Credit: J.D. Lyon, Jr.
  1. This was a big time road win for UNC. It’s always tough to play against a team on their senior day. And don’t forget, the Tar Heels only beat Pitt by two AT HOME earlier in the season. More importantly, the win assured Carolina of at least a share of the regular season ACC title as well as a top two seed in the ACC Tournament. If Duke loses to Miami later today, the Heels will clinch the number one seed in the tournament.
  2. Pitt’s frontcourt rotation is thin, and Carolina was able to take advantage by drawing two early fouls on Sheldon Jeter. Jeter eventually fouled out in the second half.
  3. With Jeter on the bench for most of the game (only played seven minutes), the Heels were able to do what they do best: rebound everything. Carolina had 48 total rebounds, half of which were offensive. By comparison, Pittsburgh had 28 total rebounds. As has been the case several times this year, the Tar Heels had more offensive rebounds (24) than their opponent had defensive rebounds (19).
  4. Here’s a number for you: Carolina was 33-73 on field goals, meaning they missed 40. Of those 40, we’ve already noted that they rebounded 28. That means the Heels rebounded 60% of their misses.
  5. Pitt got out to a 17-11 lead. This savvy and veteran UNC squad isn’t fazed on the road. They went on a 13-2 run to make the score 24-19. Pitt came back and made it 30-28 with 2:39 to go. Then the Tar Heels went on a 10-0 run to end the half, turning a close game into a 12 point halftime lead.
  6. In the first half, UNC assisted on nearly every made field goal. The Heels had 12 assists on their first 12 made baskets. They had 13 assists on 14 made baskets. The lone outlier would have actually been an assist, but Kennedy Meeks missed a lay-up, got his own rebound, and scored.
  7. Carolina only turned the ball over eight times. The first turnover didn’t occur until thirteen minutes into the game.
  8. Though Isaiah Hicks finished with four fouls, he picked up his first with about six minutes to go in the first half.
  9. One big lapse early in the second half: North Carolina turned the ball over on three straight possessions. This allowed Pitt to cut the lead to eight. The margin never got any closer though, and the Heels eventually pulled a way.
  10. Isaiah Hicks is so close to the 1,000 career points mark. He scored eight today and needs three against Virginia on Monday to join Kennedy Meeks, Justin Jackson, and Joel Berry as the others to do so this year.
  11. Justin Jackson is very likely going to finish this year holding the UNC mark for most made three-pointers in a single season. He hit five today, giving him 83 for the year. The record is 95, set by Shammond Williams in 1996-97. This also means Jackson could also be the first Tar Heel to reach 100 made three pointers in one year.

Worst-Case Scenarios & My Irrational Fears

I have a problem. As the events of a given day unfold, I often play them out to their worst possible ending point in my head. Here’s an example: One day in college, I was playing ultimate frisbee with some friends on campus. About 20 yards beyond one of the end zones that we had marked out with hats and tennis shoes, standing several feet out of the ground like a beacon of impending doom, was an old yellow fire hydrant. The terrible scene that played out vividly in my head? I saw myself streaking downfield to make a diving catch that Odell Beckham, Jr. would have been envious of. The problem was that as I came back down to earth, I impaled my face on the fire hydrant, shattering every bone on the front side of my skull. Gruesome, huh?

On another occasion, I was hiking up a mountain with some friends at Devil’s Den State Park in Arkansas. We came to a rocky overlook with beautiful surrounding scenery and asked some other hikers to take our picture near the edge. You can already guess where this is headed. The awful scenario that played out in my head this time? As we waited for the picture to be taken, a strong gust of wind pushed me over the edge where I hurtled to my death on the sharp rocks below.

This is my curse. The struggle is real.

Truth be told, I’m actually an optimistic, glass-half-full type of person. I look for the best in people and believe, perhaps naively, that the world is a good place.

My worst-case scenario, doomsday problem also plays itself out in the world of sports. Rather than being disappointed when my favorite college basketball team loses a national championship game on a buzzer-beating three-pointer (oh wait, that happened) or my favorite football team chokes a 25 point lead in the Super Bowl (oh wait, that happened too), I assume the worst – that the North Carolina Tar Heels will lose in the first round of the NCAA Tournament or that the Atlanta Falcons won’t even make the playoffs.

With that said, we are coming down the stretch of the college basketball regular season. After every game, I like to play my “worst-case scenario” game with regard to where the Tar Heels could possibly end up in the ACC standings. Earlier this season, when they mathematically could not be passed by last place Boston College, I excitedly told myself, “Even if the Heels lose every game the rest of the season, the worst they can finish is 14th!”

After Carolina’s big win over Louisville on Wednesday night (and Syracuse’s upset of Duke a few hours earlier), I decided to investigate what the Tar Heels’ two game conference lead had earned them in terms of their worst possible seeding for the ACC Tournament.

I decided to investigate what the Tar Heels’ two game conference lead had earned them in terms of their worst possible seeding for the ACC Tournament.

First, some context: The main goal is obviously to win out, get the number one seed, and capture a convincing regular season conference championship. However, if the one seed can’t be had, teams want to achieve at least a top four seed. Doing so earns a double-bye to Thursday’s quarterfinal round.

Here is what my research uncovered: Every ACC team (except Syracuse, Wake Forest, and NC State) has three remaining games. The Tar Heels’ three games are at Pittsburgh, at Virginia, and home against Duke. For this worst-case scenario analysis, the assumption is that UNC loses all three games. Currently sitting at 12-3 in the conference, the worst North Carolina could finish is 12-6. This means that five other teams could potentially finish ahead of or tied with UNC. So we’ve solved it! That was simple. The worst UNC could finish in the ACC is 6th. Not too bad.

But wait, a closer look at the schedules reveals a different truth.

The five teams within striking distance of the Tar Heels are Louisville, Duke, Florida State, Notre Dame, and Miami. The current tiebreaker scenarios concerning Carolina and those teams (ACC tiebreakers are first based on head-to-head matchups, which solves each of these):

  • North Carolina holds tiebreaker over Louisville, Florida State, and Notre Dame.
  • Miami holds tiebreaker over the Heels.
  • In this scenario, Duke beats Carolina on March 4 and therefore holds the tiebreaker over the Heels.

Below is the remaining schedule and current conference record for those five teams (and North Carolina):

North Carolina (12-3)

  • @ Pittsburgh
  • @ Virginia
  • Duke

Louisville (10-5)

  • Syracuse
  • @ Wake Forest
  • Notre Dame

Duke (10-5)

  • @ Miami
  • Florida State
  • @ North Carolina

Florida State (10-5)

  • @ Clemson
  • @ Duke
  • Miami

Notre Dame (10-5)

  • Georgia Tech
  • Boston College
  • @ Louisville

Miami (9-6)

  • Duke
  • @ Virginia Tech
  • @ Florida State

You might notice that Louisville and Notre Dame still have to play each other, meaning at least one of these teams has to finish with six losses and Carolina holds the tiebreaker over both. Therefore, the worst UNC could finish in the ACC is 5th! Solved!

Nope. Not quite yet. Let’s keep digging.

All three of Duke’s remaining games are against teams from this group – Miami, FSU, and UNC. Here is what happens depending on how Duke’s games play out (again, these scenarios assume UNC loses all three of their remaining games):

  • Duke beats Miami and FSU – Miami has at least 7 losses, FSU has at least 6 losses (UNC holds the tiebreaker), and Duke has 5 losses. The worst UNC could finish is 3rd, behind Duke and either Louisville or Notre Dame.
  • Duke beats Miami and loses to FSU – Miami has at least 7 losses, FSU has at least 5 losses, Duke has 6 losses (holds the tiebreaker over UNC). The worst UNC could finish is 4th, behind FSU, Duke, and either Louisville or Notre Dame.
  • Duke loses to Miami and beats FSU – Miami has at least 6 losses (holds the tiebreaker over UNC), FSU has at least 6 losses (UNC holds the tiebreaker), and Duke has 6 losses (holds the tiebreaker over UNC). The worst UNC could finish is 4th, behind, Miami, Duke, and either Louisville or Notre Dame.

To add one final wrinkle, Florida State and Miami also still play each other. Building on the Duke scenarios we just established:

  • Duke beats Miami and FSU; FSU beats Miami – Duke has 5 losses, Miami has at least 8 losses, FSU has at least 6 losses (UNC holds the tiebreaker). The worst UNC could finish is 3rd, behind Duke and either Louisville or Notre Dame
  • Duke beats Miami and FSU; Miami beats FSU – Duke has 5 losses, Miami has at least 7 losses, FSU has at least 7 losses. The worst UNC could finish is 3rd, behind Duke and either Louisville or Notre Dame
  • Duke beats Miami and loses to FSU; FSU beats Miami – Duke has 6 losses (holds tiebreaker over UNC), Miami has at least 8 losses, FSU has at least 5 losses. The worst UNC could finish is 4th, behind Duke, FSU, and either Louisville or Notre Dame.
  • Duke beats Miami and loses to FSU; Miami beats FSU – Duke has 6 losses (holds tiebreaker over UNC), Miami has at least 7 losses, FSU has at least 6 losses (UNC holds the tiebreaker). The worst UNC could finish is 3rd, behind Duke and either Louisville or Notre Dame.
  • Duke loses to Miami and beats FSU; FSU beats Miami – Duke has 6 losses (holds tiebreaker over UNC), Miami has at least 7 losses, FSU has at least 6 losses (UNC holds the tiebreaker). The worst UNC could finish is 3rd, behind Duke and either Louisville or Notre Dame.
  • Duke loses to Miami and beats FSU; Miami beats FSU – Duke has 6 losses (holds tiebreaker over UNC), Miami has at least 6 losses (holds tiebreaker over UNC), FSU has at least 7 losses. The worst UNC could finish is 4th, behind Duke, Miami, and either Louisville or Notre Dame.

So what does all this mumbo-jumbo mean? What’s the bottom line? Here it is:

UNC has already locked up a top-4 seed and an all-important double-bye in the ACC Tournament.

What a relief. The worst-case scenario is that North Carolina finishes fourth. And there are only two scenarios in which that becomes a reality. This is great news, but the work isn’t done. The Tar Heels are not going to sit idly by and take three losses.

If Carolina can win at least one of the three remaining games, they lock up at least a share of the ACC Regular Season Championship and at least the two seed in the ACC Tournament. Should the Tar Heels win at least two of their three remaining games, they will clinch the outright ACC Regular Season Championship and the one seed in the ACC Tournament. Also, don’t forget that the other five teams involved in these scenarios have other games they could possibly lose, which would help Carolina’s cause.

I can rest in peace knowing that, for once, the worst-case scenario isn’t all that bad.

Quick Hitters – UNC vs. Louisville

Quick Hitters from Wednesday night’s 74-63 home win over Louisville.

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Joel Berry shoots a three over the outstretched hand of Louisville’s Anah Mahmoud in UNC’s 74-63 win over Louisville on February 23, 2017. Photo Credit: Jeffrey A. Camarati
  1. I cannot stress enough what a huge win this was, for two reasons. First, with Duke losing to Syracuse earlier in the night, this win over Louisville gave the Tar Heels a two game lead in the ACC with three tough games remaining. It by no means guarantees a conference regular season title, but it sure is nice to have some breathing room. Second, Carolina has struggled with Louisville’s defense and athleticism in the two years they’ve been in the ACC.
  2. Nearly three minutes before Tar Heels scored to start the game. Carolina opened the game shooting 2-15 with 4 turnovers in the first 6 minutes.
  3. Stilman White played some meaningful minutes in the first half when Coach Williams put in five brand new players. He even hit a mid-range jumper that put a jolt in the Smith Center crowd.
  4. We’ve been seeing this all season, but let’s just make sure we say it: Justin Jackson and Joel Berry take (and make) some really deep threes.
  5. After starting off the season looking like he would set Carolina’s career and single season records for free throw percentage, Joel Berry has really “struggled” (a relative term) in conference play. He missed 2 more free throws last night. Weird.
  6. This was the second game in a row where an opponent missed an inordinate number of shots in a certain aspect of the game. This time it was both free throws and three-pointers. Louisville’s first made free throw came with 7:41 left in the game. For the game Louisville shot 4-13 while Carolina shot 21-29 on free throws. The final three-point discrepancy was not as substantial, but Louisville didn’t hit their first three until early in the second half.
  7. This was, unfortunately, a game marked by Isaiah Hicks foul issues. For the Tar Heels to accomplish everything they want to this year, Hicks has to stay out of foul trouble, and on the court.
  8. Carolina missed opportunities on the offensive glass when tips didn’t fall. That said, Louisville is the one team that can really stay with Carolina on the glass and Heels doubled up the Cardinals, 16-8, on the offensive glass.
  9. Another 20+ scoring night for Justin Jackson, in another huge game. Look out folks, this man just might bring home ACC Player of the Year.
  10. A little too tense down the closing minutes. The Tar Heels were up 17 with just under four minutes, but took their foot off the gas too early, which allowed Louisville to cut the lead to 8. However Nate Britt then hit two free throws to push the lead back to 10 and essentially ice the game.

 

 

 

Quick Hitters – UNC vs. Virginia

With a 65-41 win at home on over Virginia, UNC stays undefeated at home on the season, and, more importantly, atop the ACC standings with an 11-3 conference record. With a brutal end of the regular season stretch, Carolina HAD to hold court at home, and they did. Here are Quick Hitters from the match-up:

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Defense like this from Nate Britt was the key to the 65-41 victory over Virginia on 2/18/17. Photo Credit: Jeffrey A. Camarati
  1. This was a special night for North Carolina as both Brice Jackson and Marcus Paige were on hand to be honored at halftime for having their jerseys hung in the rafters.
  2. Congrats to Kennedy Meeks. His seven rebounds in the game give him 929 for his career, good enough to tie him with Rusty Clark for 10th all-time in Carolina basketball history.
  3. An important development early: Jack Salt, Virginia’s starting center, picked up his second foul with 16:35 left in the first half. He eventually picked up his third before halftime, opening the inside for the Tar Heels.
  4. Justin Jackson was absolutely on fire in the first half, including shooting 4-6 from three. In fact, he nearly outscored Virginia in the first 20 minutes: Virginia 22, Justin Jackson – 18.
  5. It feels like London Perrantes has been in school forever. He’s an opponent who you can’t help but have a lot of respect for. He plays the game right, doesn’t showboat, and is the consummate teammate.
  6. I get scared every time I see Virginia on the schedule, and today was no different. That’s the Tony Bennett effect. That said, this was just a bad night for the Cavaliers; one of those days where the shots just don’t fall. On the Carolina side of things, the Tar Heels played with the patient discipline needed in order to beat Virginia. They minimized their fouls on the defensive end and were (mostly) patient on the offensive side.
  7. Virginia started off 0-17 from three. In fact, their first connection from deep came with 5:32 left in the game. The Cavs finished 2-20 for the game.
  8. Virginia shot 27.8% for the game – the first time this year Carolina had held a team under 30% shooting.
  9. Virginia’s 19 second-half points were the second fewest points Carolina has allowed in a half this year.
  10. I appreciate Jay Bilas’ ability to love the game, but still call officials, the NCAA, and programs to higher standards. The prime example tonight was late in the first half when the officials called a double foul. Bilas, who was doing commentary for ESPN, spoke about the use of the double foul as a cop-out. He said that someone committed the first foul and it needs to be called as such.

Quick Hitters – NC State, part 2

Quick Hitters from Wednesday night’s 97-73 road win over NC State.

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Nate Britt goes in for a lay-up during UNC’s 97-73 victory over NC State in Raleigh on 2/15/17. Photo Credit: J.D. Lyon, Jr. / @tarheel_photo
  1. Congrats to Joel Berry for becoming the third Tar Heel this year (along with Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks), and 75th ever, to score 1000 career points. With his 18 points tonight he has 1013 for his career, putting him in 73rd. place. Isaiah Hicks will join soon as the fourth this season. He needs 21 more points.
  2. I can just hear the classic Queen lyrics – “Another one bites the dust”. We welcomed Isaiah Hicks back to the lineup tonight, but Kenny Williams suffered a right knee injury yesterday at practice and was in street clothes. Apparently he will have surgery next Tuesday. Losing the top perimeter defender hurts an already struggling defense and takes away the Heels’ scrappiest player.
  3. It took til game 27, but we finally saw the starting line-up that we thought we would see all season long: Joel Berry, Theo Pinson, Justin Jackson, Isaiah Hicks, and Kennedy Meeks
  4. I said all week that this game would be much closer than the 51-point blowout earlier this season, and it certainly was, but uhhhh, yeah. A 24-point ACC road win? Doesn’t get much sweeter than that.
  5. NC State started a small lineup, which allowed Isaiah Hicks to get an easy bucket over Maverick Rowan to start the game. This was a sign of things to come. Carolina led in rebounds 41-25, Carolina had more OFFENSIVE rebounds (18) than State had DEFENSIVE rebounds (16), and Carolina led points in the point 60-22. Don’t get your eyes checked. You read it right: 60-22.
  6. I think Isaiah Hicks saved up all the fouls he’s not been committing, and poured them into the little time he spent on the court in this game (seven minutes). He picked up three first half fouls and his fourth early in the second half. While Isaiah his been doing a much better job lately staying out of foul trouble, as a senior, he’s got to be smarter. That said, I’m surprised Coach Williams brought Hicks back in the game in the first half even though the Heels had a 17-point lead. Wisely though, Coach kept him out of the rest of the game after the fourth foul. With the tweaked hamstring still on the mend, not need to push it.
  7. I like Luke Maye more and more all the time. Some great put-backs tonight. Runs the floor well. Because of his lack of size, he’s gotta be more active and gritty and that’s exactly what he does. Maye had a career high in points (13).
  8. Would really like to see Joel Berry start driving the ball more, rather than settling for threes. The Secondary Break had a great write-up on Berry’s up-and-down season: http://www.thesecondarybreak.us/joel-berrys-up-and-down-season/. Berry did have six assists, three steals, and only one turnover in this game, which is a great sign. The test will be Virginia on Saturday.
  9. How many lay-ups did Theo Pinson have in this game? Goodness gracious.
  10. Another balanced scoring night. Five different Heels (Berry, Meeks, Jackson, Maye, and Pinson) scored in double figures.

Quick Hitters – Duke

I know I’m a couple days late in getting this posted. What can I say, it takes awhile to get over a loss to Duke. Anyway, here are Quick Hitters from Thursday night’s 86-78 road loss to Duke.

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The Tar Heels huddle during Carolina’s 86-78 loss to Duke on 2/9/17. Photo Credit: J.D. Lyon, Jr.
  1. Seriously? Isaiah Hicks out with a strained hamstring? What is it going to take to play a game with a fully healthy roster? The good news is that every game the Heels have played this year with the full roster available, they’ve won by 29.5 points.
  2. That said, Luke Maye did a really nice job sliding into Isaiah Hicks’ starting role. He played controlled and confidently, scored eight points on 4-8 shooting, had two assists, and zero turnovers. The one glaring weakness – only two rebounds in a game the Tar Heels lost the rebounding battle (31-30) for only the third time this year.
  3. Great to see Theo Pinson back. It sure doesn’t take long for him to fill the stat sheet. First defensive possession: grabbed the rebound and drew an over-the-back foul on Amile Jefferson. First offensive possession: assist to Nate Britt. Second offensive possession: made mid-range jumper. Third defensive possession: rebound. Third offensive possession: aggressive drive to the basket. Missed lay-up, but corralled two offensive rebounds leading to a Joel Berry floater. Pinson finished with six points, seven rebounds, three assists, zero turnovers, and a block in 19 minutes.
  4. A positive sign: Seventh Woods had his most complete game of the season at Cameron Indoor Stadium. It wasn’t the most points he’s scored (four vs. nine) or the most assists he’s had (four vs. six), but he played under control, with zero turnovers, and had a seemingly better grasp of playing within the offense. On one particular stretch of the first half, over the course of four straight offensive possessions, Woods had a lay-up followed by three assists.
  5. At the end of the first half, the Heels had one of the strangest line-ups on the court you’ll ever see from Roy Williams: Nate Britt, Joel Berry, Brandon Robinson, Theo Pinson, and Justin Jackson. The line-up came because Duke essentially had one possession left and the goal was to stop the three-point barrage.
  6. While Isaiah Hicks’ absence certainly hurt, the biggest problem in this game was three-point defense. The Tar Heels seem to have an aversion to guarding the three or running shooters off the line. Too often, a defender will help off a shooter to stop dribble penetration, resulting in a wide-open kick-out three. For the game, Duke hit more threes (13) than Carolina shot (12), and had a higher percentage (48.1% to 33.3%).
  7. The Heels did a nice job of getting both Amile Jefferson and Grayson Allen into foul trouble. It wasn’t enough to affect the outcome, as Allen delivered blow after blow and Jefferson was a defensive stalwart inside. Hopefully, this trend will continue on the return game to Chapel Hill, knowing that Coach K has a shallow bench.
  8. It gave me perverse joy to see Theo Pinson block Jayson Tatum’s shot a couple possessions after he dunked and postured back down the court.
  9. Despite the loss, Carolina showed great resolve to fight back on the road after going down by eight early in the second half.
  10. A troubling trend: poor free throw shooting again in this game, including Joel Berry missing two (including the front end of a 1-and-1). Both misses were within the final five minutes of game time. As a team, Carolina shot 10-18 (to Duke’s 13-16), which won’t cut it in ACC play.
  11. All-in-all, the Heels played a good game, and had the ability to beat Duke in Cameron without Isaiah Hicks, but the three-point and free throw disparities were ultimately too much to overcome.