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Quick Hitters – UNC vs. NC State

Quick Hitters from North Carolina’s 113-96 home win over NC Stateon Tuesday night.

Highlights:

  • What an offensive showing. Carolina hit 50 points with 2:04 left in the first half. Carolina’s season scoring average is 88 points. They hit that number with 9:54 left in the game and then eclipsed 100 with 5:36 left. The Tar Heels’ 113 points is the second most NC State has ever allowed.
  • Luke Maye eats NC State for breakfast. And lunch. And dinner. And his midnight snack. Maye finished with 31 points (a season high), 12 rebounds, and shot 10-for-10 from the free throw line. This is the first time all season he’s had back-to-back games of 20+ points.
  • With his two made three pointers, Kenny Williams is now number 20 all-time at Carolina in made threes. His 128 takes him past PJ Hairston’s 127. Who would have thought that the kid who hit one three-pointer his freshman year would find himself in this position.
  • After only four first half turnovers, the Tar Heels got sloppy with the ball and finished the game with 17.
  • Another strong rebounding game. Carolina outrebounded the Wolfpack 41-27.
  • One of best parts of the night was when NC State passed the 24 point barrier (their total score from their game Saturday) with around 6:00 minutes remaining in the first half. The Dean Dome crowd let out a sarcastic cheer.
  • Carolina was aggressive all night, but particularly in the first half. At halftime they held a 13-16 to 1-5 advantage at the free throw line. In the second half the Heels were in the bonus with 12:51 remaining.
  • What a stat line for Garrison Brooks: Eight points on 4-for-4 shooting. 10 rebounds. Six assists (led team). Zero turnovers.
  • Three Tar Heels had hit double-figure scoring by halftime and five total players by the time the game was over. Four of those five had at least 17 points.
  • Update on Coby White: he is very fast. That is all.
  • Nassir Little grabbed a rebound in the last couple minutes before halftime that he had no business getting. The man is a freak.
  • Incredible save from Kenny Williams with 1:00 left before halftime as he flew out of bounds. Passed the ball directly to Coby White for a wide open three.

Roy Williams postgame press conference:

Remember to check in for Quick Hitters after every North Carolina basketball game. Next up is a home game against Miamion Saturday, February 9. Tip is at Noon ET on Raycom.

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Quick Hitters – UNC vs. Kentucky (CBS Sports Classic)

Quick Hitters from North Carolina’s 80-72 loss to Kentucky on Saturday afternoon in Chicago at the CBS Sports Classic.

Highlights:

  • For those of you traveling for the holidays that missed the game, you probably enjoyed the time you spent talking with your awkward aunt more than those of us who watched the game. It was painful. Here’s a microcosm that sums up what you missed: 54.3 seconds left. Carolina down eight. Kentucky’s Reid Travis misses front end of 1-and-1. P.J Washington was the only Wildcat lined up for the free throws. All 5 Tar Heels watch as Washington tips out the miss for an offensive rebound.
  • Both teams came into the game as dominant, top-level rebounding machines. Whichever team controlled the glass figured to be in position to win the game. Kentucky finished with a plus-10 margin (43-33) over Carolina. The typically offensive-rebound-happy Tar Heels only managed one in the first half and five total for the game. This marks the first time Carolina’s been outrebounded this season. The teams were close in just about every other stat. These rebounds tell the story of the game.
  • Turnovers, the live ball variety in particular, continue to be a bugaboo. Each time Carolina would get close to Kentucky, someone would commit a silly turnover leading to a run-out for the Wildcats. This happened frequently also against Gonzaga, but the offensive outpouring that night covered a world of sins. At some point, the horizontal, top-of-the-key live ball turnovers have to stop.
  • Cameron Johnson, who once again paced the team in scoring with 17, was the main turnover culprit (five). In fact, the starters combined to commit 14 of the 17 turnovers.
  • Kentuky’s Ashton Hagans is a blur and a disruptive defensive force. He finished with as many steals as points (seven). Hagans rolled his ankle midway through the first half, but was thankfully able to return. While we want to (thoroughly and soundly) beat all our opponents, we never want to see them injured.
  • Speaking of a blur, Coby White can seemingly get to the rim whenever he wants.
  • The game had an incredible pace to it early on. The teams were up and down the court.
  • Carolina had no answer for Stanford transfer Reid Travis. He finished with 16 points…in the first half. Brooks played him pretty well (particularly early in the second half) but there was a noticeable defensive drop-off when Manley subbed in.
  • Great energy from Seventh Woods early in the second half cut the lead down to four (47-43). After securing three offensive rebounds, Kentucky hit a three to immediately push the lead back to seven. Carolina never again got that close. Each time the Tar Heels began to cut into the lead, Kentucky responded with a bucket or a steal. Case in point: Carolina cut the lead down to six with just under seven minutes remaining. The Heels secured a defensive rebound but Hagans stole the outlet pass, which eventually resulted in a Wildcat three and a nine-point lead. From there, Carolina committed a live-ball back court turnover, resulting in another Kentucky breakaway lay-up.

  • A positive to walk away with: This was about as poor a performance as is seemingly possible from this group. Against Kentucky. And yet, the loss was only by eight points. What’s the take away? Clean up four or five of those lost possessions, and this is a different ball game.
  • Please keep in mind: Roy Williams teams have a proven track record of growing by leaps and bounds over the course of a season. Be patient and enjoy the evolution.
  • As well as this team typically scores, if they can hold on to the basketball, they should have a successful ACC record. If this team can’t learn to value the basketball, it will be a brutal ACC season. Back to the drawing board.
  • That said, whether it was Kentucky’s disruptive defense or just lack of precision, today’s offense was not marked by the usual certitude and team play. There was a lot of isolation and a lot of standing around. Baskets often felt lucky, rather than the foregone conclusions that they typically are.

Roy Williams postgame press conference:

Remember to check in for Quick Hitters after every North Carolina basketball game. Next up is a home game against Davidson on Saturday, December 29. Tip is at Noon ET on ESPN2.

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Quick Hitters – UNC vs. Texas (Las Vegas Invitational)

Quick Hitters from North Carolina’s 92-89 loss on Thanksgiving evening to Texas in the Las Vegas Invitational.

Highlights:

  • First off: Happy Thanksgiving. Hoping you had a wonderful day with family and friends and ate way too much good food.
  • Same story, different chapter of the series versus Texas: Opposing guard goes off (Kerwin Roach, 32 points on 12-for-15 shooting). Texas out-physicals Carolina. Texas out-hustles Carolina. Texas out-toughs Carolina. Texas uses the dribble to get in the lane at will. The Tar Heels have now lost eight of their last nine to the Longhorns. Here’s Kenny Williams providing some senior prospective:
  • You might think that the absence of a back-up point guard isn’t a big deal. You’d be wrong. When Coby White checked out with 14:27 left in the first half, Carolina lead 17-5. Typically Seventh Woods would enter the game at that point and run the team seamlessly. Leaky Black just isn’t ready to do that yet and when White checked back in the lead was down to 23-18. Black projects to be an incredible player for this team, but the offense severely bogged down with the changing of the guard.
  • Turnovers were *yet againa major issue, at least in the first half. The Heels coughed the ball up 17 total times; 14 of which were in the first 20 minutes. Literally all 10 players that stepped on the floor for Carolina had at least one turnover.
  • Okay, let’s talk about something positive. Coby White knows how to put the ball in the bucket and we caught our first glimpse of just how prolific he can be. White poured in 33 points on 10-for-17 shooting, including 7-for-10 from deep and 6-for7 from the free throw line. Here’s a look at all his scoring:
  • As out-of-sync as the Heels looked most of the night, they fought to stay in the game and had their chances. Down 80-70 with just under 7:00 remaining, Carolina went on an 8-0 run in under a minute to close the gap to 2. Later, down three with 30 seconds left, Luke Maye had a great look at a three to tie the game, but the ball just wouldn’t stay down. Unfortunately the closest the Heels could get was two.
  • Need a reminder of how every play matters? With 3:30 remaining in the first half and the Heels up seven, Sterling Manley grabbed a rebound and threw his outlet pass to Kerwin Roach who took one dribble and buried a three. Final deficit? Three points. Here’s the play:

  • It wasn’t all bad for Manley. He had two really nice assists to Cam Johnson.
  • As well as Coby White shot, the senior trio of Luke Maye, Kenny Williams, and Cam Johnson were a combined 12-for-33 from the field, including just 2-for-13 from three.
  • After the St. Francis game, I mentioned that Carolina’s bench was outscoring the opponents 194-66. The bench only contributed 18 tonight.
  • Defense has been something of an issue all season. However against inferior competition, the problems have been masked. In the second half, Texas shot 62.5 percent from the field and from three. To put it bluntly, that just won’t cut it against either the rest of the non-conference schedule or the ACC gauntlet.
  • Despite winning the total rebound battle 41-32 and the offensive rebound battle 15-9, the small line-up surrendered some ill-timed offensive boards to Texas.
  • A final positive note: Congrats to Cam Johnson for reaching 1,000 career points combined between Pittsburgh & Carolina.

  • Despite the loss, the most painful part of the night for this writer? My wife is a Longhorn.

  • 2ndmost painful part of the night? We’re going to the Texas football game on Friday where I will be cheering for the Longhorns.

Roy Williams postgame press conference:

Remember to check in for Quick Hitters after every North Carolina basketball game. Next up is the consolation game of the Las Vegas Invitational against the loser of UCLA/ Michigan State on Friday afternoon. Tip is at 4:00ET on FOX.

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Quick Hitters – UNC vs. St. Francis (PA)

Quick Hitters from North Carolina’s 101-76 home win on Monday night against St. Francis.

Highlights:

  • Just like Carolina, St. Francis prides themselves on rebounding. Carolina still held a solid margin leading the battle of the boards 46-37. St. Francis, however, won the offensive rebounding battle 13-11.
  • 18 turnovers. The most in a game this year for the Heels. Coby White and Leaky Black were responsible for four apiece (but only one assist each). Keep in mind – these guys are freshmen and will have games like that sometimes.
  • On the other hand, Kenny Williams and Seventh Woods picked up the assist slack, while turning the ball over only once and twice respectively. Williams had a career-high nine assists while Woods had seven.
  • Speaking of Williams, just a few days removed from hurting his ankle, his status for this game was in question. Not only did he play, but Williams started and immediately threw his body into the mix as he always does. By night’s end Williams had drawn two offensive fouls (somehow his first two of the year). That’s the senior leadership you need to have a successful and long season.

  • Cameron Johnson once again led the team in scoring (20). The combination of his health and his second year in the Carolina system have allowed him to be a much more active and attacking player. Four other Tar Heels scored in double figures.
  • Remember last year when you fretted every time Coach Williams substituted because the bench struggled so mightily? In the first five games of the 2018-19 season, the Carolina bench is outscoring the opponents’ bench 194-66.
  • If you haven’t noticed, Coby White is blazing fast. He’s still learning to harness that speed, but it did cause a funny moment in the second half. White led a fast break and stopped suddenly for a pull-up near the free throw line. As he did so the St. Francis defender literally came out of his shoe. Here’s video of the play:

  • Despite the sloppy play, Carolina scored 100+ points for the third time in the last four games.
  • This was yet another game where no Tar Heel hit 30 minutes of playing time. Through five games, only two players have had to play 30+ minutes in any game (Luke Maye and Cam Johnson against Wofford).

  • Nassir Little had an impressive game. 19 points on 8-for-9 shooting and seven rebounds. Perhaps the most remarkable moment was his back-to-back three point plays. Little has shown a capability to finish strong through contact. This will be important in ACC play. Here’s a tasty dunk for you:

  • Luke Maye finally secured a double-double (11 points | 10 rebounds). He’ll get his if and when he needs to, but as referenced earlier, this teams’ depth doesn’t need him to do as much every night out. And that’s a good thing. Incidentally, Maye now has 931 career points. If his averages hold, he should eclipse 1,000 on December 15 against Gonzaga.

Roy Williams postgame press conference:

Remember to check in for Quick Hitters after every North Carolina basketball game. Next up is the first game of the Las Vegas Invitational against Texason Thanksgiving Day. Tip is at 7:30ET on FS1.

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Quick Hitters – UNC vs. Tennessee Tech

Quick Hitters from North Carolina’s 108-58 home win on Friday night over Tennessee Tech.

Highlights:

  • Let’s first address what we’re all most concerned about: Kenny Williams’ ankle. All reports are that it appears to be a minor injury. Coach Williams indicated he could be ready for Monday’s game against St. Francis. However, in a game the Heels should win, expect the coaching staff to proceed with caution. Here’s the injury:

  • Speaking of Kenny Williams, with just over 13:00 left in the second half and the, he missed a three but sprinted back on defense to thwart an ally-oop. By the way, Carolina was up 35 points when that happened. That’s Kenny Williams being Kenny Williams and the reason why everyone was so concerned about an injury for a player shooting 29.6 percent and 12.5 percent from three. Here’s the play:

  • In half the games this season Seventh Woods has five or more assists and zero turnovers. The tally for this game was eight assists (a career high) against zero turnovers, bringing his assist-to-turnover ratio for the season to 5:1. Woods has already equaled his total number of assists from last season (20), while only surrendering one-third of last season’s turnovers (4 vs. 12). Woods also hit a three pointer; just the third of his career after sinking two in the first four games of his freshman year. Here’s Woods talking about his performance on Friday night:
  • Woods and Coby White combined for 12 assists and just two turnovers. If the Tar Heel point guards can maintain this level of production, the 2018-19 season will be special. Additionally, Leaky Black, who will also shoulder meaningful point guard minutes has seven assists with only two turnovers.
  • Luke Maye hasn’t recorded a double-double yet this season. And that’s a great thing. Hear me out: It’s because he hasn’t had to. Two reasons why. First, this team has more depth and balance than last year. Against Tennessee Tech six different players had double-digit points and 10 had six or more points. The other reason is minutes played. Only twice this season has a player had to play 30 minutes or more (Maye and Cameron Johnson against Wofford).
  • And yet, don’t be confused about Maye’s level of play or efficiency. In just 20 minutes against Tennessee Tech he scored 15 points and hauled in eight rebounds. For the season he is averaging 15.8 points and 8.3 rebounds in just 26.5 minutes. Also, I’m not going to tell Tennessee Tech how to play defense, but in the future they might want to guard a preseason All-American rather than leave him continuously wide open under the basket.
  • Different night, same rebounding story. The Tar Heels outrebounded Tennessee Tech 54-24 (+30) and had more offensive rebounds (18) than the Golden Eagles had defensive rebounds (15). Because this is a regular occurrence, Carolina fans might not appreciate how impressive this stat actually is.
  • With several freshmen getting meaningful minutes, there will be a fair share of freshman mistakes early in the season. Just before halftime, Carolina got a turnover with 20 seconds remaining. Instead of holding for the last shot, Coby White took (and missed) a three pointer with 12 seconds left. Those 12 seconds were enough time for Tennessee Tech to hit a three of their own. The result didn’t matter much in this game, but those three points could be the different between a win and a loss in an important ACC game.
  • The Tar Heels have scored 50+ points in five of the last six halves they’ve played and are averaging 98.0 points per game. After a sub-par defensive showing against Stanford on Monday, a higher level of defensive attention and buy-in was evident. If the defensive intensity can match the offensive output throughout the season, Roy Williams will be a happy man.
  • Sure, Tennessee Tech isn’t good, but Carolina did a much better job than against Stanford of putting the opponent away in the second half. They extended a 24-point halftime lead to 50 by game’s end.
  • Carolina recorded 16 steals. That’s the most since taking 17 in the 107-56 drubbing of NC State in the 2016-17 National Championship season. Here’s a steal from Leaky Black leading to a Kenny Williams lay-up:

  • Several positive signs from Sterling Manley. He hit two mid-range jumpers (and looked smooth doing so). Another was around the 2:00 mark of the first half when he chased down a rebound well out of his area and slithered in for the put-back. On the subsequent defensive possession he dove after a loose ball to secure a jump ball. Here’s one of the jump shots:

  • This team has a chance to shoot a high percentage from the free throw line. The current team average is 73 percent. Coby White and Cam Johnson are both shooting over 90 percent and Leaky Black is at 85 percent. Luke Maye (who will have the most free throw opportunities on the team) is shooting 78.3 percent after previously shooting 59.8 percent for his career.

Roy Williams postgame press conference:

Remember to check in for Quick Hitters after every North Carolina basketball game. Next up is a home game against St. Francis on Monday, November 19. Tip is at 8:00ET on ACC Network Extra.

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Quick Hitters – UNC @ Elon

Quick Hitters from North Carolina’s 116-67 road win on Friday night over Elon.

Highlights:

  • Let’s not bury the lead: rebounding was the story of the game. 60 rebounds for Carolina. First time to haul in 60 boards since grabbing 64 against Duke on March 5, 2016. Additionally, the Heels had more offensive boards (24) than Elon had defensive boards (21). And those offensive rebounds led to:

  • A point of concern has been turnovers. That number continued to shrink tonight, with Carolina only surrendering 11. Most importantly, the point guards combined for only one of those 11.
  • Garrison Brooks did not have the same numbers as he did against Wofford, but was solid. Seven points on 3-for-5 shooting, six rebounds, and three steals in 16 minutes. Sterling Manley had a much more productive night: 11 points and eight boards in 15 minutes. A combined 18 points & 14 boards in 31 minutes is great production from the center position.
  • Remember last year when Cam Johnson only shot 34% from deep? Two games is an admittedly small sample size, but he is 7-for-10 so far this year. Additionally he hasn’t missed a free throw yet and is leading the team in scoring. Impressively, as well as Johnson is shooting, he’s still looking for his teammates. Against Wofford, a lob in the lane to Garrison Brooks. Against Elon, a kick out to Coby White for a three in transition. In both instances, Johnson could have taken the shot and no one would have batted an eye. But in both instances he found a better shot. Here’s Johnson talking about his shot:
  • Last year, Carolina had to rely heavily on the starters for consistent offensive production. While tonight’s game was admittedly against Elon, the bench contributed 65 points.
  • Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the Tar Heel guards will need to do better at stopping dribble penetration (which leads to wide open threes) going forward. After allowing the Phoenix to shoot 57% from the field in the first half, Carolina buckled down in the last 20 minutes and allowed a paltry 16% field goal percentage.
  • Leaky Black is the type of guy that might wind up with a triple-double on his résumé before he leaves Chapel Hill. The rangy freshman finished tonight with eight points, six boards, five assists, zero turnovers and a steal in just 15 minutes.
  • 10 different Tar Heels scored…in the FIRST HALF. All 15 available players scored a point in the game (Walker Miller was out with an injury).

  • Poor Kenny Williams can’t buy a basket right now. He still hasn’t made a field goal and his only point in the first two games is one made free throw. As has been documented, Williams is impacting the games in multiple other ways. His shot will come around (unless his shoulder injury from the other night is worse than we know).
  • More on the point guards: Coby White (14 points, three boards, two assists, a turnover and a steal), traditionally a score-first point guard, is still learning how to balance when to hunt his shot and when to distribute. He is young, relentlessly fast, can light it up and will have a long leash. Be patient with him Tar Heel fans. Remember than playing point guard for Roy Williams is one of the most difficult things in college basketball. Seventh Woods (three points, three boards, five assists, one block and zero turnovers) looked the most comfortable I’ve ever seen him. He is in control, setting others up and making good play for himself. Here’s White talking about adjusting to the point guard role:
  • Having more offensive firepower this year is allowing Luke Maye to somehow fly under the radar. He scored 24 points against Wofford and it was an afterthought. He had a near double-double tonight (eight points, 10 boards) and it’s just business as usual. He’s a career below 60% free throw shooter who is shooting 91% so far this year. The lack of attention will hopefully allow Maye to be more fresh as the season wears on.
  • Is it time to talk about Nassir Little now? This guy can do a little bit of everything. Hit threes. Block shots. Dunk ferociously. Play defense. Despite an authoritative tip-dunk at the end of first half, Little’s first huge highlight reel dunk came with just under 14:00 left in the game after stealing an Elon pass and finding himself alone on the break. Little is beautifully not forcing anything at this point, just playing within the flow of the team. He is very “North Carolina”.

Roy Williams post-game press conference:

Remember to check in for Quick Hitters after every North Carolina basketball game. Next up is Carolina’s home opener against Stanford on Monday, November 12. Tip is at 7:00ET on ESPN2.

Quick Hitters – UNC @ Wofford

Quick Hitters from North Carolina’s 78-67 road win on Tuesday night over Wofford.

Highlights:

  • First off, kudos to Coach Roy Williams for scheduling back-to-back true road games to start the season. The first of which was tonight’s rematch against essentially the same Wofford team that beat Carolina in the Smith Center last season. Click here to read how the Tar Heels’ true road non-conference scheduling compares to other blue blood programs.
  • Turnovers (22 of them) were an issue in Carolina’s exhibition game against Mt. Olive. The Heels started off in the same mode, committing four before the first media timeout, finishing with 15 total. While starting point guard Coby White was responsible for two, Seventh Woods kept his miscues to one.
  • Speaking of White, he unfortunately had a rough first game. Whether it was nerves or something else, the team looked smoother with Woods at the helm. In addition to White’s three turnovers, he took several ill-advised, early shot clock threes. The kind you can get at any point in a possession. The good news is that White played a much better final five minutes, hitting a couple shots and making some solid passes. The electric freshman should settle in to his role and run the team with aplomb.

  • On the flip side of the point guard equation, Woods turned in a solid effort. He made several hustle plays, had a 3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio and nabbed two steals. This is a foundation that Woods can hopefully build on as he continues learning to trust his body again.
  • Wofford’s Fletcher Magee, one of the best shooters in the country, had a rough shooting night. He didn’t hit a field goal for the first 16 minutes of the game. His first three didn’t come until six minutes into the second half. Though he finished with 21 points, it took 23 shots to get there.
  • Coach Williams started the same five in each half: White, Kenny Williams, Cam Johnson, Luke Maye and Garrison Brooks.
  • Offensive rebounding numbers were of concern on Tuesday night. While the Tar Heels won the overall rebounding battle 35-27, they won the offensive rebound category only 10-9. Although against a team that shoots a lot of threes, leading to unpredictable long rebounds, Coach Williams will not be happy surrendering that many to the undersized Wofford team.
  • Garrison Brooks had a big game against Mt. Olive and several questioned if it was a one-off or if that level of performance would transfer to the regular season. A career high 20 points and five rebounds later, it appears the answer is “yes”. If Brooks can consistently provide that level of production from the center position, the Tar Heels will be in good shape.
  • On the flip side of the sophomore big equation, Sterling Manley was wholly ineffective. He missed his only field goal attempt and both free throws he took. The Tar Heels will need Manley to step up in the future. History suggests he will.
  • Sticking with big men, Luke Maye led all scorers with 24 points, scoring in a variety of ways as usual. With everything Maye did extraordinarily well last year, the free throw line was a chief area of needed improvement (59.8% career). Maye went 8-for-9 from the line tonight, the most he’s ever made in a single game.
  • Coach Williams has consistently praised the shooting of his team and it showed on Tuesday night as the Heels shot 9-for-22 from deep. Cam Johnson was the key contributor, personally going 5-for-7 from three. Johnson also (importantly) led the team in rebounds with eight, five of which were offensive.
  • Kenny Williams didn’t score a point, but affected the game in a multitude of other ways. Williams played strong individual defense against Wofford’s backcourt, hauled in six rebounds and passed out a team high five assists. Of concern is that Williams appeared to hurt his shoulder diving after a loose ball late in the game. He came back in later, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

  • Though he had a quiet Tar Heel debut, Nassir Little hit a confident three to push the cushion back to six after back-to-back threes from Magee cut the Tar Heel to three. His athleticism is obvious, and it will be fun for Tar Heel fans to watch him develop throughout the year.

Roy Williams post-game press conference:

Remember to check in for Quick Hitters after every North Carolina basketball game. Next up is a road game against Elon on Friday, November 9. Tip is at 7:00ET on ESPNU.

The Road Less Traveled

As you look at North Carolina’s 2018-19 men’s basketball schedule, something curious jumps off the page about the first two games. The Tar Heels are beginning their season by playing back-to-back true non-conference road games – against Wofford (who won in the Smith Center last year) and Elon.

“What is Roy Williams thinking?” you ask yourself. “Major programs like Carolina don’t have to take road games. They can get anyone they want to come to Chapel Hill.”

Here’s the thing: playing away from home in the non-conference part of the schedule actually isn’t a strange phenomenon or outlier for Coach Williams and the Tar Heels.

But just how does Carolina’s scheduling stack up against programs of a similar ilk?

Why go on the road?

Of the country’s historically successful major college basketball programs, most only venture away from home when they absolutely have to. Some coaches will argue that conference and NCAA Tournament games are all played on a neutral court, so it’s pointless to schedule true non-conference road games.

To only look ahead to postseason tournaments, however, is to miss the mark. Half of the regular season conference match-ups are true road games. The results of these games play a huge factor in conference seeding, which ultimately helps determine a team’s seed in the NCAA Tournament. To fail to test your team on the road in the non-conference portion of the schedule is to set them up for failure when they go on the road in conference games.

Criteria

To determine how the Tar Heels compare to other programs in this metric, I examined the 10 winningest programs of all time. I looked at the past 10 schedules for each of these programs (from the 2009-2010 season through the upcoming 2018-2019 season) to determine which teams were willing to go prove themselves outside the friendly confines of their home gym. To be included, a team had to have been in a BCS / Power 5 conference for each of those 10 seasons. This stipulation ruled out Temple (#5), St. John’s (#9), BYU (#12) and Utah (#14).

The list is therefore whittled down to these 10 (in order of all-time wins):

  • Kentucky (#1 | 2,263 wins)
  • Kansas (#2 | 2,248)
  • UNC (#3 | 2,232)
  • Duke (#4 | 2,144)
  • Syracuse (#6 | 1,884)
  • UCLA (#7 | 1,870)
  • Notre Dame (#8 | 1,866)
  • Louisville (#10 | 1,825)
  • Indiana (#11 | 1,817)
  • Arizona (#14 | 1,796)

Which teams are willing to consistently schedule true regular season non-conference road games?

What do the schedules reveal?

After studying each program, one team stands out above the rest. Below is the total number of true non-conference road games each of the programs scheduled during the 10-year period evaluated (from most to least):

  • North Carolina – 24
  • Arizona – 19
  • Louisville – 17
  • Kansas – 16
  • Kentucky – 13
  • Indiana – 11
  • Syracuse – 10
  • Duke – 9
  • UCLA – 9
  • Notre Dame – 7

Additionally, there are interesting takeaways concerning these blue-bloods and their scheduling of true non-conference road games (or lack thereof) strewn throughout the research.

In the 10-year span…

  • Carolina is the only team of the 10 to have multiple true non-conference road games in each of the 10 seasons.
  • Carolina is the only team to amass more than 20 true non-conference road games.
  • Carolina has four seasons (including each of the last three) with three true non-conference road games. No other team on the list has more than one.
  • In five of the 10 seasons evaluated, Duke and Notre Dame have scheduled precisely 0 (ZERO!!) true non-conference road games.
  • For the past eight years, Duke has only voluntarily scheduled two true non-conference road games. Those were both at Madison Square Garden, which only technically counts as St. John’s second home arena.
  • Notre Dame has by far the most putrid total of true non-conference road games with seven. Of those seven, only four were voluntary. The other three are all Big 10 / ACC road games.

Take Aways

Last season, I wrote a piece about Carolina’s road success in conference games over the previous seven years. Prior to last year’s 4-5 conference road record, the Heels had recorded seven straight seasons of a winning conference road record. Meanwhile, the rest of the conference fell miserably short of that level of success.

Think that type of achievement is pure happenstance? Think again. The road to success in conference road games is paved in the non-conference portion of the schedule. By exposing his team to hostile road environments early in the season, Roy Williams is preparing them to succeed away from home when it matters most – on the road in the country’s most difficult conference. The road to success is a road less traveled.

For reference, below is a table with each team’s true non-conference road games over the past 10 years:

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.

The Path To Houston (Glory), Part 5

Well, we can’t call this column “The Path To Houston” anymore. Why? Because the Tar Heels have made it to the Final Four! So today (and Monday if all goes well), we’ll now call this column “The Path To Houston (Glory), Part 5”. For the second game in a row, the Tar Heels will match up for the third time this season with an ACC foe: the 10th-seeded Syracuse Orange. At this point, however, you can throw the seeds out the window because there are only 4 teams left playing, and they are all playing at an extremely high level. Here’s what you need to know for Saturday night’s match-up.

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Final Four: Syracuse

  • 23-13 (9-9)
  • 10th in ACC
  • Stat Leaders (of contributing players)
    • Points: Michael Gbinije – 17.6
    • Assists: Michael Gbinije – 4.4
    • FG%: DaJuan Coleman – 54.1
    • Rebounds: Tyler Roberson – 8.4
    • Steals: Michael Gbinije – 2.0
    • Blocks: Tyler Lydon – 1.8
    • Minutes: Michael Gbinije – 37.9

Previous 2015-16 Games

  • Game 1 – January 9. @ Syracuse. 84-73 UNC. This was Boeheim’s first game back from suspension, was a home game for the Orange, and the Tar Heels had never gone 4-0 under Coach Williams to start ACC play. It had all the makings of the Saints first game back in the SuperDome after Hurricane Katrina, in which the Falcons didn’t stand a chance. The game was tied at 58 with 6:31 to go, and was only a 2-point game (66-64) with 3:19 to go. The Tar Heels then went on a 18-9 over those final minutes to win by 11. The key was not shooting over the vaunted Orange zone(18.8 3PT%), but attacking it from the inside. Brice Johnson had a career-high 8 assists (Paige also had 8 assists), 5 of which came in the final 8:13 of the game as he picked apart the zone from the high post. 7 of the 8 were for dunks or layups. 4 went to Isaiah Hicks who finished the night with 21 points.
  • Game 2 – Febrauary 29. Senior Night. @ North Carolina. 75-70 UNC. On this night, Syracuse showed a more determined effort to stop the ball from getting into the middle of the zone. Marcus Paige once again had 8 assists against the Orange. Brice Johnson had 14 & 10 for just another, ho-hum *yawn* double-double. Tar Heels led by as many as 13 in the 2nd They never trailed, but Syracuse cut the lead to 3 several times within the last 7 minutes, including :07 to go. It was Joel Berry who sent his senior teammates to a senior night victory with two free throws to ice it.

Game Notes

  • Depth – Syracuse’s doesn’t have much. Their depth is very similar to that of Duke. 5 players average 30+ minutes a game with 2 other players averaging 17 and 10 minutes a game. Despite the lack of depth, the zone helps the Orange stay out of foul trouble. At the same time, UNC’s depth and pace should wear out the thin Syracuse bench.
  • 337 – Syracuse’s rank in defensive rebounding percentage. 3 – North Carolina’s rank in offensive rebounding percentage. The Tar Heels must exploit this advantage.
  • In the last 6 NCAA Tournament games as NRG Stadium in Houston (Where the Final Four will be played), the competing teams shot a combined 27.6% from 3. Guess who relies on that shot? Syracuse, Oklahoma, and Villanova. Guess who doesn’t rely on that shot? The North Carolina men’s basketball team. Advantage Tar Heels.

The Record Book

  • Brice Johnson needs 1 rebound to set the Carolina record for most rebounds in a season. He currently has 399 and is tied with Tyler Hansbrough. This would also make Brice the only player in program history with 400 rebounds in a season.
  • Marcus Paige has made 292 3-pointers in his career. He is already #1, but could be the first Tar Heel to hit 300.

Syracuse Starters

Player Ht Wt MPG PPG RPG APG FG% 3-PT% FT% TPG SPG BPG
Trevor Cooney 6’4” 195 36.3 12.7 2.5 2.4 34.1 34.9 80.6 1.53 1.58 0.17
Malachi Richardson 6’6” 205 34.3 13.3 4.3 2.1 36.4 35.2 72.7 2.14 1.17 0.28
Michael Gbinije 6’7” 200 37.9 17.6 4.1 4.4 46.8 39.9 66.2 2.81 1.97 0.36
Tyler Roberson 6’8” 226 30.8 9.0 8.4 1.4 48.4 0.00 58.8 1.56 0.78 0.67
DaJuan Coleman 6’9” 268 17.5 4.9 4.7 0.4 54.1 0.00 66.2 1.14 0.69 0.86

Syracuse Key Reserves

Player Ht Wt MPG PPG RPG APG FG% 3-PT% FT% TPG SPG BPG
Tyler Lydon 6’8” 210 30.3 10.2 6.3 1.1 48.4 40.9 78.3 1.28 1.08 1.81
Franklin Howard 6’4” 190 10.6 1.7 1.4 1.8 29.5 11.1 53.8 0.87 0.55 0.13

The Numbers

  North Carolina Syracuse
KenPom Rank 2 22
Points per game 83.0 70.1
Adj. Offensive Efficiency (Rank) 123.1 (1st) 111.1 (50th)
Adj. Defensive Efficiency (Rank) 95.3 (22nd) 94.3 (16th)
Tempo (Rank) 71.4 (62nd) 65.7 (319th)
Field Goal% 48.2 42.6
2P FG% 54.1 47.2
3P FG% 32.1 36.1
3PA% 26.8 42.2
FT% 74.7 69.4
FT Rate 33.0% 35.9
RPG 40.7 35.9
Offensive Reb Rate 40.3% 33.4%
Defensive Reb Rate 70.0% 65.1%
APG 17.8 13.7
BPG 4.4 4.4
SPG 6.8 8.1
TPG 10.7 11.9
TO Rate 15.3% 18.2%

2 X-Factors:

  1. Carolina’s 3 point shooting. In the first two games against Syracuse, the Tar Heels shot 18.8% and 24.0% from downtown. So far in the NCAA Tournament, the Tar Heels, as a team have shot 38.2% (26-68) on 3-pointers. Though they’ve done a good job getting to the middle of the Syracuse zone this year, if Carolina can hit 3s and extend the zone, this game could get ugly.
  2. How do Syracuse’s freshmen handle the Final Four stage? From a Syracuse standpoint, it will be interesting to see how freshmen Malachi Richardson and Tyler Lydon (who have both been playing well) respond to playing in this Final Four atmosphere. Will the lights overwhelm them, or are they too young to know any better? Richardson, while inefficient, has been a big time scorer. Lydon has really come on of late, especially on the defensive end. Although he comes off the bench, Lydon is getting starter’s minutes.

Main Key to the Game:

Though Carolina has been shooting the 3 ball better, the most important piece of this game will be getting Brice Johnson the ball early and often at the free throw line. From there he can take (and make) that 15-footer all day or pick the zone apart. Carolina’s ability (or inability) to get the ball to the middle of the zone most likely determines which of these teams will be playing for the national championship on Monday night.