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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.

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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.

Quick Hitters – Notre Dame (NCAA Tournament – Elite 8)

Quick Hitters from North Carolina’s 88-74 win over Notre Dame in the Elite 8:

  1. First off, biggest play of the game was the steal by Theo Pinson with 12:22 left in the game. Although Marcus Paige had just hit a jumper to stop a 12-0 Notre Dame run and put the Tar Heels back in the lead 53-52, the Irish had all the momentum. Theo’s steal ignited the bench and things progressed positively from there.
  2. The crucial juncture of the game was the 12-0 Notre Dame run midway through the 2nd half to take a 52-51 lead. Rather than packing it in, the veteran Tar Heels responded in kind, with a 12-0 run of their own and never looked back. All of this run happened with Brice Johnson on the bench, having just picked up fouls 2 & 3 (the latter of which was a technical).RAURLXFSQQASTCA.20160328040042
  3. Getting back to Theo Pinson, he provided a huge spark this evening. His stat line was solid, but not overly impressive if you didn’t see the game: 6 points on 2-2 shooting, 2 rebounds (both offensive), 4 assists, 1 steal, 0 turnovers. But if you did see the game, you know how important every one of those stats was. Almost all of this stat line came in 2 critical stretches of the 2nd half – all after the Brice Johnson technical. Stretch #1 (12:22-8:37). Situation: Notre Dame has just reeled off the 12-0 run to take the lead and gain momentum. Carolina could fold, or respond. Enter Theo: The 1 steal in the stat line is the aforementioned biggest play of the game at 12:22. Subsequently, although he missed both free throws (which provided the craziest play of the game when Isaiah Hicks had a left-handed tip-in from 5 feet out off the 2nd miss), he drew the 3rd foul on Zach Auguste at 10:57. He then secured his first two points with a lay-up at 10:01 while guarded by the now-saddled-with-3-fouls Zach Auguste who couldn’t play aggressive defense. Next, at 9:21, off a beautiful, standard-issue Kennedy Meeks full court outlet pass, Pinson threw a nice alley-oop to Hicks for one of his 4 assists. Then, at 8:40, he corralled an offensive rebound in traffic (with all 5 Notre Dame players surrounding him) and put it back for points 3 and 4. Stretch #2 (2:07-1:39). Situation: The Tar Heels are maintaining a pretty comfortable 10 point cushion, but the game is not out of reach. Enter Theo: At 2:07, Justin Jackson snags an offensive rebound and kicks it back out to a wide-open Pinson at the top of the key. Pause. Syracuse was in the exact same situation just a few hours earlier. Up 6, Tyler Lydon got an offensive rebound and kicked it out to a wide-open Michael Gbinije at the top of the key. He promptly fired a 3. With a fresh 30 on the shot clock. Up 6. With 2:37 to in the Elite 8. Would Theo suffer the same fate? No, he pulled the ball out, found Berry and the Tar Heels ran clock until the Irish decided it was time to start fouling. At 1:54, Justin Jackson missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and Theo had a tip-out to Joel Berry for offensive rebound number 2. To wrap up stretch #2, Pinson was fouled at 1:39 and sank both free throws in a 1-and-1 situation to give Carolina a 12 point lead. Mr. Theo Pinson earned his trip to the press conference on this night.
  4. With 25 points and 12 rebounds tonight, Brice Johnson broke a record and tied a record. The double-double was his 23rd of the season and is the most by a Tar Heel in one season. The 12 rebounds gives him 399 on the season, which places Brice in a tie with Tyler Hansbrough’s 2007-08 season for the most by a Tar Heel in one season. Should Brice secure 1 rebound against Syracuse he would hold the single-season rebound record and be the only Tar Heel to ever get 400 in a season.
  5. At this point, I’m convinced Marcus Paige was sandbagging all season. In all seriousness, so glad for Marcus and the re-start that the tournament has allowed him.
  6. Coming into the game this Tar Heel team had the best assist-to-turnover ratio and the lowest turnovers per game average of any Tar Heel team since turnovers were first recorded in 1981-82. Carolina only had 6 turnovers tonight (versus 17 assists), so both those numbers should continue to improve.
  7. Big play when Demetrius Jackson hurt his ankle. He was clearly at least somewhat hobbled and Joel Berry was able to take advantage on several drives to the hoop.
  8. This is the first time I remember seeing Brice’s emotions affect the game in such a monumental way. Getting a 2nd foul was no big deal, but the subsequent technical foul (& therefore 3rd personal) which sent him to the bench really hurt. It was in the middle of the Notre Dame 12-0 run and could have potentially effectively ended the North Carolina men’s basketball season. Fortunately, his teammates picked him up and it didn’t end up hurting. Brice was quick to take the blame at the top of the press conference.
  9. Another solid game from Kennedy Meeks. Although he only played 15 minutes, he scored 10 points on 4-4 shooting and hit both free throws he shot.
  10. The “burn” offense. Great tactic from Mike Brey. Certainly a source of frustration for the Heels in the 1st Also allowed the Irish to stay in the game while Zach Auguste was on the bench in foul trouble. All the same, for the most part, the Heels showed great defensive patience and stayed dialed in for the full shot clock. I should also say, I’m not sure Notre Dame was still using this tactic down 12 with 5 minutes to go. I think they should have abandoned this approach much sooner than they did, but that’s why they pay Mike Brey and not Isaac Schade.
  11. Tonight, the Irish had the highest FG% (55.1%) against the Tar Heels all season. Previous to this, the Heels had held 28 straight opponents under 45%. This was only the 2nd time all season a team has shot over 50% against Carolina.
  12. Hats off to Notre Dame. Back-to-back Elite 8s. Came in with a great game plan tonight and executed it. They are a classy program, who works hard and plays the game well. Certainly going to miss watching the departing players in the ACC.EEPNYHUDSNAOMRW.20160328021838

The Path To Houston, Part 4

Welcome to the 2016 ACC Tournament, Round 2! What a testament to the depth and talent in the conference. On the second day of Elite 8 games, the only four teams in play are all from the ACC: Virginia vs. Syracuse and North Carolina vs. Notre Dame. It’s highly possible that the Tar Heels could repeat the path they took in the semifinals and finals of the ACC Tournament. They play Notre Dame tonight (ACC Tournament semifinals) and, with a win, would most likely play Virginia (ACC Tournament final) in the Final Four next Saturday.

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Elite Eight: Notre Dame

  • 24-11 (11-7)
  • 6th in ACC
  • Stat Leaders
    • Points: Demetrius Jackson – 15.5
    • Assists: Demetrius Jackson – 4.7
    • FG%: Zach Auguste – 55.9
    • Rebounds: Zach Auguste – 10.9
    • Steals: Demetrius Jackson – 1.2
    • Blocks: Demetrius Jackson – 1.1
    • Minutes: Steve Vasturia – 36.0

Previous 2015-16 ND / UNC Games

  • February 6. UNC @ ND. Notre Dame won 80-76. UNC led by at many as 15 and 9 at the half. The Heels let off the accelerator in the 2nd half and lost by 4.
  • March 11. ACC Tournament semifinal. North Carolina won 78-47. The Heels were locked in defensively and the game was effectively over by halftime. The Tar Heels had a 24-0 run at one point in this game.

Game Notes

  • Bonzie Colson has started most of the season for Notre Dame, but Coach Mike Brey has inserted Matt Farrell into the starting lineup throughout the NCAA Tournament. As he says, this gives them “another ball handler on the floor…and that’s kind of helped and taken a little pressure off Demetrius that we have another ball handler on the floor to start a game”. The problem for the Irish is that while this gives them another ball handler, it eliminates their height advantage in the backcourt and doesn’t seem to provide any matchup difficulties for the Tar Heels in the frontcourt.
  • While North Carolina has won every tournament game by double digits, Notre Dame has played three very close games. In fact, Notre Dame has been behind in the 2nd half of every game they’ve played. Michigan last held a lead with 4:32 remaining. Both Stephen F. Austin and Wisconsin held leads with under :30 left.
  • This is Notre Dame’s 2nd straight Elite 8. They lost to Kentucky in the same round last year.
  • By the numbers, Notre Dame’s defense is by far the worst of the 4 units in adjusted efficiency. UNC is 2nd on offense and 16th on defense. ND is 10th on offense but 154th on defense.
  • While having a very efficient offense, Notre Dame plays at a much slower pace (318th in the country) that do the Tar Heels (50th). It will be interesting to see which team can exert their will.
  • There has been a lot of talk from Notre Dame about 2014-15 when Duke beat them handily before Notre Dame got revenge later in the postseason. They are hoping to do the same to North Carolina after the Heels’ 31 point victory a few weeks ago. If I were Roy Williams (and I’m most decidedly not), I would counter by reminding my team of the 2008-09 season. Carolina played Michigan St. in the Big 10/ACC Challenge and won 98-63 (35 point victory). When the teams met again for the National Championship later that season, there was a lot of talk of revenge, but the Heels won 89-72 in a game that never felt that close.

A couple records that might be broken tonight:

  • Brice Johnson has 387 rebounds this season. This is 12 shy of tying Tyler Hansbrough for the most by a Tar Heel in one season. Tyler has 399 in 2007-08. Should Brice break the record, he would be the first Tar Heel to have 400 rebounds in a seson.
  • Brice also has 22 double-doubles (points and rebounds) on the season. He is tied with Billy Cunningham for the most for a Tar Heel in one season. Cunningham achieved this in 1963-64.

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Notre Dame Starters (**Colson usually starts but Farrell has been starting in the NCAA Tournament)

Player Ht Wt MPG PPG RPG APG FG% 3-PT% FT% TO/G SPG BPG
Demetrius Jackson 6’1” 201 35.9 15.5 3.5 4.7 44.4 32.7 81.5 2.1 1.2 0.3
Matt Farrell** 6’1” 175 12.9 2.4 0.8 1.6 35.0 28.1 88.2 0.6 0.2 0.0
Steve Vasturia 6’5” 212 36.0 11.4 2.6 3.2 43.3 34.6 85.0 1.9 0.8 0.2
V.J. Beachem 6’8” 200 31.1 11.9 3.9 0.8 47.1 44.0 57.1 0.9 0.8 0.8
Zach Auguste 6’10” 245 29.8 14.3 10.9 1.1 55.9 0.0 62.6 2.5 0.7 1.1

Notre Dame Key Reserves

Player Ht Wt MPG PPG RPG APG FG% 3-PT% FT% TO/G SPG BPG
Bonzie Colson** 6’5” 225 25.2 11.2 6.7 1.0 53.6 33.3 77.0 1.0 0.9 1.0
Matt Ryan 6’8” 217 14.8 5.3 1.7 0.5 41.7 37.4 79.2 0.2 0.3 0.1
Rex Pflueger 6’6” 198 13.6 2.4 1.4 1.1 38.2 32.0 95.2 0.3 0.6 0.2

The Numbers

  North Carolina Notre Dame
KenPom Rank 4 34
Points per game 82.9 75.1
Adj. Offensive Efficiency (Rank) 121.6 (2nd) 118.2 (10th)
Adj. Defensive Efficiency (Rank) 94.4 (16th) 102.7 (154th)
Tempo (Rank) 71.9 (50th) 65.7 (318th)
Field Goal% 47.9 47.4
2P FG% 53.7 52.8
3P FG% 32.1 37.1
3PA% 26.8 34.2
FT% 74.4 74.1
FT Rate 32.7% 33.0%
RPG 40.9 35.7
Offensive Reb Rate 40.0% 33.0
Defensive Reb Rate 69.8% 68.3
APG 17.9 13.5
BPG 4.5 4.0
SPG 6.9 5.5
TPG 10.9 10.1
TO Rate 15.4% 15.4%

X-Factor: Notre Dame’s starting lineup change. Can Carolina take advantage of the now even more pronounced frontcourt size advantage before Bonzie Colson comes in off the bench? Justin Jackson (6’8”) will most likely match up with Steve Vasturia (6’5”) – advantage Jackson. Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson (both 6’10”) will, in some form, match up with Zach Auguste (6’10”) and VJ Beachem (6’8”). The Heels need to attack whomever Beachem is guarding. The question for Carolina is whether Meeks will be quick enough to follow either Auguste or Beachem or whether Roy Williams will need to bring in Isaiah Hicks or go small with Theo Pinson. The personnel chess match between Coach Williams and Coach Brey will be interesting and go a long way to determining which of these teams will head to the Final Four next Saturday.

Main Key to the Game: Stop me if this sounds familiar to Friday’s game against Indiana: Stop Demetrius Jackson’s dribble penetration (Friday it was Yogi Ferrell). Staying in front of Jackson (without fouling) is top priority tonight. If other players have to help off, that leaves shooters open outside for 3s and, with the defensive rotations required, also leaves the offensive glass vulnerable.

Quick Hitters – Florida Gulf Coast (1st Round – NCAA Tournament)

Quick Hitters from UNC’s 83-67 win over Florida Gulf Coast in the 1st Round of the NCAA Tournament:

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Florida Gulf Coast vs North Carolina
The enduring image of this 1st round NCAA Tournament win. Brice Johnson had 8 blocks, 6 in the 2nd half.  Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
  1. 1st turnover for UNC came at 5:21 left in the 1st
  2. Favorite moment of the game: Isaiah Hicks trying to throw the ball through the hoop from 3-4 feet away with about 4:30 left in the 1st
  3. Comforting to see Marcus Paige hit his first two 3-point attempts after going 0-7 in the ACC Championship game.
  4. Despite an overall lazy 1st half, the Heels were able to push the lead out to 9, but then went back to lackadaisical mode to end the first half only up 1.
  5. After the 1-point halftime lead, the Heels came out with more determination and desire (Roy must have said some nice things at halftime) and were up by 20 with 11:32 to go in what still felt like a close game.
  6. Isaiah Hicks continues to show great athleticism and motor. This is a good sign for next year when he will most likely form the starting frontcourt tandem with Kennedy Meeks.
  7. Speaking of Kennedy, he is going to have to continue shedding weight in the offseason. Against athletic bigs inside, he consistently gets out-jumped, blocked, and fails to score what would be an easy dunk for Johnson or Hicks.
  8. At the 8:46 mark of the 2nd half, Brice Johnson got the ball in the post and an immediate double team came. Brice then delivered a beautiful wrap-around pass to a cutting Justin Jackson for 2.
  9. Joel Berry continues to have a keen awareness of when to drive to the basket, finishing strong in traffic. This will be important as the NCAA Tournament moves along. Ty Lawson had some similar big buckets in the 2009 championship run.
  10. For the 3rd game in a row, no double-double for Brice Johnson, but how’s this for a stat line: 18 points, 7 rebounds, 8 blocks, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 0 turnovers. Well done young man.
  11. Just to be sure you didn’t gloss over this – 8 blocks for Brice Johnson (6 in the 2nd half), a UNC NCAA Tournament record – and several of them were of the “Big Boy” variety.
  12. With the win tonight, Roy Williams has 66 NCAA Tournament victories, and passes Coach Smith for 2nd place all-time.