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Quick Hitters – UNC @ Michigan (ACC / Big Ten Challenge)

Quick Hitters from North Carolina’s 84-67 road loss on Wednesday to Michigan in the ACC / Big Ten Challenge.

Highlights:

  • Two years ago the Heels played in a similarly tough road environment at Indiana during the ACC / Big Ten challenge. Things didn’t go well in that game either. However, as you’ll recall that season turned out just fine. Patience. Roy doesn’t play for November. Roy builds for March.
  • Coming into the game, the main story line was Carolina’s top-notch offense against Michigan’s stingy defense. Unfortunately it was the Tar Heels’ defense (or lack thereof) that received top billing. Never doubt Coach Williams’ ability to rally the troops, but defense is currently an area of serious concern. Pick-and-roll and back door cuts, in particular, yielded several wide open lay-ups for Michigan.

  • Kenny Williams appears to be heating back up. In the past two games he’s shot 9-for-15 from the field and 5-for-9 from three while averaging 13 points. He’s done this while maintaining his defensive prowess and dishing out nine assists with just one turnover. Here’s Williams talking about tonight’s game:
  • Similar to the Texas game, Carolina started off hot, hitting four of its first five shots and amassing a quick 10 point lead in the first eight minutes. The Heels hung with Michigan the entire first half, but Michigan pushed the lead to 12 before the first media timeout of the second half and never looked back.
  • Luke Maye recorded his second double-double of the season, grabbing 15 rebounds to go with 11 points. The other starting big man, Garrison Brooks had a sneakily solid 10 points and seven rebounds.

  • Michigan’s style of defense forces a lot of one-on-one basketball. The Heels didn’t do a great job of moving the ball tonight and wound up assisting on only half of their made baskets (13 of 26).
  • On the plus side, while Michigan’s defense is tough, Carolina had its second-lowest turnover output of the season (10). In a true road environment, that’s an encouraging number. Over the past two games the Heels are averaging eight turnovers. That’s a number Coach Williams can live with.
  • While the total score of 67 was a season low, Carolina’s 35 first half points is the most Michigan has given up in the first half all year. The Tar Heels are going to be able to score all year, but some nights that shots won’t fall as frequently and the defense will have to be ready to pick up the slack.
  • Great to have Seventh Woods back from injury. He completed an and-one within his first two minutes of returning to action. His years of experience provide a steadying hand at the point guard position. Woods didn’t move the ball as well as he had been doing prior to his concussion, but he’ll get back there quickly.

  • Michigan’s unheralded (and ambidextrous) freshman Ignas Brazdeikis is impressive. He led all scorers with 24 points. Brazdeikis seems to genuinely enjoy the game and is fun to watch. Michigan has already slaughtered Villanova at Villanova. This Wolverines team might be better than last year’s national runner-up.
  • It was a tough offensive night for Cam Johnson and Nassir Little. The first and fourth leading scorers on the team finished with a combined nine points. Johnson didn’t score his first point until 13 minutes into the second half.
  • As per usual, 11 different Tar Heels entered the game in the first half. As early as the first media timeout, the entire second unit (Seventh Woods, Leaky Black, Brandon Robinson, Nassir Little and Sterling Manley) was in the game. It should be noted that Michigan took its first lead with this group of five on the court. 13 different players were used in the meaningful minutes of the game, including Brandon Huffman and KJ Smith. As often happens when he’s unhappy, Coach Williams benched all five starters for a four-minute stretch of the second half. I’ll say it again: ROY IS COACHING FOR MARCH. BE PATIENT.

  • Stop me if you’ve heard this story before: Michigan came into the game shooting 33 percent on three-pointers for the year. They drilled 11 of 22 for 50 percent shooting against Carolina. Texas just had a similar shooting performance against Carolina on Thanksgiving.
  • The Tar Heels are averaging 14.29 offensive rebounds per game, but had just one at halftime. A strong second-half effort got them to 13 for the game and overall out-rebounded Michigan 43-34.
  • In a hostile road environment, a lot of teams would pack it in after a poor performance and falling behind by as many as 22. However, an 11-0 Tar Heel run cut the lead to 11 with 5:30 remaining. Andrew Platek missed a lay-up to further cut the deficit to nine. After that, Michigan pushed the lead back to 18. The good news: these Heels have fight in them. They just need to show it from the tip and show it on defense.
  • In case you care: The ACC tied the Big Ten 7-7 in the ACC / Big Ten Challenge. The Big Ten has 14 teams so one ACC teams sits out each year. Also, it’s time for a name change Big Ten. Because you have 14 teams.
  • The night in a nutshell:

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 UNC-Wilmington on Wednesday, December 5. Tip is at 9:00ET on ESPN2.

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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:

Quick Hitters – Indiana (ACC/Big Ten Challenge)

Quick Hitters from Wednesday night’s 76-67 loss to Indiana in the ACC / Big Ten Challenge

  1. This was Roy Williams’ 1,000 game coaching in college. He’s won 799 of them. Remarkable. I’m glad he’s the coach of the North Carolina Tar Heels.
  2. Listen, I want to win every game and go 40-0, but that’s unrealistic. If you told me going into the game that Joel Berry would shoot 3-for-12 and Isaiah Hicks would shoot 2-4, I would imagine the margin of victory would have been greater than nine. This is a good learning lesson in a hostile environment that will pay huge dividends on Thursday, February 9 in Durham, North Carolina.
  3. There are many things that we could point to as the reason for the loss. One of these is fast-break points, a Carolina staple. The Heels scored exactly two fast-break points in the entire game. Not a recipe for victory.
  4. Another culprit was the free-throw line. In the first half, the Heels collectively missed the front end of three 1-and-1’s. Collectively the team shot 5-for-11 on free throws in the first half and 13-22 for the game. I’m not saying they have to hit every one of those, but the team missed nine free throws and lost the game by nine points (and don’t forget the missed 1-and-1’s).
  5. This was the third true road game of the season and sixth (out of eight total games) away from home. This was certainly the toughest road environment to play in so far. It’s extremely hard to win on the road when you get down early and let the crowd stay in the game. With that said, Carolina missed eleven of their first thirteen field goals and had a huge hole to climb out of.
  6. A positive sign was the methodical fight displayed. No, the Heels did not win the game, but after being down 17 points in the first half, the lead was cut to as few as four points with 4:29 to go. I use “methodical” because there was no huge run or spurt; the team just settled down in the second half and worked themselves back into the game. Credit Indiana for making big shot after big shot every time the Heels cut into the lead.
  7. The tide really started to turn when Kennedy Meeks scored inside with 3:51 left in the first half and then again less than a minute later. This momentum carried over into the second half as Meeks continued to get position inside.
  8. After being down by double digit rebounds early, the teams ended up tied with 37 rebounds apiece.
  9. The Joel Berry didn’t have a great shooting night (3-for-13), he did have eight assists and only two turnovers. Justin Jackson was the leading scorer with 21 points.
  10. Though UNC didn’t win the game, the ACC won the ACC / Big Ten Challenge for the first time since 2008.

Quick Hitters – Wisconsin (Maui Invitational Championship Game)

Quick Hitters from Wednesday night’s 71-56 win over Wisconsin in the Maui Invitational championship.

  1. One sign of a championship caliber team? The ability to win playing various styles. From the up-tempo game against Oklahoma State on Tuesday to the grinding Wisconsin game on Wednesday night, the Tar Heels showed the ability to either enforce their will and win, or beat you at your own game. In this championship game, it’s fair to say that North Carolina out-Wisconsined Wisconsin.
  2. I don’t want to jinx anything, but, including this year, Roy Williams has won three Maui Invitational tournaments. The first two times were the 2004-05 and 2008-09 seasons. Anyone remember anything of significance that happened in those two years?
  3. Amount of game time the Tar Heels trailed in Maui: exactly zero seconds.
  4. Congratulations to Justin Jackson for becoming the 74th Tar Heel to score 1000 career points. He joins Kennedy Meeks as the second player to achieve that level this year. Look for Isaiah Hicks and Joel Berry to become numbers 75 and 76 later this season.
  5. The first eight points of the game for Carolina went to the big men (Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Tony Bradley). This trio is should have the edge inside in nearly every game they play this year.
  6. Wisconsin didn’t score until 12:39 left in the first half. Most of this was due to Carolina forcing them into jump shots. I’ll keep saying it: defense is keying this team. It starts with Joel Berry as the leader setting the example, and everyone else feeds off that.
  7. Tony Bradley’s streak of double digit scoring to start his career ended tonight. He had just six points.
  8. On the season, the trio of Nigel Hayes, Ethan Happ, and Bronson Koenig has averaged a combined 40.4 points a game. They were scoreless until Happ got a bucket with 5:45 left in first half. The trio totaled only seven points at halftime.
  9. Just as Wisconsin pulled to within three points at 17-14, Joel Berry went on his own little five-point run with a deeeeeeep (is that enough “e’s”?) three and a mid-range jumper to push the lead back to eight before Wisconsin called a timeout. He extended his run to seven with the next Carolina bucket as well.
  10. Sure was nice to play a game (especially after the Oklahoma State game) where there was hard-nosed, no-fouling defense. There were 52 combined free throws shot against Oklahoma State, and 22 combined against Wisconsin.
  11. Kennedy Meeks had a double-double in the first half (10 points/12 rebounds). He finished with 15 points and 16 rebounds (a career high)
  12. In the first half there zero fast break points for either team and only three offensive rebounds; all to Carolina.
  13. For the tournament, the Heels shot 80% from the free throw line (60-75). Both Joel Berry and Justin Jackson were perfect from the charity stripe in the three games.
  14. It seems like the level of games keep ramping up. Next Wednesday, Carolina heads to Bloomington to play Indiana in the Big Ten / ACC Challenge. This will be third true road game in the first eight games; a wise scheduling move for a veteran squad. Although Indiana lost last night, they are also considered one of the top five teams in the nation. And they will be looking to avenge last year’s NCAA Tournament loss. Should be a great environment!

 

The Path To Houston (Glory), Part 6

We made it to “Part 6” of this column, and that’s great news because it means the Tar Heels are in the national championship game! Standing between Carolina and a sixth national championship are Jay Wright and the Villanova Wildcats. What do you need to know heading into the game? Read on to find out.

National Championship: Villanova

  • 34-5 (16-2)
  • 1st in the Big East
  • Stat Leaders (of contributing players)
    • Points: Josh Hart – 15.5
    • Assists: Ryan Arcidiacono – 4.3
    • FG% (min. 100 attempts): Daniel Ochefu – 62.3
    • Rebounds: Daniel Ochefu – 7.6
    • Steals: Ryan Arcidiacono – 1.36
    • Blocks: Daniel Ochefu – 1.53
    • Minutes: Ryan Arcidiacono – 31.9

Previous NCAA Tournament Meetings Games

The 2016 National Championship game will mark the 7th time UNC and Villanova have played in the NCAA Tournament. In the previous 6, Carolina is 5-1, only losing in the 1985 Elite 8. Here are all the previous games, rounds, and results:

  1. 1982, Elite 8, UNC 70 – Villanova 60
  2. 1985, Elite 8, Villanova 56 – UNC 44
  3. 1991, 2nd Round, UNC 84 – Villanova 69
  4. 2005, Sweet 16, UNC 67 – Villanova 66
  5. 2009, Final Four, UNC 83 – Villanova 69
  6. 2013, 1st Round, UNC 78 – Villanova 71
  7. 2016, National Championship, ???

Though these games are listed in chronological order, upon closer inspection, you might notice an interesting tidbit: UNC has beaten Villanova in every round of the NCAA Tournament. Every round but one. The National Championship. Time to rectify that omission.

Game Notes

  • This game has all the makings of an incredible title clash. Villanova and North Carolina come into the game ranked number one and two respectively in the KenPom Rankings. They also are number one and two in adjusted offensive efficiency, with the Tar Heels leading in this category.
  • As you mentally prepare for this game, the UNC opponent to most similarly compare Villanova to would have to be Virginia, who was also top 10 this season in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
  • Carolina’s overwhelming advantage should be on the backboards where the Tar Heels have a 40.6% offensive rebounding rate and a 69.8% defensive rebounding rate to Villanova’s 28.6% and 29.0%.
  • Hard to believe, but Roy Williams would surpass Dean Smith in number of national championships with a win (3 for Roy, 2 for Dean).
  • Despite being undersized, Villanova has limited the productivity of their opponent’s big men. Perry Ellis of Kansas, for example, was held to 4 points in the Elite 8. As we know the Tar Heel inside attack should prove a more formidable adversary. It will be interesting to see if and how Villanova can slow down Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks, and Isaiah Hicks.
  • Kris Jenkins connection. 2 Tar Heels have connections to Villanova 4-man Kris Jenkins. Brice Johnson played on a youth team with Jenkins in a picture that has been circulating this past week:

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The other connection is an even deeper level. Nate Britt and Jenkins are legally brothers because the Britt family became Jenkins’ legal guardian in 2007 after some family changes for the Jenkins family. Britt’s parents and sister will be at Monday’s national championship game and have vowed to remain neutral, knowing that, regardless of the outcome, they will have a son who ends the night as national champion and one who ends the night coming up just short.

The Record Book

  • Brice Johnson currently has 408 rebounds this season – a Tar Heel single season record. With 5 rebounds in the national championship game he would move into 10th place on the ACC single season rebounds leaderboard. Interestingly, he would be the only player in the 2000s to land on this list. In fact, other than Tim Duncan’s 457 rebounds in 1997, the other most recent entry in the top 10 is from 1974 (Len Elmore with 412).
  • With 1 more rebound, Brice Johnson will be the #5 career rebounder in Tar Heel history. He is currently tied with Antawn Jamison.
  • Donald Williams holds the current UNC career record for made 3s in the NCAA Tournament with 38. Marcus Paige currently sits at 35.
  • Also, on the Marcus Paige made 3 pointers front – he is already #1 in career made 3 pointers for UNC with 295. With a big night in his final college game, Paige could be the first Tar Heel to ever have 300 for his career.

Villanova Starters

Player Ht Wt MPG PPG RPG APG FG% 3-PT% FT% TPG SPG BPG
Jalen Brunson 6’2.5” 199 24.0 9.7 1.8 2.6 45.5 38.1 77.9 1.85 0.72 0.0
Ryan Arcidiacono 6’3” 195 31.9 12.4 2.9 4.3 43.9 38.9 83.3 1.51 1.36 0.03
Josh Hart 6’5” 205 31.2 15.5 6.7 1.9 51.5 35.8 75.2 1.64 1.15 0.23
Kris Jenkins 6’6” 240 28.5 13.6 3.9 2.2 45.6 38.4 85.3 1.26 0.77 0.41
Daniel Ochefu 6’11” 245 23.1 10.1 7.6 1.7 62.3 0.0 68.8 1.33 0.81 1.53

Villanova Key Reserves

Player Ht Wt MPG PPG RPG APG FG% 3-PT% FT% TPG SPG BPG
Phil Booth 6’3” 185 21.8 6.7 2.1 2.2 35.3 30.6 86.6 1.44 0.74 0.10
Mikal Bridges 6’7” 191 20.5 6.5 3.2 0.9 51.8 29.9 78.7 0.62 1.08 0.64
Darryl Reynolds 6’8” 225 17.3 3.7 4.6 0.4 64.9 0.0 72.3 0.72 0.41 0.54

The Numbers

  North Carolina Villanova
KenPom Rank 2 1
Points per game 83.0 70.1
Adj. Offensive Efficiency (Rank) 123.7 (1st) 122.0 (2nd)
Adj. Defensive Efficiency (Rank) 95.2 (23rd) 91.9 (6th)
Tempo (Rank) 71.3 (64th) 66.7 (284th)
Field Goal% 48.2 42.6
2P FG% 54.4 57.3
3P FG% 31.9 35.9
3PA% 26.7 43.0
FT% 74.8 78.2
FT Rate 32.5% 34.1%
RPG 40.7 35.2
Offensive Reb Rate 40.6% 28.6%
Defensive Reb Rate 69.8% 29.0%
APG 17.8 16.2
BPG 4.5 3.3
SPG 6.8 6.7
TPG 10.8 12.2
TO Rate 15.3% 16.3%

3 X-Factors:

  1. The backcourt (Berry, Paige, Jackson, Pinson, Britt) has done a marvelous job taking care of the ball in the tournament. Can they continue to do so against Villanova’s swarming defense. This will be all-important because the advantage on the interior is not an advantage if the guards can’t make entry passes.
  2. Isaiah Hicks’ foul trouble. With Villanova employing the use of a stretch 4, Hicks’ mobility will be important. If he can stay out of foul trouble (and therefore on the court), he could have an incredibly productive game.
  3. UNC’s backcourt & Nova’s frontcourt. All the national media attention for Villanova is on their backcourt and for North Carolina is on their frontcourt. This shapes up very similarly to the sweet 16 against Indiana. While UNC’s 3 point shooting is a statistical weakness, any combination of Paige, Berry, Britt, and Jackson could have a solid night from deep. You might recall Paige’s 3 point barrage to start the Indiana game. Similarly, don’t sleep on Villanova’s Daniel Ochefu (similar to Indiana’s Thomas Bryant). While the lone inside scoring threat, Ochefu could have a big game inside, although he has been hampered by a bum ankle.

Main Key to the Game for the Tar Heels:

You guessed it: exploit the size advantage in the paint. As has been the case all tournament long, UNC will have a decided frontcourt size advantage. On offense this means pounding the ball into the paint and continuing to offensively rebound around 50% of the misses. On the defensive end, this means playing tight defense without fouling and rebounding at the normal clip.

 

Soak It Up

This is it. The final weekend of the 2015-16 college basketball season. No matter what happens in NRG Stadium, this will be the final time we will see this edition of the North Carolina Tar Heels. Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson, and Joel James will only pull on their Tar Heel #5, #11, and #42 jerseys once more, maybe (hopefully) twice more. As fans, we find it easy to get wrapped up in defining a season by the final game. Whether or not Carolina can win tomorrow against Syracuse and subsequently knock off Villanova or Oklahoma on Monday night, this will go down as one of my favorite (if not the favorite) teams of all time. So here’s what I want to say: before we get enraptured in the games this weekend, make sure to take time to stop, appreciate this team, and soak it up.

Make sure to think back on the careers and development of Paige, Johnson, and James.

 

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Marcus Paige, Joel James, Brice Johnson, & JP Tokoto with Coach Roy Williams for their freshman picture

 

The biggest thing I’ll remember from this year is the Marcus Paige emotional roller coaster. Here is my stream-of-consciousness thinking of Mr. Paige’s senior year thus far: “Marcus is finally healthy and primed for a huge All-American senior year; reminiscent of his sophomore campaign! He broke his hand. Oh no! Which hand??? His non-shooting hand? Okay. Whew. Dodged a bullet. When will he come back? How will the team play until then? 5-1 with an undesirable, but understandable loss in a true road game at Northern Iowa. How will he look when he finally suits up? 20 points, 5 assists, 2 steals, 1 turnover in 34 minutes at home against Maryland, an early contender for the national championship? We’ll take it. Marcus is ready to go. Then the slump. Poor Marcus. His shot looks so pretty, why won’t it go in? He’s not hitting his free throws either. Oh man he hit a couple 3s this game, he’s back!! Nope he’s not. Well the good news is Marcus is still doing everything else he should as a teammate. I just hate for his senior year to play out this way. Maybe, just maybe he’ll pick up in March. Yes – 4 of 7 from deep against Notre Dame in the ACC semifinals. Here we go. Marcus is on in March. Spoke to soon. 0-7 from deep against Virginia. But man did he do a number guarding Brogdon. 2 solid, but unspectacular, games to start the NCAA tournament. But then Indiana, ohhhhh the Indiana game. With each successive 3 to start the game, I jumped higher and yelled louder. 21 points, 6 assists, 0 turnovers. That’s Marcus Paige. He’s back.” Marcus might score 30 points against Syracuse or he might score 0. The Tar Heels might win and the same stats are possible against Oklahoma/Villanova. Either way, Marcus Paige will be one of my five favorite Tar Heels of all time.

NCAA BASKETBALL: FEB 01 North Carolina at Louisville
February 1, 2016: North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams speaks with North Carolina Tar Heels guard Marcus Paige (5) during the game against The Louisville Cardinals and North Carolina Tar Heels at The KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, KY. Louisville defeated North Carolina 71-65. (Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire).

Raise your hand if you thought Marcus Paige would have the struggles he’s had this year and yet, the Tar Heels would find themselves in the Final Four as the favorites to cut down the nets. The reason is because of two words: Brice Johnson. Let me use some numbers, so that we can try to wrap our heads around what a historical year he’s had. With his next rebound (just one), Johnson will have 400 for the season and will become the single-season rebounding leader in North Carolina Men’s Basketball history (and is on the doorstep of moving into the top 10 in ACC single season history). Just stop and think about that. For every rebounder that’s ever put on a UNC jersey, he has the most rebounds in any one season. And it’s not just this season. Brice is 1 of only 8 Tar Heels to have 1000 career rebounds. The others on the list are some gentlemen named Hansbrough, Perkins, Lynch, Cunningham, Jamison, Kupchak, and Daugherty. Heard of any of them? He’s currently number 6 on that list and has a realistic shot to move past Antawn Jamison for 5th. And it’s not just the rebounds, it’s also the points. Brice has scored 648 points this year, good to tie him with NBA champion Harrison Barnes’ 2011-12 campaign for 18th in one season. He will definitely continue moving up this list; whether UNC plays 1 or 2 more games will determine exactly how much further. Along similar lines, Johnson has moved into 19th on the career scoring list, again with extremely realistic chances to continue moving up. This also means that this team boasts 2 of the top 20 scorers in Carolina history (Paige is currently at #12). The combination of scoring and rebounding a lot means that Johnson has accumulated 23 double-doubles this season, again the most in a single-season in UNC history. He currently is averaging 17.1 ppg and 10.5 rpg this year. Only 4 Tar Heels have averaged a double-double since 1975-76. Their names? Antawn Jamison, Sean May, Tyler Hansbrough, John Henson. Mr. Brice Johnson, we thank you for giving us one of the greatest single years any player has ever had in Chapel Hill. I think all that yelling Roy has done just might have made a difference.

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I will remember this year as the year that the “not tough” Tar Heels suffered 6 losses (to this point), but only by a combined 22 points. And they never lost by more than 6. And they had a lead at some point in EVERY GAME THEY PLAYED. In fact, the Heels also had a least a tie in the 2nd half of every game they played. Probably the most impressive of these stats is that, of Carolina’s 38 games to date, they’ve held a 2nd half lead in every game but one (@ Virginia).

I will remember the collapse at home to Duke. As that game wore on, and the Heels struggled to create separation, I thought, “there’s no way we lose this game”. However, there were images of Austin Rivers floating in the back of my head. I will readily admit that after that loss, I really wondered what this team would amount to come tournament time. But now we have answer. The Tar Heels of the 2016 ACC Tournament were a thing of beauty. This team is tough.

I will remember this as a Carolina team that returned almost completely intact (we miss you JP!) and added a couple nice pieces in Luke Maye and Kenny Williams. I will remember this as the year that a Carolina team with no “superstars” and possible NCAA sanctions looming moved past several years of uncertainty (early departures after 2011-12, the PJ Hairston debacle, Paige’s injury-riddled junior year, etc), joined together, and rose above it all to make the Final Four with as good a shot as you’re going to get at winning a national championship.

It’s been a great year. We still have 1, maybe 2, games left. So soak it up Tar Heel fans and let’s enjoy this epilogue.

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Quick Hitters – Indiana (NCAA Tournament – Sweet 16)

Quick Hitters from Carolina’s 101-86 victory over Indiana in the Sweet 16:

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PHILADELPHIA, PA – MARCH 25: Marcus Paige #5 of the North Carolina Tar Heels shoots the ball in the first half against Nick Zeisloft #2 of the Indiana Hoosiers during the 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament East Regional at Wells Fargo Center on March 25, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) 
  1. Oh hello there, Marcus Paige, good to see the real you. Paige was 4-4 from 3. BEFORE THE FIRST MEDIA TIMEOUT. Unreal. Marcus finished 6-9 from 3, granted two of those misses were near the end of the game on a possession when the Heels were jacking up shots. Along the way to scoring 21 points tonight, Marcus passed Michael Jordan for 12th on the UNC career scoring list. Brice Johnson has moved up to 19th, so this team has 2 players (heck, roommates) who are top 20 in UNC history in career scoring.
  2. This game marks the first time the Heels have scored 100 after the first week of the NCAA Tournament.
  3. Probably the biggest storyline all week was Indiana’s ability to shoot a high volume and percentage on 3 pointers. They did shoot 41.9% (13-31) for the game, but that was neutralized by Carolina’s 55% (11-20). To be honest, Carolina’s percentage would have been even better were it not for end of game possessions in which Carolina was playing run-the-shot-clock-down-and-shoot-a-3-at-the-buzzer offense.
  4. The Tar Heels had 3 turnovers in their final 5 possessions of the 1st half and 7 total for the half. At least 5 of those turnovers were traveling calls. The Heels cleaned this up and only had 2 turnovers in the entire second half.
  5. The story of the first couple minutes of the 1st half was Marcus Pagie’s shooting. The story in that same time frame of the 2nd half was Indiana’s fouling. UNC reached the bonus with 16:35 left and eventually the double bonus with 12:52 to go.
  6. With 15:20 left in the game, Kennedy Meeks stepped around to poke away an entry pass seemingly leading to a run-out. Yogi Ferrell came up the loose ball before Nate Britt could get to it. At this point there were five players beneath the free throw line – 4 Hoosiers and a Brice Johnson. Ferrell had what looked to be a gimmie layup, but Johnson came flying in from the opposite wing to block the shot (we’ll just skip the part where Troy Williams finished the possession with a 3).
  7. Though it probably wouldn’t have helped Indiana overcome so great a deficit, it’s worth noting that Robert Johnson didn’t play at all tonight for the Hoosiers.
  8. You might have already realized this, but with the ACC sweep of Friday night (Virginia, Notre Dame, and Syracuse in addition to Carolina), the conference has secured half the spots in the Elite Eight and is also guaranteed 2 teams in the Final Four and 1 team in the National Championship game. Also, with the way things are laid out, it’s highly possible that the Heels will have to replicate the semifinal (Notre Dame) and final (Virginia) of the ACC Tournament in order to reach the National Championship game.
  9. Brice Johnson recorded his 22nd double-double this season. That ties him for the most ever in a season by a Tar Heel with the great Billy Cunningham. Incidentally.
  10. Speaking of Brice and records: he now has over 1,000 rebounds for his career (1,006) which only 7 other Tar Heels have done. He also has 387 rebounds this season. Tyler Hansbrough holds the record for the most in one season with 399. There’s a very good chance Brice Johnson could become the first player in program history with 400 rebounds in a season.
  11. Tip of the cap to Yogi Ferrell. What a career. An incredible basketball player and leader; a seemingly even better young man.

 

 

 

Factors to Track for UNC/IU (Sweet 16)

Here are some factors to track that will affect the outcome of tonight’s Sweet 16 game:

  1. Yogi Ferrell’s penetration.
  2. Thomas Bryant foul situation.
  3. Effectiveness of Indiana’s injured players.
  4. Indiana’s 3 point shooting (both percentage and number made).
  5. Which Troy Williams shows up for Indiana?
  6. Can North Carolina assert their inside advantage?
  7. What kind of start does North Carolina have?
  8. North Carolina’s defensive intensity
  9. Offensive Rebounding (both teams consider it a strength)

 

The Path To Houston, Part 3

As expected, the Tar Heels survived the 1st weekend in Raleigh. While tested, neither game ever seemed to be in doubt. Indiana presents a new challenge. They can match Carolina’s depth. They also feature strength in some typical areas of weakness for this Tar Heel squad – strong 3-point shooting and offensive rebounding. Here is a primer for what most people are considering the marquee matchup of the Sweet 16.

Sweet Sixteen: Indiana

  • 27-7 (15-3)
  • 1st in Big Ten
  • Stat Leaders
    • Points: Yogi Ferrell – 17.0
    • Assists: Yogi Ferrell – 5.5
    • FG%: Thomas Bryant – 68.6
    • Rebounds: Troy Williams – 5.9
    • Steals: Troy Williams – 1.2
    • Blocks: Thomas Bryant – 0.9
    • Minutes: Yogi Ferrell – 34.7

Probable Indiana Starters

Player Height Weight MPG PPG RPG APG FG% 3-PT% FT% TO/G SPG BPG
Yogi Ferrell 6’0” 180 34.7 17.1 3.8 5.6 45.9 41.9 82.5 2.5 1.1 0.0
Nick Zeisloft 6’4” 210 20.1 6.7 1.6 0.9 42.6 42.5 90.5 0.5 0.2 0.1
Troy Williams 6’7” 215 26.0 13.0 5.9 2.0 51.6 31.3 68.8 2.6 1.1 0.8
Collin Hartman 6’7” 215 21.7 4.9 3.1 1.7 44.9 36.4 84.2 1.1 0.8 0.3
Thomas Bryant 6’10” 245 22.4 11.9 5.7 0.9 68.9 35.7 70.2 1.6 0.5 0.9

Key Reserves

Player Height Weight MPG PPG RPG APG FG% 3-PT% FT% TO/G SPG BPG
Robert Johnson 6’3” 195 24.9 8.1 3.3 3.1 44.9 44.7 63.9 1.7 0.6 0.2
Max Bielfeldt 6’8” 240 17.4 8.0 4.6 0.7 51.7 44.1 69.0 1.1 0.9 0.5
OG Anunoby 6’8” 215 13.6 4.9 2.6 0.5 58.0 44.8 47.6 0.8 0.8 0.8

 

The Numbers

  North Carolina Indiana
KenPom Rank 3 13
Points per game 82.4 82.5
Adj. Offensive Efficiency (Rank) 120.1 (5th) 118.9 (8th)
Adj. Defensive Efficiency (Rank) 93.6 (11th) 98.0 (54th)
Tempo (Rank) 72.0 (48th) 69.2 (152nd)
Field Goal% 47.8 50.5
2P FG% 53.8 56.6
3P FG% 31.4 41.6
3PA% 26.6 40.5
FT% 74.2 72.5
FT Rate 32.1% 33.6%
RPG 41.0 36.9
Offensive Reb Rate 39.9% 37.1%
Defensive Reb Rate 70.1% 71.2%
APG 17.8 16.1
BPG 4.5 4.0
SPG 6.9 7.0
TOPG 10.9 13.6
TO Rate 15.4% 19.6%

Indiana Injuries

Much like Carolina, the Hoosiers have a lot of depth on their roster. That depth has taken a hit though. Starter James Blackmon, Jr. was lost for the season before conference play. Typical starter Robert Johnson has been limited recently by a high ankle sprain and missed most of the Kentucky game last weekend. Juwan Morgan has been limited by recurring shoulder problems. Johnson and Morgan’s effectiveness will certainly be a factor this evening.

X-Factor – Thomas Bryant. If he stays on the court, it allows Indiana to have a balanced inside/outside attack. The Heels will need to go at him early and often, as he is prone to fouling, and force him to the bench.

Main Key to the Game – Limit Indiana’s open looks from 3. The Hoosiers will score from outside, but the Heels must channel their ACC Tournament defense and get a hand up on shooters. The key will be staying in front of Ferrell or other penetrating guards so that the other 4 defenders don’t have to help off shooters.

Quick Hitters – Notre Dame (ACC Tournament Semifinal)

Quick hitters from last night’s 78-47 ACC Tournament semifinal victory over Notre Dame:

  1. The last 2 two times these teams met, the Tar Heels should have won. They didn’t. The first was last year’s ACC Championship game in which Carolina had a 9-point lead with 9:59 to go and ran out of gas down the stretch after playing 4 days in a row. The second was this year’s only regular season match-up (in South Bend) in which Carolina had as much as a 15-point lead, lead by 9 at the half, and were ahead as late as 6:36 left in the game. Last night, the Tar Heels should have won again. And they did. Handily.
  2. Oh, hello there, Marcus. Mr. Paige, just as in Thursday’s quarterfinal, hit his first 3 of the game. The difference is that against Notre Dame he then continued to play like Marcus Paige. He was both aggressive and decisive. He led all scorers with 16, shot 4-7 from 3, had 7 assists, 2 steals, 3 rebounds, and 0 turnovers. On the defensive end, he put a dog collar on Steve Vasturia – drawing a charge and holding him to 0 points. Most college basketball writers and commentators have been saying, “If Marcus Paige gets back to being Marcus Paige, this is a national championship team. If he doesn’t, they’re still really good, but don’t have a chance at a championship.” Here’s an example from Jeff Goodman: Tar Heels Need A Better Marcus Paige. If last night was an example of things to come, look out America.
  3. It’s been well chronicled that Roy constantly reminds his team of the defense it takes to win a championship (conference or national) – in particular how successful the ’05 and ’09 national championship teams were when they bought in on that end of the floor. Against Pittsburgh on Thursday, the Tar Heels were more locked in defensively. But last night against Notre Dame was another level. Carolina bigs were able to break contact on multiple occasions to get around and deflect entry passes. There were active feet, active hands, help defense. You might say the Tar Heels were flying around making plays, which is an accolade usually attributed to a defensive unit in football. Will it happen against tonight against Virginia? Is that swarming defense sustainable for 6 games across three weekends? I sure hope so.
  4. Here are some statistical examples of last night’s defense:
    • ND didn’t SCORE in the final 6:10 of the 1st half
    • ND didn’t record a FG until 14:52 of the 2nd
    • Combined, that’s an 11:18 drought without a FG.
    • ND shot 33.3% in the 1st half, 26.9% in the 2nd half, and 30% for the game. For the Irish, the 2nd half percentage was the lowest for a 2nd half and 2nd lowest in any half on the year. The overall percentage was the lowest in a game for the season.
    • ND scored 47 points – the only time this year they didn’t hit 50.
    • According to Pomeroy rankings, ND is the 10th most efficient offense in the country, EVEN AFTER this performance.
  1. During Notre Dame’s scoring drought, the Tar Heels had another big run. 18-0 over the course of the final 6:10 of the 1st Extended to 24-0 to start 2nd half.
  2. Something else about the run to end the first half: Brice Johnson & Kennedy Meeks were on the bench. Both left the court with 2 fouls and 6:30 to go in the first half (the 18-0 run started at 6:10). When that happened, I, along with probably all Tar Heel fans, was nervous. The score was 23-20. Neither player came back in in the 1st The halftime score? 41-22.
  3. Let’s see, how do I put this? Ah yes: Joel Berry is strong.
  4. To think that Carolina was this dominant on a night when Brice Johnson was saddled with foul trouble (only played 15 minutes) and “only” (by his normal standard) had 12 points and 7 rebounds is scary for the rest of the country. This also meant no double-double for Brice.
  5. Part of the reason UNC didn’t need a huge performance from Johnson is that Isaiah Hicks recorded his first career double-double (11 points and 15 rebounds) to go along with an assist, a steal, and two blocks in 23 minutes of action. He continues to be very efficient. A good sign of things to come next year.
  6. The offensive percentages were somewhat down: 43.5% FG and 63.2% FT for the game. The Tar Heels missed several bunnies right around the rim. And yet, this was a dominant performance. This exemplifies the importance of the defensive effort.
  7. Once again, Carolina did the work of putting the game away early so that they didn’t have to fret down the stretch. 20+ point lead for all but the first minute of the 2nd
  8. Tonight will be Carolina’s 5th ACC Championship game in 6 years. Of course, as we know, they haven’t won any of the previous 4. Tonight could be the night. And another great opportunity to buckle down and get a tough win against Virginia.
  9. Interestingly, after the wins against Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, I now hear commentators and writers using words like “attitude”, “edge”, “hard”, “pit-bull mentality”, “committed”, “chip”, and “personality” to describe this “soft” team.

Bonus: If you are a college basketball fan, today was a fun day. A classic UConn/Cincinnati 4OT game, including a deeper-than-half-court-game-tying-buzzer-beater. A game-winning half-court buzzer-beater from Buddy Hield that was no good because he didn’t get it off in time. Michigan fighting for their life and upsetting the #1 seed Indiana. The list goes on. Let’s not kid ourselves: March Madness has already started.