Tag Archives: Virginia Cavaliers

Quick Hitters – UNC @ Virginia

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

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

 

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Worst-Case Scenarios & My Irrational Fears

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

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

This is my curse. The struggle is real.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

North Carolina (12-3)

  • @ Pittsburgh
  • @ Virginia
  • Duke

Louisville (10-5)

  • Syracuse
  • @ Wake Forest
  • Notre Dame

Duke (10-5)

  • @ Miami
  • Florida State
  • @ North Carolina

Florida State (10-5)

  • @ Clemson
  • @ Duke
  • Miami

Notre Dame (10-5)

  • Georgia Tech
  • Boston College
  • @ Louisville

Miami (9-6)

  • Duke
  • @ Virginia Tech
  • @ Florida State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick Hitters – UNC vs. Virginia

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

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

2016-17 Conference Schedule Primer

There are 18 regular season games remaining in the 2016-17 University of North Carolina men’s basketball schedule. Every one of them is an ACC conference match-up. With every conference team having played at least 12 games, we can take a more informed look at the conference schedule.

With that conference schedule beginning today at Georgia Tech, let’s examine what will unfold between now and March 4 when the conference slate ends in Chapel Hill against Duke.

Current ACC Standings

  1. #20 Florida State (13-1, 1-0)
  2. #12 Virginia (12-1, 1-0)
  3. #5 Duke (12-1, 0-0)
  4. Virginia Tech (11-1, 0-0)
  5. #9 North Carolina (12-2, 0-0)
  6. Pittsburgh (12-2, 0-0)
  7. NC State (11-2, 0-0)
  8. #24 Notre Dame (11-1, 0-0)
  9. Clemson (10-2, 0-0)
  10. Miami (10-2, 0-0)
  11. Georgia Tech (8-4, 0-0)
  12. Syracuse (8-5, 0-0)
  13. Boston College (7-6, 0-0)
  14. #6 Louisville (12-2, 0-1)
  15. Wake Forest (9-4, 0-1)
  • Florida State, Virginia, Louisville, and Wake Forest have each played a conference game and are, therefore, currently the top two and bottom two teams in the standings.
  • Florida State beat Wake Forest 88-72 on Wednesday, December 28.
  • Virginia beat Louisville 61-53 on Wednesday, December 28.

UNC Conference Schedule

  1. @ GT (12/31)
  2. @ Clemson (1/3)
  3. NC St (1/7)
  4. @ Wake (1/11)
  5. FSU (1/14)
  6. Syracuse (1/16)
  7. @ BC (1/21)
  8. VT (1/26)
  9. @Miami (1/28)
  10. Pitt (1/31)
  11. ND (2/4)
  12. @Duke (2/9)
  13. @NC St (2/15)
  14. Virginia (2/18)
  15. Louisville (2/22)
  16. @ Pitt (2/25)
  17. @ Virginia (2/27)
  18. Duke (3/4)
  • Every ACC team except for Louisville (who travels to Indiana) will play a conference game this weekend.
  • There are currently six ACC teams ranked in the AP Top 25: Duke (5), Louisville (6), UNC (9), Virginia (12), FSU (20), and Notre Dame (24).
  • Three other ACC teams showed up in the “others receiving votes” category: Virginia Tech, Clemson, and Miami.
  • Joe Lunardi currently projects 10 ACC teams in the NCAA Tournament field – the nine teams mentioned in the AP poll plus Pittsburgh.
  • The five ACC teams not included in the AP poll or Lunardi’s field are: Boston College, Georgia Tech, NC State, Syracuse, and Wake Forest
  • The Tar Heels will play two games (a home and home) against Pittsburgh, Virginia, NC State, and Duke.
  • There will be one game against each of the other 10 conference teams: Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Miami, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest.
  • Georgia Tech, Clemson, Wake Forest, Boston College, and Miami will all be on the road.
  • FSU, Syracuse, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and Louisville will all be at home.

1 game against (in chronological order):

  1. @ GT (8-4)
  2. @ Clemson (10-2)
  3. @ Wake (9-4)
  4. #20 FSU (13-1)
  5. Syracuse (8-5)
  6. @ BC (7-6)
  7. VT (11-1)
  8. @Miami (10-2)
  9. #24 ND (11-2)
  10. #6 Louisville (11-2)

2 games (home and home) against:

  1. #5 Duke (12-1)
  2. NC State (11-2)
  3. Pittsburgh (11-2)
  4. #12 Virginia (11-1)
  • The Tar Heels will play seven conference games against teams currently ranked in the AP poll.
  • Match-ups with Virginia (#12) and Duke (#5) will be a game on each teams’ home court, accounting for four of the seven games.
  • Of the other three games against currently ranked teams, all three games will be at home – FSU (#20), Notre Dame (#24), Louisville (#6).
  • Road wins in conference are always hard to come by. There are four ACC teams (BC, GT, Syracuse, Wake Forest) who have yet to reach double digit wins for the season. Of the Tar Heels five road games against teams they only play once, three of them are against one of these four teams (all but Syracuse).

The ACC is deep and loaded. No team will make it through the 18-game onslaught unscathed. This is a veteran and battle-tested North Carolina team who should compete with Duke, Virginia, and Louisville for the ACC regular season championship. In order to do so, the Tar Heels must hold serve at home, win expected road games (Boston College, for example) and steal a few other road games against tougher competition. What are the keys to this happening? Joel Berry must stay healthy, Theo Pinson needs to return sooner than later and assimilate rather seamlessly, Justin Jackson needs to continue to be aggressive, and the three freshmen need to take another step forward. It all starts today against Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

 

 

 

 

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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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 – 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.

 

 

 

The Path To Houston, Part 1

The Path To Houston, Part 1

The path to March Madness glory is rarely paved with chalk. But what if it was? These are the teams the Tar Heels would play:

Round 1: Florida Gulf Coast

  • 21-13 (8-6)
  • 3rd in Atlantic-Sun

Round 2: USC

  • 21-12 (9-9)
  • 6th in Pac-12

Sweet Sixteen: Kentucky

  • 26-8 (13-5)
  • 2nd in SEC

Elite 8: Xavier

  • 27-5 (14-4)
  • 2nd in Big East

Final Four: Virginia

  • 26-7 (13-5)
  • 2nd in ACC

National Championship: Kansas

  • 30-4 (15-3)
  • 1st in Big 12

In the meantime, this is the first (of hopefully 6!) part of The Path To Houston, looking at the teams UNC will play on the road to Houston. First up, Florida Gulf Coast:

  • 21-13 (8-6)
  • 3rd in Atlantic-Sun
  • Mascot: Eagle
  • teamrankings.com gives UNC a 95% chance to win this game
  • UNC is favored by 22.
  • You might recall that in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, FGCU, as a 15 seed, beat Georgetown (#2) and San Diego State (#7) before losing to Florida (#3) in the Sweet Sixteen. That team was coached by Andy Enfield, who is now at USC, a potential 2nd round match-up for the winner of this game.
  • Interestingly, FGCU averages more possessions a game (73.3), than does UNC (72.4). Should be a fun, fast-paced, up-and-down game. Afterwards, we’ll probably hear Roy say something about the discrepancy in talent between the two teams.
  • Adjusted Offensive Efficiency
    • FGCU – 102.8 (179th)
    • UNC – 119.6 (5th)
  • Adjusted Defensive Efficiency
    • FGCU – 103.1 (163rd)
    • UNC – 93.8 (12th)
  • FGCU strengths
    • Defensive Rebounding
    • Shooting Accuracy
  • FGCU weaknesses
    • FT shooting

22 Points

I hate losing. If you are anything like me, every loss is a slow, painful death that sticks with you the rest of the season (and sometimes even in the years to come). I can name the Tar Heels’ 6 losses, in order, off the top of my head: Northern Iowa, Texas, Louisville, Notre Dame, Duke, and Virginia. All 6 of these teams are in the NCAA Tournament – or rather, would be if eligible (here’s looking at you Louisville). Here are the teams in order from strongest to weakest:

  RPI BPI KenPom NCAA Tourney Seed
Virginia 3 2 2 1
Louisville 17 8 11 Not in Tournament
Duke 19 11 22 4
Texas 27 37 30 6
Notre Dame 32 33 39 6
Northern Iowa 73 97 76 11

In some ways, it’s worse when the losses are really close games that you know you should/could win. Or worse yet, if it’s a game where you have a comfortable lead at some point, but can’t hold on to it.

Unfortunately, that was every one of these 6 losses. The Tar Heels lost these games by a measly 22 combined points. That’s an average of losing by 3.67. Or taken another way, Carolina lost by only 1-2 possessions a game. This is such a small margin of error: 1 or 2 extra turnovers, 1 or 2 missed boxouts, 4 missed free throws, 1 or 2 times not properly defending the pick and roll, 1 or 2 times not staying in front of your man, a silly foul, etc. You can agonize over the tiny mistakes that can swing a game. Or you can learn from them, remove them, and move on (not exactly Coach Smith’s mantra, but very similar).

The silver lining is that Carolina has been in every game it’s played this season. They have never been blown out – the largest loss was by 6 points. The largest deficit the entire season is 13 points (@ NC State). They’ve held a lead at some point in every game this season. They’ve either been tied or held a lead in the 2nd half of every game this season. In fact the only game they didn’t at some point have a 2nd half lead was the regular season loss to Virginia in Charlottesville.

So, at the end of the day, maybe these losses are not so unfortunate. Maybe this veteran group of Tar Heels have learned something from these 6 losses. Maybe those missing 22 points have helped them get tougher. The domination of the ACC tournament certainly seems to point to that.

Can those 22 points continue to be meaningful to the make-up of this team as the stakes get higher? We’re about to find out during the best 3 week stretch of every year.