clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Previewing North Carolina: Thank you, sir, may I have another rivalry game?

New, 64 comments
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

How to watch the game

Tip time: 7 p.m. ET, Wednesday Jan. 14

TV: ESPN2 (Bob Wischusen, LaPhonso Ellis)

Online streaming: WatchESPN

Radio: SiriusXM 91, Wolfpack Sports Network (affiliates)

UNC vitals

Record: 12-4 (2-1)
Pomeroy ranking: No. 9
RPI: No. 13
Wins vs. Pomeroy top-100: 5
Best win: Louisville (No. 8 in Pomeroy Ratings)
Worst loss: Iowa (No. 44 in Pomeroy Ratings)

Adjusted tempo: 70.2 poss/40 minutes (ranks 17th)
Adjusted offensive efficiency: 113.1 (ranks 14th)
Adjusted defensive efficiency: 90.5 (ranks 17th)

UNC @ StatSheet
UNC roster
UNC schedule
UNC 2014 stats / 2015 stats

The UNC offense and starters

UNC Offense -- Four Factors eFG% (National Rank) TO% OR% FT Rate
2013-14 49.9 (158) 16.9 (76) 38.1 (13) 42.1 (97)
2014-15 48.9 (161) 18.1 (75) 44.9 (1) 38.2 (146)

North Carolina looks a lot like it did last year--but slimmer!--on paper and on the floor with the bulk of its core back for 2015, led of course by ACC preseason player of the year Marcus Paige. The changes that UNC did endure weren't going to damage the Heels' offense; if anything, they should be better because of them, and they have been, improving about 35 spots in the offensive efficiency rankings over 2014.

They finally jettisoned the inefficient James Michael McAdoo after he was mortally wounded by NBA scouting critiques. (Picture Sonny Corleone being gunned down in The Godfather.) McAdoo couldn't shoot when he was alive, either, so it wasn't a huge deal to lose him.

Additionally, I have heard rumblings about some Kennedy Meeks weight loss. If that weren't enough, Nate Britt went and became right-handed. On a side note, I'm still deeply hurt by Nate Britt for abandoning his left-hand heritage. YOU'RE GOING TO MISS THE NEWSLETTERS, PAL. That's just more left-handed scissors for the rest of us, though.

Leslie McDonald graduated, but like McAdoo he was an inefficient scorer who took more shots than he should have, so again, the negatives for UNC's offense are not exactly piling up here.

The Heels have managed to decline in a few places, but not drastically in any case. I thought this would be an improved shooting team at the very least, and instead they've stagnated.

Marcus Paige's accuracy has been down across the board, which hasn't helped. Carolina's touted freshman class hasn't offered a lot of support, with Joel Berry and Theo Pinson struggling to score efficiently or earn playing time. Justin Jackson scores well inside the arc but isn't giving UNC the perimeter scoring help it could use. Pinson and Jackson both were top-15 players but haven't had the sort of instant impact that's expected from kids ranked that high.

This has been another mediocre shooting team as a result, but they've had the good sense to grab a hell of a lot of the shots they miss, which is making a significant difference. In three conference games, the Heels are boarding 47% of their misses, and they are first in in the league in offensive efficiency despite ranking 11th in eFG%. Second chance opportunities have been crucial.

And Carolina is almost always good in this area. Roy Williams loves him some offensive boards. It feels like whenever State has been hammered by UNC in recent years, it was because Carolina's rebounding opened the floodgates. It was a routine Sidney Lowe had us on. Dumb routine, not sure what that was about.

With Paige playing through a nagging plantar fasciitis injury, he may not regain his form from a season ago--not that this would prevent him from making game-winning shots, right, Louisville? That may tie offensive rebounding more closely to UNC's long-term fortunes than they would prefer. In the near term, it almost certainly will be tied, one way or the other, to the direction of the game on Wednesday night.

Starters

Marcus Paige (6-1, 175) -- Paige's decline in output is largely thanks to his two-point accuracy falling off a cliff; after he shot 49.3% from inside the arc last season, he hitting 38.5% in 2015. His 3FG% has dipped from 38.9 to 35.2, while his free throw shooting has gone from 87.7% to 79.2%. (So, he's slightly more human but still really great from the free throw line.)

Justin Jackson (6-8, 193) -- His 76% shooting suggests he's a better three-point shooter than he's shown to this point (7-35 from deep), but whether it'll come around the rest of the way is anybody's guess. He produces more inside the arc, anyway, where he's a 57% shooter.

J.P. Tokoto (6-6, 200) -- On the bright side for Tokoto, he is posting career-highs in the FT rate, FT%, 3FG%, and assist rate categories. On the dreary side, he is turning the ball over more often than ever, and his 2FG% is a career-low 42.9%. In each of the last two seasons, he made at least 53% of his twos. The drop hurts because he doesn't shoot many threes to begin with, so his improvement there can only go so far.

Brice Johnson (6-9, 228) -- Good shot blocker, good rebounder at both ends, though not quite Kennedy Meeks' match in either category. His workload is the highest of anybody in the rotation, and he's hitting 52.7% of his twos; he'd be higher than third on UNC in scoring if he weren't hampered so often by fouls. As it is, he's picking up 5.6 fouls per 40 minutes.

Kennedy Meeks (6-9, 270) -- I hope you are all steeling yourselves now for the storm that's coming. Yes, I'm talking about the great weight discussion of 2015. Kennedy Meeks and BeeJay Anya on the same court, probably defending each other! MY GOD WHAT WILL THEY TALK ABOUT I WONDER. The discussion may go on for the full two hours, or perhaps it'll just keep coming up briefly every five minutes. The only thing I'm certain of is that I'm already tired of hearing it.

Anyhow, Slim here has seen his shooting accuracy both in the paint and at the free throw line improve now that he is lighter of mind and body. His block rate is a bit higher thanks to that extra clearance he's gettin'. He was an exceptional rebounder at both ends last season, which has not changed.

The UNC bench and defense

Reserves: Nate Britt (6-1, 175), Isaiah Hicks (6-8, 230), Theo Pinson (6-6, 195), Joel Berry (6-0, 195), Desmond Hubert (6-10, 225), Joel James (6-10, 280). These six have seen time in all 16 of Carolina's games, but most of them are playing secondary roles in the offense, at best. Hubert, for instance, has as many turnovers (5) as field goal attempts this year. But he's also only on the floor for a handful of minutes.

Berry and Pinson are a combined 11-43 (25.6%); Pinson has just been bleh all over the floor--39.4% inside the arc, 64.3% at the line. Berry at least is off to a good start inside the arc (12-22).

Britt is shooting 36.1% from three, but he hasn't been one to take a half dozen long jumpers every night. He has 36 three-point attempts on the year, though that actually ranks second on the team behind Paige (105). As was the case last year, the Heels just don't rely on outside shooting (and just don't have many options). There are only six schools shooting threes less frequently.

Britt's switch from lefty to righty has made him better from outside and at the line but has done little for his 2FG%, which is well below 40.

UNC Defense -- Four Factors eFG% (National Rank) TO% OR% FT Rate
2013-14 47.0 (69) 19.3 (104) 31.3 (166) 41.4 (199)
2014-15 41.5 (11) 19.3 (201)
32.1 (213) 38.4 (204)

UNC's interior defense is excellent, with the exception of the rebounding component, which has been below average. The Tar Heels rank 36th in block rate, helping them limit opponents to 42.7% shooting inside the arc. Their shot-botherin' talent discourages a lot of teams from bothering to hit the paint and leads them instead to settle for threes. Carolina is forcing three-point attempts like a team that plays 2-3 zone all the time.

For every 10 shots UNC's opponents have taken, on average four have been from beyond the arc. And those opponents have hit only 26.4% of those three-point tries. Two things: obviously, if Carolina could keep this arrangement for the entire season, it would continue to be hugely beneficial.

But there is almost certainly some luck involved in opponents shooting that badly, and with that usually comes the promise of regression. If opponents begin to heat up a bit while continuing to go bombs away on the Heels, that defense starts to look more vulnerable. Something to keep an eye on Wednesday, and the rest of the season.

Pomeroy Predictor likes the Heels by three.