How to watch or listen to the game
Tip time: Noon ET, Saturday, Jan. 16
TV: ESPN (Dave O'Brien, Dick Vitale, Allison Williams)
Online streaming: WatchESPN
Radio: Wolfpack Sports Network (affiliates)
Record: 15-2 (4-0)
Pomeroy ranking: No. 8
Best win***: 89-81 over Maryland (KenPom No. 16)
Worst loss: 71-67 to Northern Iowa (KenPom No. 90)
(***Best win or loss based on opponent's Pomeroy Rating, not the scoring margin.)
Adjusted tempo: 74.0 poss/40 minutes (ranks 25th)
Adjusted offensive efficiency: 122.5 (ranks 1st)
Adjusted defensive efficiency: 97.8 (ranks 66th)
The UNC offense and starters
|UNC Offense -- Four Factors||eFG% (National Rank)||TO%||OR%||FT Rate|
|2014-15||51.6 (74)||18.2 (109)||40.0 (5)||35.2 (225)
|2015-16||54.5 (26)||14.9 (13)||38.6 (12)||34.5 (220)|
Roy Williams is in his 13th season as head coach at North Carolina. His offenses have finished in the top 20 in offensive efficiency eight times. The Tar Heels are No. 1 in that category this season. The Heels constantly attract premium talent, and Ol' Roy knows what to do with with that talent.
UNC's offense under Williams has a couple of staples; the kind of thing you can set your watch to. The Heels are almost always a dominant offensive rebounding team. They've finished outside the top 25 in offensive rebounding just twice during Roy's tenure.
They're good at what they do and they do it quickly. The burn doesn't necessarily come in fast breaks--Carolina doesn't force a lot of turnovers. More often it comes in secondary breaks. And few teams are better at nabbing quick buckets after the other team just scored. In that regard, they're always looking to steal points, and all it takes is a brief loss of focus on an opponent's part to hand over some free layups.
This season, North Carolina has improved its shooting and cut down on turnovers while maintaining an excellent offensive rebounding rate. The Heels are benefiting a lot from Brice Johnson's breakout senior season, but beyond that this is just a group of dudes who have been together for a while. Johnson, Marcus Paige, Kennedy Meeks, Nate Britt, Joel James, Isaiah Hicks--all upperclassmen.
Paige still keys the UNC offense, and he's hardly been worse for wear despite an injury that forced him to miss the early part of the season. Most of Carolina's rotation is shooting better than 50% inside the arc. The outside shooting can be a liability, and the Heels don't bother with a lot of threes, but regardless, history says that's never been an impediment for Williams' teams.
This contest is likely to be decided by the forwards. If Brice Johnson has his way with things, and if the Tar Heels grab a healthy number of offensive boards, NC State is in biiiiiiiiiig death-type death trouble. (Typically you want to avoid that.) NC State's interior defense has been good this season, defensive rebounding excepted. State's bigs can compete here, but more so than last year, they need to win.
Marcus Paige (6-2, 175) -- Paige is shooting a career-best 41.7% from three and a career-best 52.5% from two. The only regression to his shooting has come at the line, where he's down to a pathetic 80.6% (career FT%: 85.9). He has also done a much better job taking care of the ball.
Joel Berry (6-0, 195) -- Pretty good at basketball.
Justin Jackson (6-8, 200) -- Jackson's statistical profile after his freshman season made improvement as a perimeter scorer seem inevitable, but that hasn't been the case. He remains a 70+ percent shooter at the free throw line, and he's improved his two-point shooting from 54.4% as a freshman to 60.9% as a sophomore. But he's only hitting 23.1% of his three-point tries after making only 30.4% last season. He is sometimes too willing to settle for a three.
Brice Johnson (6-10, 230) -- Brice Johnson was already a good player, but now he's on a level where averaging 17 and 10 doesn't entirely do him justice. Johnson is making 64.4% of his twos, and he's making 80% of his free throw attempts, which is well up from his career average. His defensive rebounding percentage is 30.6, which ranks sixth nationally. This means that when he is on the court, he's grabbing three out of every 10 available defensive boards. That is an insane number. (And he is above-average at the offensive end, too.) It's all coming together for him.
Kennedy Meeks (6-10, 260) -- I'm guessing Meeks will be back in the lineup since he made his return last Saturday after missing seven games with an injury. He is your standard Meeks, consisting of one full Meeks unit. Actually that's not true--I've heard he lost some weight. Good rebounder at both ends, good scorer in the paint. Forty-five years old.
The UNC bench and defense
Reserves: Nate Britt (6-1, 175), Isaiah Hicks (6-9, 235), Joel James (6-11, 280), Theo Pinson (6-6, 205). A fun fact! (Well, it's funnish.) Theo Pinson is 14-38 (.368) inside the arc and 14-38 outside the arc. That is an acceptable shooting percentage in one of those two places.
Nate Britt's three-point accuracy has gotten better with each succeeding season, while his two-point accuracy has been left for dead because of typical Short Guy Problems. Make him put it on the deck.
Hicks might be having a headlining year of his own if he had the playing time to complement his incredibly efficient output. Dude is making nearly 70% of his twos in a secondary role while grabbing a lot of offensive rebounds. His free throw rate is way up, and like Johnson, he's knocking down better than 80% of his free throw attempts.
Joel James is somewhat useful but mostly inadvisable.
|UNC Defense -- Four Factors||eFG% (National Rank)||TO%||OR%||FT Rate|
|2014-15||45.4 (34)||17.7 (261)||31.2 (173)||37.8 (199)|
|2015-16||49.5 (167)||18.4 (174)||26.9 (63)||27.8 (30)|
Carolina's 2FG% defense and defensive rebounding have improved in 2016. Thing is, though, that Carolina's wealth of tall people discourages opponents from taking twos. Last season, that was entirely fine for UNC, as opponents shot only 30% from three. This year, opponents are shooting 38.4%. And UNC opponents attempt threes so often, even Jim Boeheim would be like, "wow that's a lot of threes."
Basically when you have a lot of imposing size, you effectively force opponents into something resembling a zone offense, even if you aren't running zone defense. Carolina profited from that last season and this year they're feeling a little burn. These are the whims of the unfeeling god of basketball gravity. This god does not care about circumstance; doesn't have the time. For somewhere there is a shooting guard whose three-point attempt has just bounced two-to-six times off the rim, and a resolution is imperative.
The UNC and NC State defenses are strikingly similar in that both have been tremendous defending shots inside the arc and awful deterring shots beyond it. State's been a bit better in the paint, and the teams have allowed identical three-point shooting percentages. Carolina has just been markedly better in the turnover and rebounding categories.
This Tar Heels defense is not exceptional and can be exploited, but it probably helps if you have a guard-heavy team. So ... y'know.
The Pomeroy Predictor likes UNC by 16.