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Meet Roy Williams' Tar Heels, same as they ever were

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Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

How to watch or listen to the game

Tip time: 8 p.m. ET, Saturday, Jan. 7

TV: ESPN (Dave O'Brien, Jay Bilas)

Online streamingWatchESPN

Radio: Wolfpack Sports Network (affiliates)

UNC vitals

Record: 13-3 (1-1)
Pomeroy ranking: 8
Best win***: 71-56 over Wisconsin (No. 10 in Pomeroy Ratings)
Worst loss***: 75-63 to Georgia Tech (No. 141 in Pomeroy Ratings)

(***Based on opponent's Pomeroy Rating, not margin of victory/defeat.)

Adjusted tempo: 73.4 poss/40 minutes (ranks 28th)
Adjusted offensive efficiency: 117.8 (ranks 11th)
Adjusted defensive efficiency: 92.0 (ranks 16th)

UNC roster
UNC schedule
UNC stats 2017

The UNC offense and starters

UNC Offense -- Four Factors eFG% (National Rank) TO% OR% FT Rate
2015-16 52.6 (54) 15.4 (21) 40.7 (3) 32.3 (285)
2016-17 51.9 (106) 18.0 (113) 42.5 (2) 37.3 (121)

Since the dawn of time, man has been able to set his watch to Roy Williams' offense. Roy's teams will always play up-tempo, always crash the offensive glass effectively, and always shy from three-pointers. That last bit is not exactly a modern approach, but when you have a bunch of top-100 kids on the roster it's a lot easier to thrive in spite of something like that.

Roy's brand of speed and interior focus still works well, though the Tar Heels are not short on guard/perimeter play (pun possibly intended), either. Joel Berry has stepped up his role as a scorer now that Marcus Paige is gone and has thrived as the guy keying the offense--he's hitting a career-best percentage from two, from three, and from the line.

Kenny Williams also has assumed a bigger role, partly out of necessity, since the Heels have been missing wing Theo Pinson, and because Nate Britt is, well, Nate Britt. The Heels expect to have Pinson back for the first time this season on Saturday night; he's been out with a foot injury.

Williams has been a solid jump shooter this season, and Justin Jackson has been outstanding as the good ol' inside-outside threat on the wing. Jackson has established himself as the alpha dog of this UNC offense, and like Berry, he's scoring as efficiently as he ever has.

For NC State, defensive rebounding is always exceptionally important in this matchup. Usually, State fails badly at this task and the game goes badly. It'd be nice to see that change tomorrow.

Starters

Joel Berry II (6-0, 195) -- Berry's 2017 is less a breakout than a natural evolution from his sophomore season. He has improved his shooting across the board in each subsequent college season, growing his scoring efficiency apace with his workload. If he can keep hitting 43% of his threes and 55% of his twos (the latter seems unlikely), he'll certainly find himself on the All-ACC team somewhere.

Kenny Williams (6-4, 180) -- Williams played sparingly as a freshman but has logged major rotation minutes in 2017, though he still hasn't had a ton of influence on the scoring. He's a deferential jump shooter, a secondary option who has proven decent (34.8%) from three-point range when he's taken those opportunities.

Justin Jackson (6-8, 210) -- Jackson could always score effectively inside the arc--that hasn't changed. He's at 53.9% from two this season and his career number is 54.0%. What's different about Jackson so far is his newfound three-point accuracy. He has never finished a season with a 3FG% better than 30.4 and in 2017 he is hitting 36.3%. Based on his statistical profile, there's no reason to believe he can't maintain that number going forward.

Isaiah Hicks (6-9, 242) -- Hicks has come a long way from his freshman season in 1954, when he barely played. Ol' Roy has had a lot of good luck when it comes to keeping kids patient and on the roster for four years, and it's been paying off a lot. I guess that's where it helps to be a "brand name" program with a hall of fame coach--kids are more inclined to give the benefit of the doubt rather than transfer.

Anyway, Hicks is not a go-to player by any means, but he has been an excellent scorer in the paint over the last 1+ seasons, and he'll hit a good percentage of his free throws, which is always added value from a big. He is prone to turnovers and fouls (6/40 min), however, and probably should be better on the defensive boards.

Kennedy Meeks (6-10, 260) -- If anybody on this team should be pumping the brakes, maybe it's Meeks, who has a career-low shooting percentage along with a career-high usage rate. Increased workload usually comes at some cost to efficiency, and it's not like Meeks has ever been an exceptional post scorer. Good, sure, but maybe not good enough to deserve the number of attempts he's getting. He is a damned rebounding machine, though--at both ends--and a significant part of UNC's ongoing efforts to smash everyone to death on the offensive glass.

The UNC bench and defense

Reserves: Nate Britt (6-1, 175), Theo Pinson (6-6, 211), Tony Bradley (6-11, 240), Luke Maye (6-8, 235), Seventh Woods (6-2, 180), Brandon Robinson (6-5, 162).

In order here, we have: a three-star, a five-star, a five-star, a three-star, a four-star, and a four-star. This is the crap we're eternally up against, man. (And UNC fans complain that the NCAA stuff has hurt their recruiting!)

Pinson's an x-factor given he's not played all year, but he's been a bit of a bust, at least relative to his recruiting ranking coming into college. Bradley is the next great forward for UNC and should be a key part of the lineup with Hicks and Meeks graduating after this season. In limited minutes, Bradley has been a decent scorer in the paint and an insanely good offensive rebounder.

Maye is just useful enough in that he's competent enough at this level not to really hurt you. ("You" being UNC in this case.) Woods and Robinson are both off to horrific shooting starts to 2017 and are unlikely to shoot often, anyhow. They'll collect a few spare minutes here and there.

UNC Defense -- Four Factors eFG% (National Rank) TO% OR% FT Rate
2015-16 48.1 (84) 18.2 (167) 29.9 (182) 30.4 (51)
2016-17 46.0 (54) 20.2 (102) 26.1 (51) 29.2 (67)

Offensive and defensive rebounding are separate skills and there's no better example of that than UNC. Since Roy took over, the Heels have been in the top 50 in OR% 12 times (out of 13 seasons). They've been top 50 in DR% only four times. UNC is typically elite on the offensive glass and average-to-good at the defensive end.

Perhaps this is another top-50 year for UNC on the defensive boards, but history says don't bet on it.

Roy likes himself a big-ass team (note: not a big-assed team), which has its pros: namely, opponents are more inclined to settle for perimeter jump shots. It also comes with drawbacks, since it can be more difficult to be a disruptive defense with all those tall dudes who need three seconds for a thought to reach their hands and feet.

The Tar Heels have done a decent job of forcing turnovers this season thanks primarily to Britt and Berry's thievery, but they also lack an elite shot blocker. An aggressively handsy defense runs counter to Roy's approach--he'd rather his team sit back and let the opponent try to figure out how to crack his roster of huge dudes.

UNC is known for it's up-tempo play offensively, but at the defensive end, the Heels really bog things down. Last year, for example, they ranked 345th in defensive possession length (i.e., those possessions took a lot of time). That's a bit of an extreme but not out of character. This season, they're 239th in defensive possession length, with opponents taking an average of 17.4 seconds per possession. They turn opposing offenses into glaciers by avoiding too much risk and playing to their size. That is both smart and effective, I am sorry to say.

The Pomeroy Predictor likes UNC by 14.