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UNC is doing fine with Hubert Davis, but it does have some weird stuff going on

I’m sorry to report that it’s rivalry time once again.

NCAA Basketball: NC-Asheville at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Hubert Davis didn’t exactly take on an easy task when he replaced Roy Williams as the head coach in Chapel Hill. For one thing, he’s following a guy who won three national titles. For another, there were bound to be overblown crises of confidence within the fanbase at the first signs of struggle, given that Roy and his stellar track record were no longer there to reassure people.

Indeed there has been no shortage of consternation this season, mainly because UNC has been blown out a few times this season. That includes a 17-point loss to Tennessee, a 29-point loss to Kentucky, and more recently, losses by 20-plus at Miami and Wake Forest.

Those are some eye-opening margins, and it’s understandable that fans would tend toward panic over the leadership of a guy who has never been a head coach before. See but here’s the thing though: UNC finished Roy’s last season at No. 34 in the Pomeroy Ratings; UNC is currently No. 37 in the Pomeroy Ratings.

Also Roy’s last game was a 23-point loss but that’s fine because it was in the NCAA tournament or whatever. Sorry, I digress.

2021-22 Tar Heels

... Adj OE/DE (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
... Adj OE/DE (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
Offense 112.7 (29) 51.4 (117) 16.7 (53) 30.8 (108) 30.9 (152)
Defense 97.3 (61) 49.4 (161) 13.2 (355) 19.5 (3) 21.1 (10)

While it’s far too early for this program to fully reflect Davis’ coaching style, there have been significant changes already. The most prominent of those to me is the decreased emphasis on offensive rebounds. Frankly it’s just weird not seeing UNC among the most dominant offensive rebounding teams in the country.

The Tar Heels finished in the top 15 in offensive rebounding rate in each of the last eight seasons, and this year they lie just 108th.

UNC is also shooting threes at a more modern rate now, which presumably has as much to do with the coaching change as the roster. A little over 35% of the Heels’ shots this season have been threes—still a relatively low rate, but much higher than your standard Roy Williams UNC team.

These Heels are shooting a lot better from the perimeter, too. It helps that both Caleb Love and RJ Davis went from horrendous as freshmen to good as sophomores. Both are shooting over 40% from three, and both are averaging in double figures.

But power forward Armando Bacot is still UNC’s most important player, particularly in a front court that was thinned by two transfers (Walker Kessler, Garrison Brooks) and one departure for the NBA (Day’Ron Sharpe).

Bacot averages 16.3 points per game on 58% shooting inside the arc, and he’s an elite rebounder at both ends. In league play, he leads the conference in OR% and DR%. He is grabbing 35% of the available defensive boards when he’s on the court, which is insane.

UNC doesn’t have the depth of size that it’s used to, though, especially if Dawson Garcia is out again. (Garcia has missed the last two games because of an illness in his family.) There’s not a lot of depth, period. The Heels rank 316th in bench minutes, and in their last game, the five starters each logged at least 34 minutes.

I’m not suggesting they can be worn out—they are playing just as fast as they did last season—but the shorter the rotation, the more likely an off night or some foul trouble becomes a substantial hurdle.

Defensively, UNC is a fascinating experiment in extremes. The Heels have dropped 34 spots in defensive efficiency from last year and their FG% defense has been average, but they are elite on the defensive glass and rarely send teams to the line. They’re also in the bottom five in turnover rate.

That’s a wild ride! You had better be damned good on the boards if you aren’t forcing turnovers or a noteworthy number of missed shots, and UNC has somehow managed to live this way. I hope this proves a lasting Hubert Davis Coaching Signature, not just because it produces mediocre results, but because it is really weird.

Are there arm restrictions on these guys? Like are they required to keep their hands within a foot of their hips as long as the other team possesses the ball, but as soon as a shot goes up, their arms are free to fly like magnets to the ball? Additional research is required here.

I like the concept, though. Have your players put their arms in prison, and then when they’re unleashed, they’re like, “wow I can put my arms everywhere!” and thus find a tremendous emotional edge against an opponent that has grown complacent by way of consistently utilizing the standard range of motion for any given appendage.

Hey, it’s been more effective than anything NC State has tried to do this season.

KenPom has UNC by 10.