The first part of this 2015 season has been a trying one for UNC fans. The team, sporting 6 McDonald’s All-Americans, has struggled to show any kind of cohesiveness and consistency. They have played great some games, terribly in others. While the Heels aren’t a beautiful team, areas of their performance thus far are historically outstanding and now show us how this team can go from good to great.
Against the 5th most-difficult schedule in the country thus far, UNC has held opponents to only 0.78 points per possession. That’s the best defensive of any UNC team in the 19 years I’ve tracked this statistic. That’s a period where the school has won 2 National Championships, been to 5 Final Fours, and put dozens of players into the NBA. The goal is to keep teams below 0.85, and this team is surpassing the stated goal by an impressive amount.
- UNC is averaging 4.5 more possession than opponents, the largest
margin in the tracking period, too. This means that this team is the best rebounding UNC team in the last two decades.
- UNC is the #4 team in the nation in defending the 3-pointer (and that’s including the stats from the Notre Dame game).
- UNC is averaging 0.90 points per possession on offense. That ranks
#15 in the 19-year period. (goal is to be >0.95)
- UNC is turning the ball over on 14.4% of its possessions. That’s a fairly average performance compared to other years.
Therefore we can easily conclude that this UNC team is being held back by its shooting, specifically its jump shooting. The team is shooting 31% from 3, good for a #271 national ranking (345 ranked). They are #302 in 3 pointers made in each game.
With this weakness with outside shooting, one would think UNC would play to its strengths, however they are attempting 24% of their shots from beyond the arc. Usually Roy’s teams can shoot the 3 well, and only take about 22% of their shots from behind the arc.
Adrian Atkinson has posted other statistics about this UNC team on Twitter (@freeportkid). The two key conclusions from his stats are that UNC’s offense falls apart when Kennedy Meeks is on the bench and that UNC’s offense is better with Marcus Paige at the SG spot than it is with him playing PG.
How can the Heels become a top-tier contender for the national championship? There are three steps:
- Guard Play – UNC has to have Joel Berry as its primary PG in order to be great. With Paige being the only reliable outside shooting threat and nursing a nagging plantar fasciitis injury, Paige does not need to be playing PG. Nate Britt has seen many minutes at PG, however his ball handling and quickness will ultimately keep him from being the PG this team needs to be top shelf. Berry has the tools (the ballhandling, the speed, the penetration ability), but is raw. We are two months away from the ACC Tournament, and it is time for this team to transition so Berry can be seasoned for the post season.
- Narrowing the Rotation – As we say every year at this time, Roy is playing too many lineup combinations for the team to ever get any offensive flow. At some point he will narrow the playing time to 9 guys, yes, but two years ago it wasn’t until Valentine’s Day, and it was too late for the team’s offense to gel. Currently 10 players are averaging at least 9 minutes. It is time to sit James, Simmons, Hubert, and use Britt and Jackson as the 8th and 9th men.
- Key on Meeks – Kennedy Meeks is averaging 22.4 minutes per game. It is time to get his minutes up to the 28-30 range, and run the offense through him. Every halfcourt possession needs to start with an entry pass to a big man whose response moves the defense. Paige needs to be used solely as a jump shooter and cutter, but not as a PG. The team also needs to experiment more with playing only one big man, with Tokoto at 4 and Pinson at 3. That would be a lineup that would blow by most teams.
There is still much ball to play this season, however given the play in the 16 games thus far, UNC is not headed toward having a memorable season. They look like a team that might make the Sweet 16, and not a serious contender for the Final Four. They do have the tools, however, to tune up and be one of the elite teams in the country and in the rich history of the program.