North Carolina Loses The Great Teacher

February 9th, 2015

2015-02-08 12.59.14On the evening of Saturday, February 7, UNC lost perhaps its most important family member of the school’s storied history. Coach Dean Smith had suffered from dementia for many years, and his life ended quietly. The irony that such a sharp mind that steered so many storied comebacks would not be able to mount one in his own life is a bitter pill to swallow. That we are not in control of our fates is just one of the lessons Smith taught us.

There are hundreds of great stories being passed around these days about great Smith moments. Mine came after reading his book Multiple Offense and Defense. It is a fantastic, concise X’s and O’s manual for running several of the offensive and defensive sets Smith used in the first half of his coaching career. There are also great lessons about team play, running structured practices, acknowledgment of the groundbreakers that came before us, and the beauty of math in the game we love. That final point led me to corral my own stats for the team, which eventually blossomed into this website 20 years ago.

In the book Coach Smith explained his system for evaluating offensive and defensive efficiency, and stated that his team’s goals are to exceed 0.85 points per possession and to keep the opponent below 0.75 points per possession. The book was written before the advent of the 3-point shot, leaving me to wonder about how much that rule changed the stated goals. Woody Durham hosted a weekly call-in show with the coach and I was able to ask him my question on the air. He first stated,”Very good! You’ve done your homework,” then stated his updated goals of 0.95 and 0.85, respectively.

Apparently I’m not alone in being fascinated by the statistics basketball brings us, as evidenced by the popularity of Ken Pomeroy’s work. Pomeroy’s stats differ from Smith’s because Smith considered a possession to end when a field goal is attempted while Pomeroy considers it ending when the other team gets possession of the ball. Pomeroy reaches this figure by subtracting offensive rebounds from field goal attempts, making Total Possessions an irrelevant statistic. Smith’s method, on the other hand, leaves a Total Possessions differential which reflects the true rebounding, making his method much more useful.

When I was in Chapel Hill for college and dental school, I only had a couple of brushes with Dean Smith. One morning my dental class sat in a hallway waiting to take an exam. A hush fell on the group as Dean Smith walked down the hall by us after completing an appointment with one of our professors. It was as if we all wanted to be put into the game. We all got a chuckle at how we responded, but also were impressed that someone like Dean Smith thought that highly of our teacher.

I was lucky enough to get to sit behind the bench in ‘93 to watch the eventual National Champions play Duke on Senior Day. Committed recruits Jerry Stackhouse and Jeff McInnis sat in front of me while uncommitted Rasheed Wallace sat two seats toward midcourt. Wallace, of course, chose UNC over his hometown Temple, and Smith would later proclaim Wallace to be the best player Smith coached. The photo above is from the book Return to the Top, and shows me right behind Stackhouse and McInnis. Jim Valvano sat across the court doing his final full broadcast. Phil Ford, one of the greatest college basketball players of all-time, and Bill Guthridge, one of the best big-man coaches in the history of the game, were 10 feet in front of me. It was an incredible experience to be a spectator around these great masters of their craft. Of course from that angle one gets an appreciation of the vertical elements of basketball, but I was also able to appreciate the level of focus players from each team carried.

We essentially lost Coach Smith several years ago with the onset of dementia. Unlike other coaches, Smith retired and made few public appearances. In one of the many pieces of irony surrounding Smith, he was always proud of his ability to teach, yet could have taught us all so much about the game and life after retiring from coaching. Smith could be ruthless in team practices, slicing giants to pieces with his words. However those were  players (and families) into which he had emotionally invested. He would never have felt comfortable criticizing the play of players he didn’t know, so he never pursued the chance to teach us more.

Smith learned basketball from Phog Allen who learned basketball from the game’s inventor, James Naismith. While Smith may be gone and the building bearing his name may not stand for the remainder of our lives, Smith leaves an indelible mark on both the game and the culture of the State of North Carolina through not only his bountiful coaching tree, but also through the many of us whose lives were enriched by his work.

Heels Sputtering Engine A Long Term Worry

February 3rd, 2015

As we enter the final month of the regular season, we see a Tar Heel team that carries the same issues it did entering the meat of the ACC season. The team continues to outrebound opponents in the majority of games. However it’s defense has faltered in 6 of the last 9 games. The offense, the way Roy Williams is trying to run it, is maxed out and only delivering in half of the last 9 games. It is a team that finds itself vastly overrated at #12.

The core problems on offense begin at, but aren’t exclusive to, Point Guard play. In 7 of the last 8 games the team has turned the ball over on 14% or more of their possessions, breaking 20% in two games. Nate Britt’s assist:turnover ratio is 1.4, which is not awful, but not good either. Passes aren’t getting to the right places on big men, and jump shooters are having to corral on catches instead of catching in shooting position. The Point Guard play doesn’t have to be Kendall Marshall-level stellar for this team to be a deep threat in the tournament, but it has to be better than forgettable.

Another problem with UNC’s offense is the rotation. Williams is using too many people and there never is any kind of flow with any of the lineups. It is February, and it is too late in the season to be experimenting with players like James and Simmons.

Great Point Guard play will not come until Joel Berry is healthy and gets enough playing time, so that is out of Williams’ control for now. However instead of 4:4,  the rotation really needs to be a 3:5 grouping:

  • 4/5: Meeks, Johnson, Hicks
  • 1/2/3: (Berry), Britt, Paige, Tokoto, Jackson

With Berry and Pinson out, it puts a strain on the lineup. However the biggest problem with the rotation is in the frontcourt. There are 80 minutes to be had at the two frontcourt positions, and if Meeks and Johnson are going to play 28 and 26 mins, then Hicks should be getting 26 minutes. This exposes the primary problem with the big men, however, because Hicks is one of the most frequent foulers in the history of the UNC program. Johnson seriously lacks defensive control, so the coaches’ inability to teach these players how to play without getting dumb fouls a la Bill Guthridge is destroying this team’s frontcourt rhythm. Meeks and Johnson need to play 32 and 30 minutes, leaving 18 minutes for Hicks. This way the sets can be more consistent. This way the passing can be more tailored. This way UNC can run the ball into the post on the 2nd pass like it should.

There are only 8 games remaining in the regular season, and it is getting too late to make big changes with this team. Tightening the rotation in the frountcourt is the best thing Roy Williams can do for his backcourt. Once Berry gets healthy enough to play, he needs to play 20 minutes a game to get any kind of improvement before the tournament.

The sky isn’t falling on the program, but this season is quickly coming to a close and is headed toward being a pretty disappointing season, given the amount of talent on UNC’s bench. It will be interesting to see if Williams will make changes to give this team a chance to be excellent.

Heels Have The Tools, Need Tune Up

January 14th, 2015

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.

UNC Stumbles in Final Regular Season Game

March 9th, 2014

The second chapter of the UNC/Duke rivalry this season was a distinctly different affair than the first. Duke got an early 13-point lead, and never looked back en route to evening the series on the year. The Heels cut the lead to 2 before halftime, but ultimately could not stop Duke.

The media is wrong about this game. They will focus on how wonderful Duke’s offense was, especially from Hood and Parker. (Parker had his first 30-point game). Actually both Duke and UNC were on fire offensively last night. It was the 2nd best offensive game for UNC this season.

The game-changer, in fact, was rebounding. More accurate than raw rebounding, the stat that really matters is Total Possessions. Duke got ball 10 more times than UNC. It is the first time a team got a greater-than-one possession advantage since that miserable at-Syracuse game, fifteen games ago.

That’s actually pretty good, because those of us who track possessions know that being badly outrebounded is not in the Heels’ nature. In this game there were two perfectly good reasons for it: McAdoo’s foul trouble and Meeks’ sickness. Those two combined for 1 rebound. I doubt those two factors show back up again together.

This team will ultimately lose in the tournament, but it won’t be for the reasons it lost last night. It wasn’t a game that exposed a major weakness or gives fans something specific to worry about. The team that beats UNC is the one that outrebounds the Heels, stops the Heels’ fast break, and hits threes well. Duke did all three, but there aren’t a lot of teams out there that can do all three. As long as UNC brings the frontcourt effort, it will get to the Sweet 16 and it will be a successful year.

I’m actually OK with this loss, because ultimately I really want to play Virginia on Saturday of the ACC Tournament. That’s the matchup for which I’ve been waiting two months (and if it weren’t for John Swofford’s scortched-earth adoration of football, we would have seen this rematch in February). The UNC team has improved more than the Cavaliers have since that game, and I’m very interested to see how UNC matches up with them now.

In January UNC was on track to be the worst offensive team since the Dean Smith effigy, but since that Virginia game, they’ve scored no lower than 0.86 pts per possession in a single game. Before that point UNC had scored lower than 0.70 pts/poss in 4 of 5 games. UNC has gotten much more consistent offensively, and I credit the coaches and players both for that. This isn’t one of those “teams for the ages”, but it is a team has become fun to watch. The final, and most important, chapter on this team will be written in the next two weeks. Hopefully they can go into the postseason healthy, hungry, and ready to make some noise.

Multiple Defenses, Hallelujah!

February 20th, 2014

I am so excited! In coming back to beat Duke, we finally saw a multiple defense approach, and just as Dean Smith preached, change for a couple of possessions most of the time will _REALLY_ throw off the opponent’s offensive momentum. From the 16:00 remaining mark until 6:00 left, Duke essentially scored 6 pts, with 3 coming from one 3-pointer. What perplexed Duke’s excellent offense? Ever-changing looks did.

There’s been a lot of talk about the 1-2-2 that we run from time to time. I like how Roy put the lengthy Tokoto out front because it makes the reverse pass so difficult. We ran it for a couple of possessions at 14:40 and 14:00. McAdoo went out and Hubert came in, and we ran two possessions of man-to-man.

McAdoo came back in for Brice at around 12:00 and then we saw it for the first time since the Carter/Jamison era…the 1-3-1 with the baseline chaser. We ran it for 2 possessions, and Duke was REALLY stymied. After the under-12 timeout, we came out with man-to-man, and essentially blew up what K told them in the timeout. We went about 6-7 possessions with the Man, then with 5:15 left, we went 1-2-2, then ran the 1-3-1 at 3:40.

There were only 3 possessions of the 1-3-1, and that’s about all you need to really throw a team off.
Extra Credit question for those still paying attention: What was the HUGE wrinkle in the 1-3-1 that Roy threw in (compared to Dean’s approach)? . .. . . . . . . . . Instead of putting a mobile 4, like George Lynch, as the baseline chaser, he put Marcus Paige in. The nice thing here is that when Duke missed, Paige was right there for the upcourt push.

Out of these defenses, we got the break going. We are not a good team in the halfcourt set, but if we can get running, we are pretty good on O. FSU got back on D the first 3rd of the game. Once we got some runs out of the 1-2-2 and 1-3-1, Duke couldn’t get back anymore, and our offense roared.
Thank you, coaching staff, for finally implementing this. YEAH!!!

Heels Get By Maryland, Offense Still Sputters

February 5th, 2014

Against Maryland the Heels got off to an amazing start, scoring 19 points in their first 13 possessions. It was a 5:33 period where the Heels made 9 of their first 11 shots and found themselves up 19-3. Fatigue set in and the expected substitution pattern began, and the night almost completely fell apart. While the Heels did end up with the win, this bad offensive team ended up only slightly better than their history-making season average. In fact, after that hot start, the team only scored 56 points in their remaining 70 possessions (0.80 points per possession).

Breaking the play down by lines we see the following (in reverse order of effectiveness):

Positions 1-5, (possessions), Points/possession
(>3 possessions)
Paige, McDonald, Tokoto, Simmons, Johnson (7) 1.57
Paige,    McDonald, Tokoto, McAdoo, Meeks (29)    1.10
Britt, Paige, Tokoto, McAdoo, Hubert (4)    1.00
—–Offensive goal of 0.95——-
Paige, McDonald, Tokoto, McAdoo, Johnson (18)0.83
Britt, Paige, Tokoto, Johnson, James (7) 0.43
Paige, McDonald, Tokoto, Johnson, Meeks (7)    0.43
Paige, McDonald, Tokoto, McAdoo, Simmons (4) 0.00

(few possessions)
Britt McDonald Hicks McAdoo Johnson (2) 1.00
Paige McDonald Tokoto McAdoo Hubert    (2) 1.00
Britt McDonald Tokoto Johnson James (2) 0.50
Britt McDonald Hicks Johnson James (1) 0.00
Paige McDonald Hicks McAdoo Johnson (1) 0.00

By Player

(number of possessions in parentheses)
Simmons (11) 1.00
Hubert (6) 1.00
Meeks     (36) 0.97
McAdoo (60) 0.92
McDonald (73) 0.90
Tokoto    (80) 0.89
Paige (79) 0.89
Johnson (45) 0.78
Britt (16) 0.63
Hicks (4) 0.50
James  (10) 0.40
Paige as 1 (68) 0.93
Britt as 1 (16) 0.63



First, I’ll reiterated what I’ve said before: this team does not have defensive problems. This team’s problems are purely on offense. Maryland scored 0.78 points per possession, and this team wasn’t able to put them away until the final minute of play.

We saw the starters play a larger proportion of possessions than in any game this season. They got 29 of the 83 possessions, 35%, and they were stellar. For seven possessions at the end of the first half, the starting backcourt with Johnson and Simmons up front played well for 7 possessions, where Paige and Johnson went on tears.

Good things happen when certain players are on the court, especially Paige, McAdoo, Meeks, and Hubert. When Hicks and Johnson come on, all offensive momentum vanishes from the building. I don’t even know what the coaches are telling Hicks, because all I ever see him do is jack up ugly 3-point shots. While Brice Johnson scored a lot of points, his possessions outside of those in the first half’s final two minutes were just bad possessions. This team doesn’t flow well with him on the court.

The white elephant here is Simmons. When he was in the game the team scored efficiently, right? Well most of his good periods are when he was along for the ride when Paige and Johnson were scoring at will at the end of the first half. I’m not about to say that this evaluation proves that Hubert is the answer just as I’m not going to say this proves that Simmons is the answer.

The bottom line is that this team has a good backcourt rotation now, and it desperately needs one in the front court. McAdoo and Meeks went out of the game with 14:27 left in the first, and were wholesale substituted for Johnson and James, who were awful. From 12:31-9:02 there were 6 lineup changes. 5 of those lineups got one possession. During the 6-minute period where starters did not play, UNC scored 3 points and Maryland scored 10.

I think the front court can maintain more consistency if Meeks comes out first, at about 16:00, then is replaced by James or Johnson, then McAdoo should come out at 14:00. Meeks should replace James as soon as possible after that, then McAdoo should come back in with 10:00 remaining. In all honesty the front court needs to be pared down to a 3-man rotation. The minutes that Meeks and McAdoo play together are great, but the minutes Meeks plays with Johnson are some of the worst we have. The important thing to remember is that while Brice Johnson had a few good minutes at the end of the first half, his presence on the court does not make this a very efficient scoring machine, and that will cost the team in the long run.

Against Maryland, Nate Britt was particularly ineffective. He is a terrible shooter and doesn’t get the ball up the court fast enough on live ball changes. However while Paige plays well at PG, we still need Britt to be the primary SG. This four-man rotation of Britt, Paige, McAdoo, and Tokoto is getting many minutes together, and that’s why there is more consistency in the backcourt than the front court. Time for the coaches to make some tough decisions.

Heels Show Strengths at Tech

January 30th, 2014

UNC went to Georgia Tech and display the same, wretched offense it’s shown in most games this season, scoring just 0.59 points per possession. The Heels took a 26-25 lead to the locker room for halftime, and it looked like UNC was in for another tough night against another bad ACC opponent. Things looked worse in the second half when two starters, JP Tokoto and James Michael McAdoo had to sit for early foul trouble in the first 4 minutes of the second half. What we didn’t expect, though, was UNC’s stellar second half performance.

The Heels were on fire in the second half, scoring 1.44 points per possession. That’s a total that far surpasses their best game effort in the 19 seasons I’ve been tracking possessions. While I don’t have data breaking the games down by half, I would venture to say that 1.44 points per possession is one of the highest rates of scoring for a half by any UNC team in the last 20 years; including 9 teams that at least got to the Final 8 of the big dance.

This was not a half to simply overlook. It wasn’t that GT was bad, that we happened to hit shots, that we happened to make free throws, etc. We’ve played worse teams. We’ve shot well before…but not like this. For 2 starters to be out of the game, there had to be more to it. So, I broke down each offensive possession in the second half and looked at the 11 lineup combos used up to the 1:13 mark where McAdoo fouled out. (At that point GT quit playing). Please remember that our offensive goal is to exceed 0.95 points per possession.



PPP    (POSS)  PG SG   SF   PF   C
1.75 (4) Paige    McDonald    Tokoto    McAdoo    Meeks !   
3.00 (1) Paige    McDonald    Tokoto    McAdoo    James   
0.00 (1) Paige    McDonald    Hicks    McAdoo    James :(
1.50 (2) Paige    McDonald    Hicks    Johnson    James
1.00 (2) Britt    Paige    Hicks    Johnson    James
0.80 (4) Britt    Paige    Hicks    Johnson    Meeks :(
0.75 (4) Britt    Paige    McDonald    Johnson    Meeks :(
2.00 (4) Britt    Paige    McDonald    Meeks    Hubert !
0.00 (1) Britt    Paige    McDonald    McAdoo    Hubert
1.40 (5) Britt    Paige    McDonald    McAdoo    Meeks
1.00 (2) Britt    Paige    McDonald    Tokoto    McAdoo
1.80 (5) Britt    Paige    McDonald    Tokoto    Meeks
TOTAL 31poss 39pts = 1.26  (thru point where McAdoo fouled out)

    POSS    PTS    PPP
Paige    31    39    1.26
Britt    23    26    1.13
McDonald24    33    1.38 !
Tokoto    7    12    1.71 !
Hicks    10    9    0.90 :(
McAdoo    14    19    1.36
Johnson    13    12    0.92 :(
Meeks    22    29    1.32
Hubert    5    8    1.60 !
James    6    8    1.33

Possessions with neither Tokoto nor McAdoo: 1.18 pts/poss
Possessions including either Tokoto or McAdoo: 1.36 pts/poss
Possessions with BOTH Tokoto and McAdoo: 1.71 pts/poss

Possessions with Paige acting like the PG: 1.21 pts/poss
Possessions with Britt acting like the PG: 1.20 pts/poss

Lineups that played > 3 possessions, (in decreasing order of effectiveness. PPP (# of poss) names):
2.00 (4) Britt    Paige    McDonald    Meeks    Hubert !
1.75 (4) Paige    McDonald    Tokoto    McAdoo    Meeks !   
1.40 (5) Britt    Paige    McDonald    McAdoo    Meeks
0.80 (4) Britt    Paige    Hicks    Johnson    Meeks :(
0.75 (4) Britt    Paige    McDonald    Johnson    Meeks :(


I’ve said for the past 6 weeks now that the problems with this team are not so simple that a lineup change can suddenly make this a Final 8 team. I’ve also stated that their defense, while not stellar, is not even remotely a problem in the conversation of why this talented bunch cannot compete with Wake Forest and Miami. While these aren’t particularly earth-shattering there are some
lessons to be learned from this half of basketball:

  • This team plays the same with either Britt or Paige acting like the PG (Paige sometimes hogs the position from Britt)
  • Brice Johnson did not play well, but this isn’t just this game. He needs to be used, but sparingly.
  • Looking at these lineups that worked, the top three, Roy is starting his most effective players (Paige, McD, Tok, McA, Meeks). However  this team does fine when Tok goes out, Britt comes in a 1 and McDonald slides to 3.
  • This team is definitely better with Tokoto and McAdoo in the game, especially together.
  • This team only works when Marcus Paige is making outside shots and penetrating and dishing.
  • Leslie McDonald continues to be a left-side of the floor shooter (almost exclusively)
  • Leslie McDonald can catch & shoot and can drive the baseline effectively. Anything else is likely not going in.
  • Marcus Paige continues to be a right-side of the floor shooter (almost exclusively)
  • Britt and Hicks are _miserable_ shooters.
  • UNC scores much more effectively when it pushes tempo
  • UNC scores much more effectively in halfcourt sets when at least 2 passes are made. UNC players are too addicted to one-on-one moves,   and when those occur there is almost never a person down low to rebound.
  • This team’s halfcourt offense has improved in the last 8 games. We are seeing more movement away from the ball, however they still have a long way to go in terms of setting picks to get guys open. (players traditionally score a MUCH higher percentage in the halfcourt set on catch&shoots off a screen than they do in any other situation other than fast breaks).
  • We aren’t "just shooting better". The team  is setting up shooters better. We didn’t see any 180-degree curls, screen curls in the direction of the shooter’s dominant hand (awful), etc
  • This team has _plenty_ of shooters good enough to compete with Wake Forest. The shooting talent on this team won’t take them to the Final 8, however they are plenty good enough to win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament. What we saw from mid-Dec to mid-Jan was a team that was destined for the NIT.
  • James Michael McAdoo has brought his left foot back under his body during free throws, thankfully, is better balanced, and is shooting better. What is still tripping him up, however, is that his right hand is not under the ball enough on free throws, making his left hand affect the trajectory (bad)
  • Nate Britt has a weird right-spin on his FT shot that needs to be corrected in order to improve his percentage. 
  • Tokoto’s rate of turning the ball over and his assist/turnover ratio is not startlingly bad for a small forward. The number of good, stationary picks he sets away from the ball _is_ startlingly bad.
  • If Roy will pare down this 10-man rotation to 8, this team will get consistency and be a lot better:
      1,2,3: Paige/Britt/McDonald/Tokoto  4,5: McAdoo/Meeks/James/(Johnson OR Hubert)
  • Leave (Hubert or Johnson), Hicks, Simmons, and Davis on the bench. It’s February and time to start getting down to a core rotation.

Why Do We Even Play The ACC Tournament?

March 12th, 2013

Ever since the open era of the NCAA Tournament began there has been much concern about the necessity of conference tournaments. Much like a football conference championship, the even provides an opportunity for the league’s best teams to lose, exhaust themselves, and risk injury. Rarely do the top 3 or 4 teams in the regular season affect their NCAA Tournament seeding considerably, so the event focuses on bubble teams and their chance to impress the selection committee one last time.

Some argue that the event, therefore, is not good for the league, and carries little weight. The fact is, however, that as expansion rendered leagues unable to set equitable regular season schedules, conference tournaments mean more than they ever have.

Consider this matrix:

MIA - 2 2 1 1
DUK 2 - 2 1 2
UNC 2 2 - 2 2
UVA 1 1 2 - 1
NCS 1 2 2 1 -

This matrix shows the number of times each opponent played the other top 5 teams in the league. As you can see, UNC is the only team in the Top 5 that had to play the other 4 twice. UVA only had to play one team twice, and was able to feast on the Clemsons and Virginia Techs of the world.

So, in a league where days off and tiebreakers are determined by a single game, the lopsided schedule presents an arbitrary value to teams that supersedes the action on the court. We have to have the conference tournament to determine the champion because with an unbalanced schedule, it is the only way to determine a true champion.

Close Games Fell Away

March 11th, 2013

Reflecting on this regular season, the Heels found themselves in the position of being in few close games, and losing the majority of them. (Note: All but one of these games came before the lineup conversion.


  • @FSU – Up 3pts with 0:16 remaining
  • VT – OT game that was nailbiter from 15:00 onward


  • @UVA – Down 3pts with 2:26 remaining
  • MIA – Down 3pts with 4:00 remaining
  • @NCS – Down 5pts with 0:30 remaining
  • @DUK – Down 3pts with 0:37 remaining

A few possessions here and there could have made this 2-4 record swing the other way and we are talking about being a 3-seed. We should have been prepared for the Texas game. That was a 4-point game with 7:30 remaining.

To be honest, I think this small lineup we saw in February, with more experience, turns 4 or 5 of those 7 games into wins. In fact, they probably would have been UP by a handful of possessions at those specific points in time.

Shots Dropping, So Are Opponents

March 8th, 2013

The old saying in basketball is that it all looks great when shots go in, and for the Heels lately, the shots have definitely been going in. UNC has shot greater than 33% from behind the 3-point arc in all but one game since the Duke game. Therefore it is no surprise that the Heels have scored at least 0.94 points per possession in all but one game since then, too.

What was that one game of poor shooting? At Georgia Tech. UNC shot 38% from the field, 30% from behind the arc, and only scored 0.88 points per possession. Still, though, that’s a scoring efficiency margin that just barely ranks below the medium for this season. What won that game? great defense. Georgia Tech scored 0.70 points per possession and turned the ball over on 23% of possessions.

Shots have, indeed, fallen, though the success of this team in March will really lie in their ability to find some other way to win on that night when shots are not falling. In this stretch since the Duke game, UNC has taken 37% of their shots from behind the arc, well above their rising season average of 30.7%.

Roy Williams has harped on rebounding, and he is correct in pointing this out as a weakness of this guard-oriented lineup. Since the Duke game UNC has gotten more possessions than their opponent on only one occasion. It is truly a live by the 3…die by the 3 team at this point.

For this reason it is imperative that the Heels develop a penetration game. Marcus Paige showed against Maryland’s full court zone press that his ball handling is below average for point guards, however his penetration would be respected. The Heels could also turn to Dexter Strickland (a great finisher) for penetration as well as PJ Hairston (a weak finisher). As teams play us for the penetration it will open McAdoo or a perimeter shooter for an open shot.

Unfortunately most of our 3-point shots have come from perimeter passes. While these have fallen at a rate as I as any in UNC’s history, this streak will not continue and UNC will need to turn to another method to score. Wouldn’t it be great if UNC had 6 more weeks to iron out these offensive details? This is why the late move to the 4-around-1 lineup still remains a problem for the Heels. While Roy Williams deserves praise for breaking from his usual offensive form, this team is still quite immature offensively, and they honestly need a few hundred more minutes of game time to be the best team they can be. There is a ceiling for this squad, however it is probably too late to extend the potential of what this team can do.

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Tomorrow night’s Duke game will be the focus of the nation. Duke has looked the part of a 1-seed this week with the return of mobile big forward Ryan Kelly. UNC essentially started its season at the beginning of February. The key matchup will be Ryan Kelly and his defender. Kelly is strongest on the perimeter, but is slow. Who will guard Kelly? Many in the media go with Bullock because of this reaching height, however I think Hairston would be more effective on Kelly. I think Kelly will have a bit of an off shooting night, anyway, so I would like to nudge Duke into putting Kelly on PJ Hairston. This is a delicious mismatch that I think could lead to a 25-point Hairston performance.

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Many in the media have said that Roy trumped the Inside Carolina message board posters by inserting Hairston for a big man and not Dexter. Some did call for that, but not HOOPla! Check out the links from this page. You’ll see that I called for this lineup on 11/21, 12/19, and 1/10. I’ll especially point out this passage from November 21, 2012:

"I’d try more 4-around-1 with Paige/Dex/Hairston/Bullock/McAdoo."

But you know what? I was wrong. It seems that the best lineup for UNC is actually Paige/McDonald/Hairston/Bullock/McAdoo. According to Adrian Atkinson (@freeportkid), that McDonald lineup is leading ACC opponents 57-20 in the 21.5 minutes they’ve played together.

What happens when McDonald is in the game for Dexter? Obviously we haven’t seen a big sample size to know, but from what I’ve gathered, we are better on both sides of the ball. McDonald is a more efficient scorer than Strickland (especially from the left side of the court), and his presence as a shooter completely shuts down opponents’ intentions of double-teaming anyone. Defensively Strickland has gotten much public praise, however he really is just an average defender, mainly due to his short arms. McDonald has better reach and is harder to get around.

Keep an eye on this lineup, but don’t expect Roy to notice how well it has been playing until some time in May.

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