Sunday, January 19, 2014
game preview: North Carolina
Date/Time: Monday, January 20; 7:00
Record against the Heels: 50-128
Last meeting: UNC 93, UVA 81; 2/16/13, Chapel Hill
Last game: UVA 78, FSU 66 (1/18); UNC 82, BC 71 (1/18)
UVA: 63.4 (#330)
UNC: 72.2 (#22)
UVA: 108.8 (#81)
UNC: 106.1 (#132)
UVA: 88.2 (#5)
UNC: 92.6 (#17)
UVA: .9172 (#15)
UNC: .8268 (#41)
PG: London Perrantes (4.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 3.4 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (10.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.9 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (11.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.9 apg)
PF: Akil Mitchell (6.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.3 apg)
C: Mike Tobey (7.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 0.4 apg)
PG: Marcus Paige (17.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.2 apg)
SG: Leslie McDonald (9.8 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 1.6 apg)
SF: J.P. Tokoto (9.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.8 apg)
PF: James Michael McAdoo (14.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.5 apg)
C: Joel James (3.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 0.2 apg)
So Florida State turned out not all that scary, and the supposed advantage of being able to make adjustments never panned out for the Noles. (Actually, it's more like this: I suspect they were made, and I base this on FSU's pretty good shooting percentage, but two things gave UVA the win. One, a leopard can adjust but can't change his spots, and FSU's spots happen to spell "turnover machine." Two, somehow I managed to totally forget that UVA won that Tallahassee game without Joe Harris. Getting him back was the best adjustment you can make, case closed, game over.)
However, I remain wary. UNC's start to the season has been awful, sure. Most everyone will lose to Syracuse, but good teams don't lose to Wake and Miami and let BC give them a run in their own gym. Then again, nobody else is going to beat Kentucky and blow out Louisville and Michigan State in one year, either. Carolina is liable to blow up at any minute if you ask me. Let's just hope they wait til after Monday.
-- UVA on offense
Whatever the problem with UNC, it's probably not defense. Even in most of their losses, the opponent scores less than 1 PPP. Carolina gets steals, blocks shots, defends shooters, all the stuff you'd expect out of an athletic and fairly big team like UNC basically always is. It's not just the guards getting in on the swiping; shooting guard Nate Britt is tops in steal rate but not far ahead of James Michael McAdoo, a power forward who's more athletic than most of the conference's power forwards.
UNC's backcourt rotation, though, is all over the charts. The above starting lineup is nigh-guaranteed to be wrong. A couple weeks ago, in the Heels' season preview, I wrote that it has all the appearances of Roy Williams practically pulling names out of a hat just to see what sticks. The starting lineup against Boston College more or less confirmed that; it included junior forward Jackson Simmons, who's been averaging 7.5 minutes a game. (Fun fact: Simmons is so little-used that one of his KenPom "most similar" comparisons to his season last year is Jerome Meyinsse's '08 season, when Meyinsse was a sophomore and firmly glued to the bench.)
Williams's conundrum is that, other than McAdoo and Brice Johnson, his frontcourt is pretty much generically interchangeable. They all foul a lot, for one - if any of them were 25-minute players, they'd spend a lot of time in foul trouble, but they rotate out so much that it's not a concern. (What will be a concern will be Akil Mitchell making his free throws. He could find himself at the line five or six times.) Johnson fouls a lot too, but he's a heck of a shot-blocker, elite rebounder, and even chips in with steals, and in general is UNC's best defender.
For our part, UVA has had some trouble lately with shot-blockers, seeing over 10% of their shots rejected, but the good news is that UNC is mostly lacking in enormous galoots like Boris Bojanovsky and Beejay Anya. Okaro White is a player not unlike McAdoo, and White got three blocks on Saturday, but overall I think UVA will fare better here and have less trouble in the rejection department. But they will have to make free throws, because of that UNC tendency to put people on the line.
Overall, UVA will probably find scoring fairly tough, barring another explosion of threes. (They were 7-for-11 against FSU.) UNC is kind of a middling rebounding team - McAdoo looks like a solid rebounder but that's largely due to getting so many minutes. He's actually not a great rebounder. Johnson is better, and Kennedy Meeks is a widebody big and pulls down quite a few (and in far, far fewer minutes) but otherwise they're quite average on the defensive boards. All that said, defense is something UNC does well, so the odds are against another 40+ point half.
-- UVA on defense
The alpha and omega of UNC's offense is point guard Marcus Paige, a prolific scorer who does point-guardy stuff pretty well, too. Paige is almost never out of the game, and UNC always runs an up-tempo game, so his scoring numbers are slightly inflated - but only slightly. He shoots equally often from three as from two - and almost all his twos are jumpers. Paige does quite like the pullup, preferring it almost exclusively to driving all the way to the rim. It keeps his free-throw rate down, which is a small plus for defenses since he's almost automatic at the stripe.
McAdoo, meanwhile, is beginning to improve his consistency, becoming a better shooter on the two-point midrange shots he likes. He, too, gets a much larger percentage of his shots away from the rim, but in his case the numbers are skewed a little because it doesn't count as a shot if you're fouled and miss - and McAdoo is fouled a lot. Teams beat him up because he's barely a 50% shooter at the line.
UNC also gets some good complementary scoring from Brice Johnson, and to a lesser extent J.P. Tokoto, but Tokoto is not going to consistently hurt you, and you don't really mind the ball in his hands. He's more liable to give it back. Another Heel with turnover issues is Nate Britt, whose UNC career is off to a really rough start. Britt's shots aren't falling, he's turnover-prone, and he recently relinquished his starting spot to Leslie McDonald. McDonald's efficiency has gone down quite a bit after a hot start, but he's a better alternative for the Heels than Britt, who saw just 10 minutes against Boston College.
Profile-wise, UNC is interesting in how much they eschew the three-point shot. No team in the country gets a smaller percentage of its points from threes, and only Paige and McDonald usually bother shooting them. (Tokoto may let one fly, but he's one you almost dare to shoot them.) I'm sure you're thinking by now how much the pack-line may find a favorable matchup in this, and you're probably right. UVA may want to play this the way they used to play Erick Green's VT teams: let the star (in this case, Paige) go completely off and try to shut down everyone else. McAdoo is a good place to focus the defense - if a guy like Tokoto beats you, well, OK, but that's not likely. This would've been an easier strategy when UNC was relying more heavily on Britt and didn't have McDonald, but still. Double-team, frustrate, and hack McAdoo and UNC looks a lot less frightening.
I'll probably never in my life believe UNC is a dead team till I see it for like four or five years in a row, and certainly not in a season when they've beaten so many national title contenders. But, for whatever reason, this Tar Heel team has gotten off to just an awful, awful start to the ACC season. Virginia Tech beat the Hurricanes, so there's no reason anyone else shouldn't either. Wake Forest's ACC losses have a combined 12-3 record, but still. Boston College is absolute crap and no real UNC team would've been caught letting them be within two points, in their own Dean Dome, 30+ minutes into the game.
So if I'm gonna be in the business of predicting outcomes, I just can't pick a team with no momentum and half a set rotation, on the road, against a team that's made a habit of setting fire to its ACC competition and coming one stupid-lucky bounce short of beating Duke in their own barn. UVA is fired up after a chippy outing against FSU; the ending of that game was the perfect antidote to post-rout complacency. Is it possible UNC could find themselves and explode for 85 points, controlling the tempo the whole way and throwing cold water on UVA's early-season magic? Absolutely it is. But the signs don't point in that direction.
Final score: UVA 64, UNC 56