I know this is technically late, being it 10:30 or whatever, but whatevs. Again, I will be pulling out some major player-by-player breakdowns sometime tomorrow, hopefully early. And, in case you are interested, I answered some questions for the folks over at 35 seconds, the EDSBS equivalent of college basketball blogs. They have Q-and-A's with bloggers for all four Final Four teams, and all are definitely well worth the read.
Now, without further to do, here are KenPom-driven initial thoughts on North Carolina. And yes, these still count as 'initial', despite the fact that the game is tomorrow, because I said so. Deal with it.
- First off, their offense is really, truly insane. In their two previous games, both NCAA Tournament contests in the Charlotte regional, they took on the 4th and 6th best defenses in the country, in Louisville and Washington State respectively. While Wazzu successfully slowed the Tar Heels down to a sleep walk, they still lost by 21 points. And Louisville, well, not so much. Actually, the Cardinals did play a close game against the Tar Heels, and still held them to "only" 83 points, but weren't as celebrated because they actually wanted to play a basketball game. Wazzu only wanted to muddy up the game enough to make it resemble a high school girls basketball game, at least in terms of score and style, allowing them a chance to squeak in. But I'm getting off track, this all started with me praising their offense. And to close out, their offense is clearly the best in all of college basketball. Of course, the other three teams in the Final Four have adjusted defensive efficiencies of 2, 3 and 5, making North Carolina's 19 quite the outlier.
- Looking further in-depth at the offense of the Tar Heels, they are especially awesome at one thing. Offensive rebounding. This is particularly disconcerting, considering we have struggled all year long in boxing out on the defensive glass. This must change on Saturday if we have a realistic shot at winning, despite the fact that no one is talking about it. Maybe I am just being paranoid, but when the best offensive rebounding team in the country is our opponent, I am getting a little worried. Here is my prediction: no one really recognizes the problem before the game (I'm talking fans, not coaches) and after North Carolina has 21 second chance points in the first half, everyone will be screaming willy-nilly. And I will be here, telling the world 'I told you so' through this blog, right here. But hopefully I am wrong.
- Further analyzing the O, a couple more things stand out. First off, they don't shoot a whole lot of threes. Like, at all. Only 22% of their shots are taken from behind the three-point arc, less than every other team in all of America. Except the Larry Eustachy-led Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles. When I think of Southern Miss, I immediately think of two things. Brett Favre and SMQ. Call me crazy, but that is what's up. Moving back to the perimeter shooting thing, they actually aren't that bad at shooting them, shooting 38% (good enough for 54th in the NCAAs), and four members of their rotation are shooting 35.8% or better (Ginyard, Ellington, Green and Lawson in order of awesomeness, although Ginyard has only thrown up 28 threes). Still, their offense is so focused on the man-in-the-middle, that they don't have possessions to waste on silly extra-pointers. Nope, everything has to go through Psycho T, and who am I to disagree with the best offense in America? The second thing that sticks out is that they like the free throw line. They get there quite often, and are very efficient once there, led by their All-American Psycho T's 80.6% (well, actually he is fourth on the team, but since he has been to the line an incomprehensible 371 times, he gets the nod). Four players on their roster have FT percentages in the 80's, making a foul-fest a very dangerous proposition, indeed. So, hopefully the refs call basketball the way it is supposed to be played, with some momentum and flow, and we stay away from the ticky-tacks. Or, again, this thing may be over early in the second half.
- After that incredibly disheartening preview of their offense (honestly, with that monster of an O, how did they lose at home to Maryland? Maryland?), it gets a lot more positive when looking at the defense. Actually, their defense isn't as horrible as you would be led to believe, and is one of the better D's in college basketball. But, it sticks out like a sore thumb when looking at the teams considered true title contenders (Tennessee's is even worse, of course). Talking specifics, a couple of things stick out. One, they don't force a whole lot of turnovers, which is good news for me. We turned the ball over a helluva lot in Detroit, and that can't happen in the City of the Alamo. However, they are very good at not allowing second-chance opportunities and not fouling. Of course, everyone knows that North Carolina gets the benefit of the refs, so that is probably the reason for the discrepancy in the fouls ;). They also do a much better job guarding the perimeter than the interior, at least in terms of national rank. I have said all week long that we will need to be on from the perimeter to have a chance, and I still believe that, but we will also have to make our presence known inside. And as weird as this sounds, I think our bigs will do better now that they are playing players of equal height, especially DA.
- UNC only goes eight deep, basically, now that Bobby Frasor is out for the season. Of course, he has been out for the year for about 4 months now, but still worth noting. Their key bench guys (read: only guys you will see on the floor in San Antonio barring a blowout) are Danny Green, whom most consider the sixth man of the year in college basketball, Quentin Thomas and Alex Stepheson. And really, only Green provides really solid, quality minutes, so if there is an advantage in depth, I think it goes our way. Will Graves might see some action as well, I guess, but I haven't seen him in the UNC action I have seen this season.
Oh, and horrible news about Rodrick Stewart. During Friday's public practice, he slipped on a wet spot of the floor and landed awkwardly, breaking his kneecap. He likely wouldn't have seen much game action anyway, if at all, but it still sucks big time to have your college (and likely basketball) career end like this. Of course, if it provides some extra motivation for the players, or something crazy, and they credit for a national title, he will never buy another drink in the city of Lawrence, so maybe this is all for the best. But seriously, my heart goes out for Rod. This sucks, big time.