Late Night Loss Exposes Some Of UNC’s FlawsPosted by nvr1983 on November 26th, 2011
When college basketball fans wake up in the morning they will have a new #1. Ok, maybe that will not officially come until Monday when the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls are released, but for all intents and purposes Kentucky is your new #1 team in the country. Around 12:40 AM, while much of the East Coast was already asleep, UNLV took down top-ranked North Carolina, 90-80. While the loss will inevitably send Tar Heel message boards into a panic, it isn’t the end of the world, but it is instructive in some of the weaknesses that it revealed (or refreshed in our minds).
- Kendall Marshall: Like every other college basketball fan we love some parts of his game. His court vision is exceptional and he makes a lot of great passes without making the “And 1 Mix Tape” pass. Having said that, he is not very athletic nor is he a good shooter. We don’t expect our point guard to jump out of the gym, but there are times (and there will be times) where Marshall’s lack of lateral quickness will cost the Tar Heels. Marshall does enough things well and he has enough help inside when he gets beat that this will not be an issue, but against a team with a quick point guard and good interior players that UNC’s big men cannot help off of without giving up easy points, this could be an issue. As for his shooting, we cringe every time Marshall takes an outside shot. He can make them (37.7% from three-point range last year on just 53 attempts), but if we were a defender we would happily concede that to fall back on occasion to block some of his entry passes.
- Free throw shooting: The Tar Heels shot 60.6% (20-33) from the free throw line tonight. We would be willing to let this go, but they were shooting 60.7% coming into this game, which puts them at 299th in the nation. This wouldn’t be such a big issue except that UNC’s strength is on the inside, which means they should get to the free throw line a lot. Tonight they were in the bonus with almost 10 minutes to go, but their inability to hit free throws and then their reluctance to go into the post (perhaps a fear of missed throws?) cost them a relatively easy opportunity to get back into the game. What is even worse is that they do not have a single player on the team who can be counted on to consistently hit free throws. After tonight’s game they only have two players shooting over 70% from the free throw line (P.J. Hairston at 83% on 12 attempts all year and Marshall at 75% on eight attempts all year). We don’t want to go “sample size” on you, but those are really small sample sizes. Hairston is a freshman so we don’t have a reliable prior free throw percentage for him, but Marshall shot 69% last season. As for the players on the team that actually get to the line? None of them even hit two-thirds of their attempts. You are probably thinking that 60.7% isn’t that bad and there is some data to suggest that we tend to overrate the importance of free throw shooting. Still 60.7% is really, really bad. How bad is that? Do you remember the most famous bad free throw shooting team of all-time? The 2007-08 Memphis Tigers? The ones that shot so poorly from the line that their coach went on-air to defend them before their season collapsed when they missed key free throws down the stretch? They shot slightly better at 61.4% from the free throw line as a team.
- Outside shooting: UNC’s strength is on the inside. We get it. Coming into tonight’s game they only got 20.1% of their scoring from three-point shots (297th in the country), but as a team they were shooting 41.7% (35th in the country), a number that will go up slightly after they hit four of nine of their 3-point attempts. Still it is curious that they were down by double-digits late in the game, but were not willing to pull the trigger more often as just nine of their 66 field goal attempts were from outside the arc (13.7%). UNC is good enough at the other facets of the game to win the vast majority of their contests, but it should be concerning to their fans that the team is unwilling or unable to shoot from long-range when they need to. In today’s game, a complete team needs to be able to shoot from outside to decrease their vulnerability to the upset. While both teams shot similar percentages from the field (43.1% to 42.4% for UNLV) and three-point range (44.4% to 40.6% for UNC) overall, the Rebels’ more frequent use of the three-point shot meant they held the solid edge in effective field goal percentage (52.1% to 45.5%). It is unlikely that UNC will run into many teams playing as well as UNLV did tonight, but it only takes one and UNC’s inability or unwillingness to shoot three-pointers will make it difficult for them to overcome a big deficit on nights like these.
- Soft interior: UNC’s strength is on the inside? You could have fooled us tonight. UNC boasts several interior players who should be first-round picks in the NBA Draft whenever they decide to declare, but tonight they got their butts kicked. Not only were they out-rebounded 44-36, Mike Moser (17 rebounds) embarrassed UNC’s tall but thin big men. Moser along with the rest of the Rebels managed to gather 31.7% of their offensive rebounds while UNC got just 21.1% of their chances. Both numbers are well below what either team has averaged up to this point, but if the Tar Heels are going to win games like this they are going to need to dominate on the inside. Perhaps their talented big men just are not tough enough yet for these type of games.
We certainly are not going to write off the Tar Heels yet and even though they will not be the #1 team in our poll on Monday they will be up there, (#3 on my personal ballot), but despite what the early season hype suggested, this UNC team (like every other team) has some significant flaws. They have enough strengths in other areas to overcome those issues and they will have the opportunity in the coming week with dates versus Wisconsin then Kentucky to prove themselves.