What North Carolina Needs to Do to Beat Providence

Posted by Chris Kehoe on March 19th, 2014

North Carolina has its hands full tonight with its first round match-up against #11 Providence. The Friars are red-hot at the moment, coming off a Big East Tournament title that included an upset win over Creighton. Head coach Ed Cooley placed a premium on winning the title in Madison Square Garden because the Friars hadn’t won it since 1994 and only once in the past 34 years. Providence may have lucked out in avoiding top seed Villanova after the Wildcats were upset by Seton Hall at the buzzer, but they still managed to get past the Bluejays and college basketball’s likely NPOY. The Friars’ best player, senior guard Bryce Cotton, was a unanimous first team all-Big East selection and he is a handful for any defense. A capable scorer who has increased his distribution skills this year, Cotton is much like North Carolina’s Marcus Paige in that they are both rail-thin, ball-dominating guards that are relied upon heavily from the perimeter. Their battle at that position will be one of the key match-ups in this game, and if Paige can play Cotton even or better, the Tar Heels will be well positioned to advance.

Marcus Paige must be looking forward to his matchup with Bryce Cotton (Photo: Robert Willett/ Raleigh News & Observer)

The competitor in Marcus Paige must be looking forward to his matchup with Bryce Cotton ( Robert Willett/ Raleigh News & Observer)

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Kennedy Meeks Needs the Majority Of Minutes for UNC Down Low

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 31st, 2014

Even with all the uncertainty swirling around the North Carolina roster through the first half of the season, the consensus among most was that interior depth would not be a problem. And sure enough, Williams has shown that he will play his surplus of big bodies in nearly every game. Each Tar Heel post player has a unique skill set that lends itself to different moments and match-ups, but the center position has been an area that UNC has not been able to count on for consistent production. Recent ACC wins against Boston College, Clemson and Georgia Tech have indicated, perhaps, that this may be a concern of the past.

More minutes has meant more production from Kennedy Meeks and North Carolina. (USA TODAY Sports)

More minutes has meant more production from Kennedy Meeks and North Carolina. (Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports)

One reason for the up-and-down production over the course of the year can be tied to the fact that the individual manning the post at the opening tip-off has not gotten starter’s minutes. Sophomore Joel James started the first 10 games of the year before getting injured versus Texas, and he’s started two games since, averaging just shy of 11 minutes per game. James started all three games against Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky, and yet played fewer minutes than Kennedy Meeks versus the Cardinals (11 minutes to 24) and Spartans (16 to 18), and fewer than both Brice Johnson and Meeks in the victory over Kentucky (13 minutes compared to Johnson’s 24 and Meeks’ 19). Surely Williams saw something in James to name him the starter for those contests, but if he was going to play so sparingly, why not let someone else man the post to get in an early rhythm?

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Truth or Myth: Reviewing Roy Williams’ Key Lineup Decision Last Year

Posted by Brad Jenkins on October 17th, 2013

On February 13, 2013, North Carolina’s season was in limbo. That evening the Tar Heels would take a 6-4 ACC record into Durham against a highly favored Duke team, while coming off their worst performance of the conference season, a 26-point blowout loss at Miami. But for Roy Williams’ team, that UNC-Duke game was the debut of a new smaller lineup featuring P.J. Hairston starting in place of big man Desmond Hubert. Although UNC would lose that game by five points, 73-68, the new lineup had bigger Duke looking slow and confused for much of the night. From that point, the Tar Heels ran off  six straight conference wins, finished third in the league with a 12-6 record, and went on to make the ACC Tournament championship game before losing to top-seed Miami for the third time. National media types lauded the lineup change as a brilliant coaching move by Williams, while many local media and Tar Heel fans were left asking what took so long for the head coach to make the move in the first place. Before we turn our full attention to the upcoming season, let’s look back at some of the truths and myths concerning that North Carolina lineup decision as well as address some reasons as to why the move wasn’t made sooner.

PJ Hairston and Friends Survived the Villanova Comeback

Inserting PJ Hairston Was The Key Lineup Change Last Season

Truth or Myth #1 – The Lineup Change Had a Tremendous Positive Impact

This would be a big affirmative. UNC’s record improved from 6-4 in the ACC before the switch to 8-3 afterward, including the games in the ACC Tourney. But more than that, North Carolina just looked like a much better team and the stats back that up. Basically the net effect of the lineup change was to remove 20 minutes from post players Hubert, Joel James, and Brice Johnson and redistribute them among the perimeter players, with Hairston picking up more than half of what was left. As expected from a decision to take away significant minutes from big players, defensive efficiency was most negatively impacted.

In comparing the Tar Heels’ last 11 ACC games with the first 10, defensive two-point field goal percentage rose three percent and opponents’ offensive rebounding percentage rose seven percent. But the new and much quicker lineup forced more turnovers and defended the three much better. The net result was that the defense got slightly worse, allowing 1.02 points per possession (PPP) compared with 0.98 PPP in the first 10 ACC games, but the flip side is that the Carolina offense really took off. The smaller unit cut turnover percentage down by three percent, improved their effective field goal percentage by three percent, and raised the team’s overall PPP from 1.02 to 1.12.  They clearly were a much better overall team after the switch — even more than the improved record indicates — especially when you consider that the only three ACC losses after the switch were to either Duke or Miami, two of the top 10 teams in the country last season.

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Night Line: Indiana Displays Just Some Of Its Potential In 24-Point Blowout of UNC

Posted by EJacoby on November 28th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @EJacobyRTC on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that evening’s games.

So this is why Indiana garnered the #1 preseason ranking for the 2012-13 season. Despite coming into Tuesday night’s game with a 6-0 record and 32-point average margin of victory, the AP poll’s top-ranked Hoosiers had yet to produce a statement performance to legitimize their candidacy as the best squad in all of college hoops. It took overtime to dispose of previously unranked Georgetown last week, and Tom Crean’s team faced another tough test with the Tar Heels coming to town for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Indiana did not fool around this time, easily disposing of North Carolina, 83-59, in a game that showcased a tantalizing display of offensive basketball by the Hoosiers from start to finish. All doubts about IU’s true “top-seed upside” are quelled for the time being after it ran a young-but-explosive UNC team off the floor in Bloomington by out-executing and out-smarting the Tar Heels; even in an imperfect shooting night.

Cody Zeller and Indiana soared past North Carolina on Tuesday night (AP Photo)

For long stretches of Tuesday night’s game, the Hoosiers – ranked #2 in this week’s RTC Top 25 – played a completely flawless brand of unselfish basketball. Crisp passes flew around the Assembly Hall floor at seemingly light speed, leaving the Carolina defense with no chance to rotate quick enough to challenge IU’s knockdown outside shooters or strong post finishers. Strong outlet passes from forwards reached lead guards Yogi Ferrell and Jordan Hulls before UNC could catch up, and the Hoosiers converted time and time again in transition. Indiana totaled 21 assists on 33 made field goals through its balanced attack. The game film of this 24-point blowout ought to become its own best-selling clinic video in ball movement, as IU converted at 1.12 points per possession against the #14-ranked team in the country. Tonight’s IU assist total (21) outpaced that of the leading team in that category nationally (Maryland, 19.3 per game), and the performance boosted IU up to the top offensive efficiency rating (125.5) in the nation.

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NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by EJacoby on March 21st, 2012

Evan Jacoby is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.

The Midwest Regional begins Friday night in St. Louis with with North Carolina vs. Ohio followed by Kansas vs. NC State. Our East Regional Reset and West Regional Reset published Tuesday, while our South Regional Reset will publish later today.Make sure to follow RTCMWRegion for news and analysis from St. Louis throughout the weekend.

New Favorite: #2 Kansas (29-6, 16-2 Big 12). How do the Jayhawks become the favorite in this region after nearly being upset last round by #10 Purdue, in a game they should have lost? First of all, the regional semifinals and finals are being played in St. Louis, a much closer destination for KU fans than any of the other teams, making for a solid home-court advantage for the #2 seed. But more importantly, the #1 seed just lost its point guard and floor leader to a broken wrist. Kendall Marshall is arguably the most indispensable player to his team in this entire tournament, and North Carolina has no backup for its star PG. This makes Kansas the favorite going forward in the wacky Midwest.

St. Louis' Edward Jones Dome Hosts the Midwest Regional Finals

Horse of Darkness: #11 NC State (24-12, 9-7 ACC). Don’t let the #11 fool you; NC State is an incredibly talented team from the ACC that has the talent, size, and coaching experience to compete with anyone it matches up against. Despite underachieving for much of the season and barely getting into this tournament, the Wolfpack found that perfect match of offensive firepower and collective defense to take down their first two opponents. It won’t be a shock if this team can give Kansas a game on Friday night. NC State used its size inside (Richard Howell, C.J. Leslie) to hold Henry Sims of Georgetown to just four points last round, and they will look to do the same against Thomas Robinson and Kansas this weekend. Should they advance, the Wolfpack are familiar with conference foe UNC and nearly beat the Tar Heels in the ACC Tournament, and that was with a healthy Kendall Marshall. NC State is a serious dark horse here, despite facing the regional favorite on Friday.

Biggest Surprise, 1st Weekend: #13 Ohio (29-7, 11-5 MAC). We thought that John Groce’s team had a great matchup in the round of 64 against #4 Michigan, a team that plays a similar perimeter style, but it’s still a huge surprise that the #13 seed took down the Big Ten co-champions in a game that it controlled almost the entire way. D.J. Cooper and company then outplayed #12 South Florida in the second half to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, becoming this year’s Cinderella story as the mid-major, double-digit seed to advance to the second weekend. Now Ohio has to match up with powerhouse #1 North Carolina on Friday, but the Bobcats are on a roll and will try to make magic happen once again.

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Night Line: Instant Classic a Result of Duke’s Late-Game Execution, UNC’s Lack of It

Posted by EJacoby on February 9th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor to RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

Austin Rivers’ three-ball went down for Duke at the buzzer, and Mike Krzyzewski’s team walked away with a stunning road victory in Chapel Hill on Wednesday night. This 85-84 Blue Devils win will always be remembered for the freshman guard’s late-game heroics, but there were plenty of other factors that played into the result. By now, I assume everyone has seen the shot, which will undoubtedly go down as one of the all-time great moments in the 92-year history of the Tobacco Road rivalry. But it cannot be forgotten that this game was actually not a back-and-forth classic between the two teams. North Carolina led the entire second half, including a nine-point advantage at the under-four minute timeout, and gave the game away by failing to make any winning plays down the stretch. Meanwhile, Duke was clinical from the outside and knocked down clutch shot after clutch shot, capped off by the game-winning shot by Rivers as time expired. All that was left from there was a completely silenced Dean Smith Center, an elated Blue Devils sideline, and a moment that will be replayed hundreds of times this season.

Austin Rivers is About to Silence a Crowd of Thousands in this Game-Winning Shot for Duke (Getty Images)

If you want to know why North Carolina blew an 11-point lead at home with 4:09 to play, the answer certainly begins with the clutch play of Duke’s Rivers. But it doesn’t end there. He had a career-high 29 points on 6-10 shooting from three, but one man cannot be solely responsible for erasing a double-figure lead in four minutes. Instead, look at the home team’s attempts to close out the game and what they did wrong, which includes three missed free throws, three offensive rebounds allowed, two turnovers, and a total of one field-goal attempted in the final four-plus minutes. Leading 79-68, UNC allowed Duke to score after a missed three with a second-chance putback. Then came the barrage of mistakes, which were incurred on offense by way of clanked free throws and lost-ball turnovers. On the other end, Duke was 6-8 from the field to close out the game with three huge three-pointers and three other deep jumpers.

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Chronicling the Georgetown-Syracuse and Duke-Carolina Rivalries

Posted by EJacoby on February 8th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor to RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.

Two of the four or five greatest rivalries in college basketball resume this evening in one of the best nights of the regular season. Georgetown-Syracuse is the longest powerhouse rivalry of the Big East, while the battle for Tobacco Road is one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports. Here’s a look at their histories:

Georgetown Hoyas vs. Syracuse Orange:

Georgetown and Syracuse Have Been Elite Rivals Since the Days of Patrick Ewing and Long Before (SI Photo/A. Hayt)

  • Last 5 Years – Recently, Syracuse holds a 6-4 edge in meetings since 2007. Each team has won at least once on the other’s home floor, with the road team actually winning the past three games of the series and the home team winning the previous seven. The Hoyas made the Final Four in 2007.
  • Last 10 Years – Going back further in the decade, the Orange were more dominant, holding a 12-7 total lead in the past 10 years of games. They won five in a row at one point from 2003-05, which includes their 2003 National Championship season.
  • Last 30 Years – Syracuse holds a 36-31 overall advantage in all matchups since 1980, with a total average score of 71-71 in those games. Pretty crazy. They are also in a 6-6 tie during this span in Big East Tournament matchups. Each team holds one National Championship during this time, as Georgetown got theirs in 1984. The Hoyas have four Final Four appearances, the Cuse with three. This is a truly juggernaut rivalry of Big East supremacy.

Duke Blue Devils vs. North Carolina Tar Heels:

Duke vs. Carolina: Rivalry, Defined (SI Vault)

  • Last 5 Years - North Carolina has a 6-5 edge in meetings since 2007, with each team having been crowned National Champions once during this recent history. Carolina made the Final Four in both 2008 and 2009, while Duke was the champion in 2010. Home court advantage is nearly a non-factor recently, as the road team is 5-6 in this period.
  • Last 10 Years - Duke was the much more dominant team earlier in the past decade, going 8-3 in the rivalry from 2002-06. Each team reached the Final Four, with UNC crowned as National Champions once again in 2005. Overall, Duke leads 13-11 in the past 10 years with each team taking four road games.
  • Last 30 Years - North Carolina holds a slight 38-36 edge in all matchups since 1980, with a total average score of 78-78 in the games. Again, an incredibly close matchup here. Duke has gotten the better of the Tar Heels during their ACC Tournament matchups, holding an 8-3 edge during this span. Incredibly, each team has made exactly 11 Final Four runs and won four National Titles during the past 30 years. That’s why this is the best rivalry in the game.

Tonight, Georgetown and Duke are the road teams in these games. Syracuse and Carolina are each the higher-ranked team and are expected to win, but things never go as planned in intense rivalries like these. This could be one of the final times that the Hoyas and Orange meet as Big East rivals, as Syracuse is headed to the ACC by the 2014 season and possibly before then. It will be awesome tonight, so tune in to the ESPN double-header starting at 7:00 PM ET.

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Set Your TiVo: 12.21.11

Posted by EJacoby on December 21st, 2011

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist and contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

After several consecutive slow weeknights, Wednesday night offers some very good games. All eyes should be tuned in, especially, to the ESPN2 early game.

Texas at #4 North Carolina – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN2 (****)

UNC Will Attack Texas With Their Forwards, Tonite on ESPN2 (Getty Images/P. Williams)

  • Since their collapse against NC State on November 21, Texas has won seven straight games by double digits, including some nice wins over Temple and at UCLA. Their talented guard combo of J’Covan Brown and Myck Kabongo is starting to click, with Brown’s numbers up to 19.3 points and 4.3 assists per game and Kabongo at 10.8 points and 6.0 assists per contest. Four of the Longhorns’ five leading scorers are freshmen, including Kabongo and exciting reserve guard Sheldon McClennan. The Longhorns are ranked seventh nationally with 1.18 points per possession and eighth in overall offensive efficiency (117.5). For Texas to hang in this game, they’ll need their young guards to keep scoring at a high rate, and hope to contain UNC’s massive frontcourt from dominating the offensive boards.
  • North Carolina has a massive size, experience, home court, and overall talent advantage in this game, which is why they’re 10-point favorites. Look for the Tar Heels to feature Tyler Zeller and John Henson inside to feast on Texas’s smaller front line. The bigs should be able to control this game on the boards, where UNC ranks 16th nationally in offensive rebounds per game, and number one overall on the defensive glass. Even if Texas’s guards can score effectively, Carolina can counter with its wing scorers of Harrison Barnes, Dexter Strickland, and Reggie Bullock, lead by the nation’s top assist man in Kendall Marshall (10.2 APG).
  • Texas has won four straight games against Carolina since 1995. The Longhorns are playing well and will certainly be ready for this game. But it’s hard to envision UNC losing this one at home given their huge advantage in the paint and with just as many talented guards. Expect a super exciting, high scoring affair between two of the top programs in the country, with Roy Williams’ team coming out on top.

Seton Hall at Dayton – 7:00 PM EST, no TV (***)

  • This is a huge road test for 9-1 Seton Hall, whose only loss came in the finals of the Charleston Classic against Northwestern. Senior Herb Pope has been an absolute stud all year and he leads the Big East in scoring (22.1 PPG) AND rebounding (11.9 RPG). His fellow senior leader, point guard Jordan Theodore, leads the conference in assists with 7.1 per game. Sophomore guard Fuquan Edwin leads the Big East in steals per game with 3.4 per contest. He and Theodore each average about 14 points per game, as well. This dangerous trio will look to lead coach Kevin Willard’s team to a big road win and legitimize their strong start to the season.
  • Dayton is a talented but very inconsistent team. They have strong wins over Alabama, Wake Forest, and Minnesota on their resume, but they also have a shocking home loss to Buffalo by 29 (!) points. They lost road games to Miami (Ohio) and Murray State, as well. First year coach Archie Miller’s team has five players that average nine or more points per game, lead by junior lead guard Kevin Dillard. A transfer from Southern Illinois, Dillard leads the team in scoring (11.9 PPG), assists (5.1 APG), and steals (2.3 SPG).
  • This game is not televised nationally or on ESPN3.com, but be sure to follow along, or even watch if it’s being shown locally. Dayton is a four-point home favorite in this one, but this is anyone’s game. The Flyers have several big home wins and another awful home loss. Seton Hall will look to control the game with the dominant Pope inside, who will be a load to handle for Dayton’s short interior players. I’d take Seton Hall and their experienced leaders to come out with the road win, but this one could go either way.

Middle Tennessee State at Mississippi – 9:00 PM EST on ESPN3.com (***)

  • Middle Tennessee is coming off a big home win over Belmont to push its record to 10-2. They are the class of the Sun Belt Conference, and are only two-point underdogs in this game. When you factor in the three-point cushion given to home teams in Vegas lines, that means MTSU is considered the slightly better team. This is a fair assessment, as the Raiders have an impressive trio of upperclassmen in guard Marcos Knight and forwards LaRon Dendy and J.T. Sulton who all average at least 12 points and 6 rebounds per game. These three all shoot at least 53.6% from the field, as well, which powers the nation’s best field goal shooting team (53.2% as a team for the year).
  • Ole Miss also comes into this game with just two losses, the most recent of which came on Saturday at a pretty good Southern Miss team. Ole Miss features five players that average nine points or more, lead by junior Murphy Holloway’s 10.3 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. Not included in their five leading scorers is new addition Jelan Kendrick, who is now eligible for Mississippi after transferring from Memphis when he was kicked off the team at the beginning of this year. Kendrick is a very talented freshman who could start to make his mark tonight. Andy Kennedy’s team will have the athleticism advantage in this game, such as their 6.2 blocks per game which ranks 13th in the country.
  • This game might be the best of the 9:00PM EST slate, so be sure to have ESPN3 ready on your computer even if you’re tuned in to the television for another game. We expect Ole Miss to take care of business at home, but MTSU will offer a great challenge and could come out with another impressive victory.

Oklahoma State at Alabama – 9:00 PM EST on ESPN2 (***)

  • Oklahoma State comes into this game at 6-4 having lost two straight games. The Cowboys have a collection of talented players but have not found the best way to utilize their pieces; nine different players have been in the starting lineup in the first 10 games. LeBryan Nash, the McDonald’s All-American freshman, is starting to play better of late, seeing his minutes increase in the past three games. He’s now up to 12.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game for the season. Markel Brown is a talented sophomore guard (9.7 PPG) and Cezar Guerrero is a freshman with a quick trigger that can fill it up in a hurry (7.7 PPG), though takes plenty of questionable shots per game. Upperclassmen Jean-Paul Olekemi (9.7 PPG) and, especially, Keiton Page (12.7 PPG) are the leaders of the team that will look to ignite the upset in this one.
  • Alabama was ranked in the top 15 to begin this month, but the Crimson Tide have suffered three disappointing losses in the past three weeks, albeit to some good teams. Anthony Grant’s team lost at home to Georgetown on a game-winning three from the Hoyas, and they followed that one with two road losses to Dayton and Kansas State. Bama has had trouble scoring in those games. They aren’t a very effective offensive team, with a 104.8 efficiency that ranks 120th nationally. The Tide get it done on the defensive end where they allow an eFG% of 40.6 that is seventh best in the country. Jamychal Green, Tony Mitchell, and Trevor Releford are big time athletes who all average double figure scoring and can lock down defensively.
  • This game is technically not a home game for Alabama, since it is being played in Birmingham as part of the 2011 Legacy Credit Union Holiday Classic. But for all intents and purposes, consider the Crimson Tide the home team as they will draw the much larger crowd in their home state. Bama has fallen victim to a few upsets this season, as they were the favored team in all three of their losses. But don’t expect a repeat in this one, as Oklahoma State is still a work in progress and the solid defense of Alabama should lead them to a victory.

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 201
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

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Night Line: How Far Can Wisconsin’s Unique System Carry Them?

Posted by EJacoby on December 1st, 2011


Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist. You can find him 
@evanJacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.

Every year, Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan finds a way to turn a collection of mostly unheralded individual players into an overachieving team, thanks to a well-designed playing style that values time of possession and situational playmaking. This season appears to be no different, and in fact might be the ultimate example of the perfect Wisconsin system. Bo’s Badgers suffered their first loss of the season on Wednesday night at No. 4 North Carolina, yet the team nearly pulled out a victory against a team it never stood a chance against, at least on paper. Once the ball tips off, Wisconsin dominates the pace of games, and this team does one thing better than any other – it limits their opponents’ possessions. This style almost took down UNC tonight, and it should lead to victories against nearly any other team.

They Lost to UNC, But Wisconsin's Defense Should Lead to Many Victories (AP/G. Broome)

This is Bo Ryan basketball; a slowed-down version of the game that may not be the most entertaining for casual fans to enjoy, but is fascinating for basketball purists to watch. A Wisconsin tilt this season averages out to a 60-possession game, which is the lowest pace in the country. They have the best defensive efficiency (83.5) and lowest turnover rate (8.1 per game) in the nation as well. They have a fearless leader in preseason All-America point guard Jordan Taylor, and he orchestrates the team on both ends of the floor. Even though the Badgers got outrebounded on Wednesday by 13 against North Carolina, and they hardly ever got to the free throw line (six attempts), limiting their opponent’s offensive opportunities gave them a reasonable chance to win in the final few minutes. Few teams that Wisconsin plays will be as gifted offensively as UNC, so they should be able to prevent more points against other teams by employing this style.

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