UNC Basketball: Statistical takeaways from first half of season


The North Carolina Tar Heels are 16 games into a 31 game regular season schedule after beating Louisville this weekend in dramatic fashion. The Tar Heels are 12-4 overall and 2-1 in the ACC, with a tough road game against N.C. State and a brutal three game stretch against Syracuse, Louisville and Virginia on the horizon.

Now seems like a good time to take a step back and analyze what trends are emerging in the 2014-15 Carolina Basketball season. We will take a look at trends for the team and trends for players that have emerged over the course of the 16 games the Heels have played this season.

Team trend: UNC is an élite offensive rebounding team

Even saying UNC is an élite offensive rebounding team is kind of an understatement. As of Monday morning, Carolina ranked first in the country in offensive rebounding percentage*, per kenpom.com.

Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson are the Heels two best offensive rebounders by a wide margin. Meeks has hauled in 54 offensive rebounds, per sports-reference.com, and Johnson has grabbed 39, per the same source. Both players also rank in the top 16 in the ACC in OR%, per kenpom.com.

All these offensive rebounds are really helping Carolina’s offense. Without any three-point shooters on the roster besides Marcus Paige and Nate Britt, (more on that later,) the Heels struggle to score in the halfcourt. The lack of shooting draws defenses into the paint, mucking up the middle and making it hard for Carolina to score. But by being an excellent transition and offensive rebounding team, the Heels have been able to scrape together an offense that ranks 14th in the nation in offensive efficiency, per kenpom.com.

This is no small feat, piecing together such an efficient offense, for a team that ranks 7th to last in the country in percentage of points coming from three pointers, at 17.9%, per kenpom.com. Offensive rebounding is a big part of Carolina’s offense attack, as we saw against Louisville (17 offensive rebounds, including seven combined by Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson.)

The Heels have to keep hounding the glass in the second half of the season.

Player trend: Nate Britt is a three-point threat

After watching Nate Britt on drain a three against Louisville on Saturday, I remarked on Twitter…

I meant to say “I think it is time,” but the point was clear either way. After Nate Britt has shot seven of 15, or 46.6% from three in Carolina’s last five games, it is time to remove the label of poor shooter off of Nate Britt. He is now Carolina’s second best three-point threat, behind Marcus Paige.

This is really good news for Carolina. To your right is Nate Britt’s shot chart from last season. That’s a lot of blue, which is not a good color for a shot chart. His shot chart this year would look way better than that from beyond the arc.

Hopefully Britt can keep contributing threes and provide much-needed spacing, or at the very least, hit a wide open three-pointer and make an opposing defense pay for leaving him wide open in favor of clogging the paint.

Team trend: Free Throw shooting is better

Last year, every time the Tar Heels were fouled in a late-game situation, Heels fans held their breath and crossed their fingers and toes that the ball would go through the hoop. The Heels combined to shoot 62.6% from the free throw line last season as a team, ranking 343rd in the nation in free throw percentage, per kenpom.com. Yikes. James Michael McAdoo (53.7%), Brice Johnson (62.2%) and Kennedy Meeks (58.6%) were some of the worst offenders.

This year, the Heels are an improved free throw shooting team. Many players have gotten better, including Johnson, Meeks and Tokoto. Nate Britt and Marcus Paige also provide two above average free throw shooters for the team.

This year, Carolina is shooting 70.5% from the free throw line, ranking 118th in the country. That’s still not great, but it is way better than what the Heels were shooting last year.

Quick hitters

Isaiah Hicks and Joel James have both improved

Joel James is shooting 50% from two-point range this season and his offensive rating has improved to 107.6. Both those are big improvements from James’ sophomore season, when his offensive rating was 90.7 and he shot 38.8% from inside the arc.

James has a new pet move, a hook shot that he has worked on his he arrived on campus in Chapel Hill.

YouTube clip from here. 

Good to see Joel James improving.

Isaiah Hicks is also slowly but surely improving. He is averaging 6.6 points per game, up from 1.2 last year, while also becoming more efficient. His offensive rating is 104.8, up from 87.1 a year ago. He is also much more aggressive in the minutes he is playing — he uses 22.8% of the possessions when he is on the floor, per kenpom.com, actually a higher rate than Marcus Paige.

Hicks’s advanced metrics kind of remind me what Brice Johnson’s number looked like last year — not many minutes, but a lot of production in the minutes he does get.

Marcus Paige’s advanced metrics down across the board

Paige’s Offensive Rating
2014: 120.1
2015: 110.2

Paige’s Win Shares** per 40 minutes
2014: .183
2015: .087

More from North Carolina Tar Heels

The win shares per 40 minutes being almost a full win share lower is especially concerning. What is wrong with Paige? If Paige was a robot, you would say he is taking the same number of shots, but he just isn’t making as many of them this season. Bringing the human element into it, maybe Paige was effected by preseason accolades, feels pressured to score or is just bothered by various injuries.

Whatever the case, I think as long as Paige gets healthy, he will be better in the second half of the season.

All stats from kenpom.com and sports-reference.com.

*A definition of offensive rebounding percentage, from kenpom.com — Offensive rebounding percentage is a measure of the possible rebounds that are gathered by the offense.

** An explanation of win shares can be found here.