UNC Basketball: Five Keys for UNC to Advance to the Final Four


The North Carolina Tar Heels are preparing to play their Sweet 16 game against the Wisconsin Badgers. This will be a tough match up for the Tar Heels, even with a fully healthy Kennedy Meeks. Other than the “win the game” and “stay healthy” keys to advance to the Final Four, there are 5 very key factors that North Carolina must do to achieve a victory over the Badgers as well as reaching the Final Four and beyond.

1) Bench Scoring

On the season UNC has had an average of 21.24 points come from the bench. In UNC’s 26 wins on the season, the Tar Heels’ bench have outscored the opposition 14 times. Since the ACC Tournament began, UNC is 5-1 with the only loss coming to Notre Dame in the ACC Championship game.

In those 5 wins, North Carolina’s bench had outscored the opposition’s bench 4 times and equaled it 1 time. Even in the loss to Notre Dame, UNC’s bench outscored Notre Dame’s. During this current six game stretch, UNC’s bench is averaging 18.4 points per game while their opponents’ bench is averaging 10.2 points per game. During this stretch, the average margin of victory for the 5 wins for the Tar Heels has been 6.6 points per game.

So since the ACC Tournament began, when UNC’s bench outscored the opposing team’s they won 83.33% of the time and lost 16.67% of the time.

The bench scoring will be very important in the Tar Heels’ upcoming match up with Wisconsin. Wisconsin has lost only 3 times this season. When the Badgers have lost, their bench has been outscored or equaled in 2 out of the 3 losses. Since the BIG 10 Tournament began, Wisconsin’s bench is only averaging 8 points per game.

With the status of Kennedy Meeks still up in the air, the players who come from the bench must be ready to step up and contribute while doing so efficiently.

2) Free Throws

Many North Carolina have fans have probably heard about the team’s free throw woes hundreds of times by now, but that still does not make the issue go away. Advancing to the Elite 8 and beyond could very well come down to the free throw line, whether at the end of the game or throughout the course of the game. This season the Tar Heels have averaged 70.2% from the free throw line. This is a significant improvement from the 62.6% overall team free throw percentage from the 2013-2014 season.

This season the Tar Heels have made more free throws or equaled the amount of made free throws the opposing teams 20 out of the 37 games, which is 54.05% of the time, and made less free throws and their opponents 17 times, which is 45.95% of the time.

Of those 20 games in which the Tar Heels made more or equaled the made amount of made free throws North Carolina is 19-1. 19 wins and 1 loss. That means the Tar Heels have 95% of games in which this occurred.

Of the 17 times where they made less than the other team, the Tar Heels are 7-10. 7 wins and 10 losses. That means North Carolina only won 41.12% of games in which this occurred.

Over the last 6 games since the ACC Tournament began, the Tar Heels have shot 74.36% from the line as a team. That comes out to be about a 4.16% difference from the whole season average.

Again, for example, in Wisconsin’s 3 losses the other team has made more free throws or made the same amount of free throws than the Badgers 2 times.

Free throws will be crucial on Thursday night.

3)  Rebounding

As most North Carolina fans know, rebounding has always been one of the main focuses, if not the main focus, of each and every team for a very long time. So the “Rebounding” key may not come as a surprise, but maybe not everyone has seen the numbers supporting how important rebounding has been for this Tar Heel team.

Out of the 37 games UNC has played this season, they have out rebounded their opponents 30 times, which is 81.1% of their games. When out rebounding their opponents, the Tar Heels are 23-7. So of those 30 games, North Carolina won 76.67%  of those games.

The 7 times UNC has been out rebounded has resulted in a 4-3 record for the Tar Heels. This comes out to be about 57.1% of the games UNC has won when getting out rebounded.

Since North Carolina plays Wisconsin in the Sweet 16 tomorrow evening, I will use some of their statistics to show how important rebounding will be for UNC when they match up against the Badgers. In the slow pace that the Badgers love to play it is even more important to grab offensive and defensive rebounds to create extra possessions as well as limiting extra possessions for Wisconsin.

As stated earlier, the Badgers have only lost 3 times this season. Out of their 36 games played they have out rebounded their opponents 26 times (72.2% of their games). Over those 26 games, the Badgers have gone 25-1 when out rebounding their opponents (win percentage of 96.2%). In 2 out of 3 of Wisconsin’s losses they have been out rebounded once and grabbed the same amount of rebounds as their opponents only once.

Wisconsin only averages 33.7 rebounds per game, which is good for 204th in the country, compared to North Carolina’s 41 rebounds per game which is good for 2nd in the country. The Badgers only get 9.5 offensive rebounds per game, which means that they only grab 24.2 defensive rebounds per game. North Carolina’s post players and wings must hit the glass hard to get out in transition and get easy offense as well as creating extra possessions from the offensive glass.

4) Three Point Shooting

As it stands now, the Tar Heels are shooting 35.1% from the 3pt line as a team. This is a slight improvement from 2013-2014’s 33.6% average as a team. The current team has already shot 67 more 3s and made 30 more 3s than the previous year but with 3 more games played. All season long North Carolina has had problems with outside shooting.

On average, UNC takes about 14 3pt shots a game and makes about 5 per game (rounding up to nearest whole number). Over the last six games, North Carolina has shot 33/78 from beyond the arc which comes out to be 42.3% while averaging a bit below 6 makes per game (5.5 exactly). This 42.3% is about 7.2% better than the entire season average.

Believe it or not, UNC has shot a better percentage from the 3pt line than it’s opponents 22 games out of the total of 37 games played. In those 22 games, the Tar Heels are 19-3. UNC has won 86.4% of the time when they shoot better than the other team. So at about 60% of time, North Carolina has shot better from deep. This could be due to several different reasons such as good perimeter defense and taking good shots.

Of the 15 games in which UNC shot worse from beyond the arc than their opponent, the Tar Heels are 7-8. So UNC has only won 46.7% of the time when they shoot worse than their opponent.

In order to beat a team like Wisconsin as well as the rest of the teams left, the Tar Heels will have to shoot well from the outside, and as the statistic shows, hopefully shoot a better percentage than the other team.

5) Marcus Paige

He is the leader. He is the go to guy. He is North Carolina’s best player. He has been banged and nicked up all year long, but he finally is healthy. Since the ACC Tournament began, Paige has been averaging 37 minutes per game, 17 points per game on 45.3% shooting from the field and 41.5% from 3, 100% from the free throw line, 3.3 rebounds per game, 5 assists per with 2 turnovers per game (2.5 A/TO ratio), while getting 2.3 steals per game. The Tar Heels are seeing Marcus Paige turn it on at the right time. But in order for the Tar Heels to make it to the Final Four and further, they will need Marcus to continue this level of play.

North Carolina has played 21 games against teams that made the NCAA Tournament and the Tar Heels have an 11-10 record in these games.

Marcus Paige’s total averages against these games against NCAA Tournament teams are as follows:
34.2 minutes per game, 15.4 points per game on 40.5FG% and 40.5% from 3, 84.6 FT% of , 2.5 rebounds per game, 4.14 assists per game, 1.4 steals per game, and 2.05 turnovers per game (2.02 A/T ratio).

There is a big difference between the Marcus Paige in those wins and the Marcus Paige in the losses. Take a look at the stats

11 Wins:
32.5 minutes per game, 16 points per game on 42.5% from the field and 44.3% from 3, 92.3FT%, 2.6 rebounds per game, 4.4 assists per game, 1.8 steals per game, and 1.64 turnovers per game (2.68 A/T ratio).

10 Losses:
 36 minutes per game, 14.9 points per game on 38.5% from the field and 38% from 3, 73.1 FT%, 2.8 rebounds per game, 3.9 assists per game, .9 steals per game, and 2.8 turnovers per game (1.39 A/T ratio).

See the differences between the two? What this says is that for UNC to beat good teams Marcus Paige needs to score a lot while doing so efficiently and taking better care of the ball.

North Carolina will need big performances from Marcus Paige to make it past Wisconsin and further in the NCAA Tournament. Against a team like Wisconsin, Marcus Paige cannot afford to wait till the second half to turn himself on. Possessions will be at a premium and UNC will need to capitalize as much as possible.


While these key points may seem simple and obvious, they are still extremely vital to North Carolina’s success for the rest of the tournament. If North Carolina can capitalize on these points their season can go on to the Final Four and National Championship.