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North Carolina Tar Heels @ Kentucky Wildcats: Pre-game analysis

Obviously, the UNC contest at Rupp Arena tomorrow is a big, big game for the team, but even more so for the fans, who are very tired of losing to our neighbor to the east.

The Tar Heels are young, but not nearly as young as Kentucky is.  The Tar Heels start two seniors, a junior and two sophomores.

North Carolina is perhaps the only team in America that is taller and longer than the Wildcats are.  The Heels go 6'10", 6'9" and 6'6" across the front line, and have four reserves 6'10" or taller.  UK is taller across the starting lineup, but the 'Cats do not have quite as much height on the bench.

UNC is 7-1, their only loss coming in convincing fashion at Madison Square Garden versus Syracuse.  That game was over with about 3 minutes still left to play, but the men in powder blue came back and beat a highly ranked Michigan State team in Chapel Hill just a few nights ago in the ACC-Big Ten challenge.  In that game, the Tar Heels played extremely well at times, and that game tap has provided some sobering images for the UK staff and players.

What we will be doing today is presenting you with an extremely high-tech visualization of the comparative statistics of this game.  This service has been provided by A Sea of Blue member Sylvar, and it is gobsmackingly awesome.  I think no other blog can match this new style of graphical stats delivery, and I'm sure you will enjoy it.  But remember, this was Sylvar's work, not mine, so be sure to thank him.

Also, for the Carolina perspective, be sure to visit SB Nation's excellent North Carolina Tar Heels blog, Carolina March.

More after the jump.


Four Factors Analysis

First off, I want to point out that this display is interactive.  If you move the sliders just under the trend graph, you can zoom in on various slices of the series to see how they have done in smaller segments.  The dials on the right indicate ranges from red (worse) to yellow (okay) to green (good) based on the average values of the top ten teams from last year.

As you can see by the offensive efficiency trends on the top chart, Kentucky has been trending better than the Tar Heels since about the fourth game of the season.  In the last game vs. UNC-Ashville, UK's OE was at it's peak so far this season, but still just a bit below the peak UNC achieved vs. Valparaiso.

Defensively, you have to keep in mind that lower is better.  UK's DE has been much worse than UNC's through the first four games.  From game five (Cleveland St.) on, UK's DE has been improving, and the two team's efficiencies on defense have effectively merged.  But you can see that UNC's peak DE has been much better than the best UK has put out there so far.  This is largely a function of having more experienced players, most likely.

Moving down to the Four Factors, you can see that these two teams are almost dead even statistically.  The green bar is the average statistic for the top ten teams from last year, just to have something to compare with.  You will note that neither UK nor UNC are at top ten efficiency yet.

Another interesting thing is that UNC turns the ball over almost as much as UK does.  That's partially a function of how many possessions they have per game as a function of their high tempo, but it is a bit surprising to see that a more experienced team like UNC is having as many problems with turnovers as a mostly-freshman UK.

Moving on to the defense, we see that UNC is the better team right now, but UK seems to be forcing a few more turnovers and doing a better job on the defensive glass.  UK's free throw rate is very high, and that could be a major factor in the game as time goes on.

In the miscellaneous cateory, we see that both teams shoot a similar 3-point FG%, but UNC takes more 3-point shots per field goal attempt.

Next, we'll look at the players for the Tar Heels, and their stats:

North Carolina Tar Heels Basketball Roster

# Pos. Comments W H College
Marc Campbell 2 G - 175 6-0 senior
Ed Davis 32 F Starter 225 6-10 sophomore
Larry Drew II 11 G Starter 180 6-2 sophomore
James Gallagher 35 F - 185 6-4 senior
Marcus Ginyard 1 G Starter 210 6-5 senior
Will Graves 13 F Starter 240 6-6 junior
John Henson 31 F - 195 6-10 freshman
Leslie McDonald 15 G - 215 6-4 freshman
Terrence Petree 14 G - 165 6-1 senior
Dexter Strickland 5 G - 180 6-3 freshman
Deon Thompson 21 F Starter 245 6-9 senior
Thomas Thornton 30 G - 180 6-3 senior
Justin Watts 24 G - 210 6-4 sophomore
David Wear 34 F - 225 6-10 freshman
Travis Wear 43 F - 235 6-10 freshman
Tyler Zeller 44 F - 240 7-0 sophomore


North Carolina Statistics

FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
Deon Thompson 8 27.4 6.4 11.8 54.3 0.0 0.1 0.0 4.5 5.6 80.0 3.6 4.6 8.3 1.4 2.8 1.0 0.6 1.6 17.3
Ed Davis 8 25.4 5.3 7.5 70.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 3.4 5.3 64.3 2.9 6.5 9.4 1.5 2.1 0.5 2.4 1.6 13.9
Marcus Ginyard 8 30.9 4.3 7.6 55.7 1.3 2.6 47.6 1.4 2.4 57.9 1.4 2.3 3.6 4.5 2.5 2.0 0.1 0.8 11.1
Tyler Zeller 8 15.8 3.8 6.5 57.7 0.0 0.0 0.0 2.1 2.9 73.9 1.5 2.5 4.0 0.4 0.8 0.4 1.0 1.9 9.6
Larry Drew II 8 25.5 3.0 5.4 55.8 1.1 2.4 47.4 1.9 2.8 68.2 0.1 2.1 2.3 6.6 3.0 0.9 0.0 2.4 9.0
Will Graves 8 18.4 2.5 6.6 37.7 1.0 3.4 29.6 1.0 1.3 80.0 1.1 2.6 3.8 0.8 0.8 0.9 0.1 1.0 7.0
Travis Wear 8 9.0 1.4 2.8 50.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.9 1.0 87.5 1.1 1.0 2.1 0.1 0.6 0.3 0.0 0.8 3.6
John Henson 8 10.6 1.4 3.0 45.8 0.1 0.6 20.0 0.5 1.3 40.0 0.6 2.0 2.6 1.3 0.4 0.6 1.3 0.5 3.4
Dexter Strickland 8 13.4 1.3 3.1 40.0 0.3 1.1 22.2 0.5 1.1 44.4 0.3 0.6 0.9 1.8 1.6 0.4 0.3 1.5 3.3
Justin Watts 8 6.8 1.1 2.0 56.3 0.4 0.5 75.0 0.3 0.6 40.0 0.4 0.4 0.8 1.4 0.9 0.1 0.1 0.9 2.9
David Wear 8 9.4 0.8 2.1 35.3 0.1 0.3 50.0 0.1 0.5 25.0 0.1 1.0 1.1 0.8 0.6 0.3 0.1 0.4 1.8
Leslie McDonald 6 6.7 0.7 2.3 28.6 0.2 1.0 16.7 0.2 1.0 16.7 0.0 1.3 1.3 0.7 0.5 0.3 0.2 0.5 1.7
Thomas Thornton 3 1.7 0.3 0.7 50.0 0.3 0.7 50.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.7 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.0
James Gallagher 3 1.7 0.0 0.3 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.3 0.3 0.7 0.3 0.0 0.3 0.0 0.0 0.0
Terrence Petree 3 1.7 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.7 0.0 0.0 0.7 0.7 0.3 0.3 0.0 0.0 0.3 0.0
Marc Campbell 3 1.7 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.0 0.3 0.0 0.0 0.0


Position Analysis: Point guard

The starting point guard for the Tar Heels is Larry Drew II, son of a former NBA player.  Drew assumes the starting point guard spot from the now-graduated Ty Lawson.  Drew is a solid point guard and is doing a good job of learning the spot this year.  He had one year behind Lawson and is now familiar with Roy Williams style.

The strength of Drew, though not so much this year up until the last game, is his 3-point shooting.  He is shooting a fine percentage, but has been a relatively reluctant shooter so far this year, preferring to get the ball to teammates in scoring position, which is the job of a point guard.  His assist/turnover ratio is 2-1, which is the gold standard for point guard play.

The knock on Drew has always been his footspeed and athleticism.  Unlike Lawson or Wall, Drew is not a blur getting up and down the court.  Drew is a competent but not flashy ballhandler, and he isn't going to blow by people like Lawson before him, or Wall does now.  But what Drew does have is NCAA championship experience, and a year under his belt.  That is worth a lot.

For Kentucky, the point guard is John Wall.  We all know what John Wall is capable of, that is, at least to the level he has currently played.  Wall and Drew could not be less similar -- Wall is an athletic freak and a slasher, as well as a flashy ballhandler and passer, but an average 3-point shooter.  Drew will need help with Wall, as Wall is not only quicker, faster and a better athlete, but he is also four inches taller.

Advantage:  Kentucky

Position Analysis:  Shooting guard

Marcus Ginyard is the starter at shooting guard for the Tar Heels.  Ginyard is a strong, athletic player with good size at 6'5".  Ginyard was injured back in 2008, and was granted a medical redshirt.

Ginyard brings senior leadership to the Tar Heels backcourt, and does the little things that help his team win.  He is not a big scorer, averaging 11 points/game, but he is a good rebounder and fine passer.  He is athletic but not extraordinarily so, and has a good understanding of the North Carolina system.  Ginyard is a polished defender, leading the team in steals.

Eric Bledsoe will be the starter at the off guard for Kentucky, and even though he is significantly more athletic and just as strong as Ginyard, he is far less experienced.  Blesdsoe is much quicker off the dribble than most any player of his quality that North Carolina has faced so far this year, so Ginyard will have to deal with a quickness disadvantage.

But Ginyard has the advantage in virtually every other area, especially in experience.

Advantage:  North Carolina

Position Analysis:  Small Forward

Will Graves is the Tar Heel's starter at small forward.  Graves is the least touted of all the North Carolina starters, grading out as only #105 in Rivals' class of 2006.  Graves is a hard worker, good team player and has loads of experience coming off the bench during North Carolina's most recent run of success.  He is not a particularly good three-point shooter, although he can make it.  He is a decent but not outstanding rebounder.  What he does do particularly well is defend.

Graves is an experienced player who adds experience to the team, as well as bulk and strength inside.

Graves will be going up against Darius Miller.  Miller has the advantage of height, quickness and athleticism over Graves, but Graves is much heavier and stronger than Miller, which could provide UNC some opportunities with Graves posting Miller up.  If Miller decides to assert himself (a big "if"), he could give Graves great difficulty due to his superior skills, speed, and athleticism.

Advantage:  Draw

Position analysis:  Power Forward

Ed Davis is the power forward for North Carolina, and the young sophomore is extremely talented.  Davis is strong in the low post and quick off the floor.  He doesn't have great range, but he is a good finisher and has a strong lower body.  Davis runs the floor very well and will dunk on you if you are slow getting back.  He is a solid defensive player with long arms and good footwork.

Davis is not strong in the upper body, though, and has narrow shoulders, which makes it harder for him against more physical power forwards.  Davis is a good shot blocker with long arms and  good timing.

I am going to assume that Patrick Patterson will be guarding Davis, because I think he is just too quick for DeMarcus Cousins.  Offensively, Patterson is a much more versatile and powerful player than Davis.  Davis is highly skilled, but Patterson is capable of shooting with range and will probably try to take Davis away from the basket.

Defensively, Patterson is stronger than Davis in every respect.  He should be able to keep him far enough off the low block to force him into spin moves or short, challenged jumpers.  Pattrerson runs the floor just as well as Davis, so there is really no part of the game in which Davis is superior to Patrick Patterson.

Advantage:  Kentucky

Position Analysis:  Center

Deon Thompson will play the post for the Tar Heels, and Thompson is a senior with all kinds of great skills.  Thompson can face up from 15 feet, bury you on the block, rebound, block shots, you name it.  He is the Tar Heels' leading scorer and overall best player.

The knock against Thompson has been that he sometimes doesn't work that hard, but this year he seems to have solidified his work ethic.  Thompson is big, strong, reasonably quick and has great hands -- he will catch everything thrown in his direction.

DeMarcus Cousins will likely get the assignment on Thomson.  Offensively, Cousins and Thompson are very similar players, with the main difference being that Thompson is a better face-up player.  Cousins is longer and even heavier than Thompson, so a determined effort by Cousins will force Thompson farther away from the basket than he has been most of this year.  Cousins also has the unusual habit of keeping his feet on the head fake, and using his very long arms to bother shots.  That will serve him very well against Thompson if he continues to do that.

Offensively, Cousins is capable of pushing Thompson around in the post, and his greater length and soft hands make him a big challenge for Thompson defensively.  What works against Cousins are two things -- Thompson is a senior, and has all the experience in the world.  Cousins is an excitable freshman, prone to fouls, and a poor foul shooter.  Overall, the balance of the equities goes to Thompson.

Advantage:  North Carolina

Bench Analysis

The Tar Heels are huge on the bench, having four bench players at 6'10" or taller.  UK is deep along the front line as well, but unlike the Heels, Kentucky has better depth at the guard position.  It would be much better if DeAndre Liggins were available, but we won't know about that until game time.

Kentucky has been the much higher scoring team so far, but North Carolina gets a greater percentage of points from their bench.  That is something the Wildcats will have to keep an eye on.

Carolina's depth is actually better than UK's at critical positions.  They could, for example, execute a "Hack-a-Shaq" game against Cousins if Cousins is able to dominate in the post, and force him to the line.  They could literally expend 24 fouls guarding Cousins and still field a great team.

Advantage:  North Carolina

Overall analysis

This game is going to be a track meet, so it is important for both coaches to manage their players carefully.  Loafing up and down the floor will likely produce dunks on the other end, and I expect to see a ton of dunks in this game.

These two teams are both extremely big and long, and you can expect a lot of shots blocked by both sides.  If the officials call this game close, it will be to the advantage of the Tar Heels in a big way.  If they don't, that advantage is minimized.

The higher the pace, the more advantage to Kentucky.  That's because UNC has so many big men, and relatively few guards and swing players.

UK must strongly guard the three against UNC, because they can shoot it.  They don't shoot it that much because they would rather get layups and dunks, just like UK, but UNC is the more dangerous team from the perimeter.  If UK doesn't put on some strong perimeter defense, the Heels can burn the 'Cats there.

I think this game will ultimately come down to which coach manages his player's minutes better.  Both are going to be tired at the end, and I would be surprised if the winning margin is more than ten points.  Kentucky has the home court advantage, which will be big, but not huge, in this game.

Projected score:  Kentucky 93, North Carolina 88.