One of the Triangle’s teams was involved in a big match-up this weekend, and another’s match-up turned out to be more important than it initially seemed because of the outcome. Let’s see what the four factors tell us about both Duke and Carolina’s performances, and what we can expect from them going forward. First, I’ll look at the upset in College Park.
There is one of the four factors that is definitely the most important of them all, and the Tar Heels really hammered that point home on Saturday. Shooting can make up for a lackluster performance across the other three factors, or doom an otherwise well-played game.
The Heels held onto the ball better with an 18.8 Turnover Rate (TORate) compared to the Terrapins’ 20.1 TORate. North Carolina offensively rebounded the ball better, corralling 47.1 percent of their own misses (OR%) much better than Maryland’s 33.8 OR%. Amazingly, since OR% stat is a percentage of total opportunities and the Heels missed 11 more shots (thus creating 11 more offensive rebounding opportunities), the Heels nearly doubled the Terps in actual offensive rebounds, 22 to 12. The Heels also went to the line more often, posting a 36.4 Free Throw Rate while Maryland only mustered a 25 FTR.
However, after soundly winning three of the four factors, the Heels lost the most important one, Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%), and thus lost the game as well. The Terps outshot the Heels 55.1 percent to 40.9 percent, which outweighed North Carolina winning every other factor. In fact, in all six statistics, on both sides of the ball, the Tar Heels’ performance did not vary much from the previous 12 ACC games of the season.
UNC didn’t turn the ball over, offensively rebounded better, went to the free throw line more often, forced more Maryland turnovers, and kept the Terps off the glass at better rates than their average ACC game, all on the road.
If North Carolina makes one more free throw this article takes an entirely different tone. The Tar Heels played an all around excellent game, except that their shots didn’t fall and Maryland’s did, which made the margin a little closer than the Heels would have liked. If that had happened the Tar Heels would be lauded for their tough, gritty road win.
To those who are jumping off the Heels’ bandwagon because of a perceived lack of toughness and ability to win close games, I say, "Reconsider." Close games come down to random chance as much as they do clutch ability. Although the Heels could, as usual, use a little more defense, they are doing just fine.
In the other match-up, the Duke Blue Devils won a shooting match against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, in a game almost exactly opposite of the defensive exposition put on by the same two teams in January. In that game the Deacons out-defended the Blue Devils, posting 0.92 points per possession efficiency (pts/poss) to Duke’s 0.89. It was an extremely defensive-minded contest that was indicative of the two teams’ true strengths. In Sunday night’s rematch, the Devils outshot the Deacons en route to a 1.38 pts/poss to 1.25 pts/poss victory, the offensive opposite of their first encounter.
Digging deeper into the statistics the Blue Devils played a simply flawless offensive game. This started with Duke holding on to the ball better than they have all season, both in and out of conference, posting an 8.2 TORate. Knowing that the Blue Devils either went to the free throw line or attempted a field goal on over 90 percent of their possessions makes their performance in the other three factors all the more impressive. They hit over 60 percent of their shots, and posted an impressive 59 FTRate (Duke’s ACC average is 35.9). The few times their shots didn’t fall the Devils collected 36.2 percent of their own misses, the only number that was remotely in the vicinity of their offensive in-conference averages.
Now for the more troubling statistical figures. On the defensive side of the ball, the Devils allowed Wake Forest to shoot 65.3 eFG%. Along with rebounding over half (53.3 OR%) of their own misses, this helped the Deacons post a 1.25 pts/poss efficiency despite over one quarter of their possessions ending in turnovers (27.4 TORate). Except for the saving grace of turnovers, the defensive performance was quite pedestrian. It was much more comparable to Duke’s recent 2-4 ACC swoon than to its 5-0 start.
While Duke’s previous sub-par defensive performances came against the ACC’s offensive elite, Wake Forest is league average in adjusted offensive efficiency (OE). The Deacons’ 112.5 OE is good for sixth in the ACC just ahead of North Carolina State (111.9). Allowing big nights to offensive juggernauts like North Carolina (123) and Clemson (117.1) isn’t as worrisome as allowing the Wake Forest offense to have its second most efficient conference game.
There were many bright spots for the Blue Devils on Sunday night. Their press forced turnovers, an offense without a legitimate point guard committed surprisingly few turnovers, and Jon Scheyer seems to have shot himself out of his late-season slump. However, the Blue Devil defense still isn’t performing up to the bar it set for itself in the first half of the season.
In upcoming games Duke’s turnovers may return, their shots may not fall, and opposing offenses may more swiftly navigate the Duke pressure, but as my fellow Triangle Offense contributor Matt Saldaña pointed out in his post-game write up, Duke simply cannot rely on their offense to bail out the defense like it did against Wake Forest Sunday.