North Carolina Thoughts | Syracusefan.com

North Carolina Thoughts

General20

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The short version of what you need to know about North Carolina is, they are the worst shooting team in the ACC, and arguably the country. All Roy Williams teams are built to score in transition, but this version absolutely needs to score in transition because they are inept in the half court. Paige, their only shooter, is going through a slump. They play pressure man to man that they pick up around half court, and they switch off on most screens.


If you want a really long description of this North Carolina team you can check out my Pre-North Carolina Thoughts which addresses all of this and more in depth.


How North Carolina attacked Syracuse's zone:


North Carolina knows where its bread is buttered - inside. They only attempted twelve threes against Syracuse and the last was an unguarded (and inconsequential) heave at the buzzer. During the course of actual game play North Carolina only attempted eleven threes, and only made one. Those are the lowest totals any Syracuse opponent has put up, both in attempts and makes. Going into the game the average Syracuse opponent attempted just over 22 threes a game, and made around 7.


Syracuse's last two games came against the best shooting team in the conference and the worst shooting team in the conference, and the difference was stark. Against Virginia Tech Syracuse spread the zone out so far that everyone was on an island and it looked more like man to man. Against North Carolina Syracuse stuck close to Paige but other than that held firm to their 2-3 formation, which puts Fair and Grant in good position to grab rebounds and block shots.


So esentially, North Carolina was intent on getting the ball inside, and Syracuse was inside waiting for them. The result wasn't great for North Carolina. They shot only 39% as a team, and got blocked 9 times.


This could have been guessed at before hand just by looking at North Carolina's shooting percentages. The real defense (and the real story of the game) came in transition. But to address that I am going to have to talk about Syracuse's offense.


How Syracuse attacked North Carolina's defense:


North Carolina stayed true to form, playing pressure man to man defense that started just before or just after the half court line at different times. They laid off Grant and dared him to shoot, which is becoming the norm, but stayed up on everybody else.


I saw North Carolina beat three decent teams in Michigan St., Louisville, and Kentucky largely because none of those teams went the extra mile to stop them from scoring in transition. Then I saw North Carolina lose to a pretty bad Miami team who went all out to stop them from scoring in transition, by ignoring offensive rebound opportunities in favor of having all five guys sprint back to set op their zone after each shot.


I remembered that Syracuse did just what Miami did the other times they played Roy William's teams, so I assumed they would do the same this time. It seemed like a pretty safe bet. Syracuse has been a much more efficient team in half court sets than North Carolina has, so why not turn the game into a half court game?


But Syracuse didn't do that at all. They crashed the offensive glass as hard as they have all year, and made more careless turnovers than they have all year. They gave North Carolina tons of transition opportunities - I wanted to go back and watch the game a second time and count how many shots North Carolina put up against a fully set up zone and how many times they got shots off before SU set its defense up, but I didn't have time. My guess is it was pretty close to 50/50. Whether it was quite that much or not, I can assure you that North Carolina got more transition scoring opportunities (meaning shots before the 2-3 zone set up, they are not always fast break dunks) than any team has against Syracuse this year.


Syracuse shot poorly, turned the ball over, and let a team famous for not being able to score in half court sets get out and run. Is that the formula for a blow-out win? Certainly I would not have guessed it. But Boeheim did. He had to, because there was a lot he could have changed to stop North Carolina from running if he wanted to.


I would love to know his rational for playing that way, but I guess he must have seen in practice just what we saw in the game. Christmas and Grant ran down the court just as quickly as Carolina did, and once they were there they stopped North Carolina cold, even when North Carolina had numbers.


Syracuse's transition defense was the best I have ever seen. Usually you beat good transition teams by not letting them get out in transition. Syracuse let North Carolina run and stopped them anyway. Something Michigan St., Louisville, and Kentucky could not do. It really put Christmas and Grant's elite athleticism into clear perspective for me.


Back to North Carolina's defense. You can say they had a successful defensive day because Syracuse shot poorly and turned the ball over more than usual, but I'd say that most of the mistakes were self imposed rather than forced.


To understand this fully, you have to look at this game in halves rather than looking at the full box score. In the first half Syracuse shot 40% from the field and got to the line thirteen times. Not the best performance Syracuse has had by any means, but not bad, and plenty good enough to beat North Carolina. In the second half Syracuse shot 30% from the field and only got to the line two times. It sounds pretty bad, but you have to know that Syracuse did this intentionally. What I mean by this is, they started running the clock out with more than fifteen minutes left to go in the game, and it lead to some bad shots, as it always does, but Syracuse was never really worried about North Carolina catching up.


If you watched Florida State play at all this year in football, you know that they won just about every game by thirty or more points, and you also know that you can't take their second half stats seriously. Most of the time they were up huge and just running the clock down, and avoiding injuries. That is what happened here. By halftime Syracuse knew that North Carolina could not score against them in transition and could not score against them in half court, so they basically just started running the clock out.


The strategy lead to a strange dynamic. Syracuse would run the clock down, and usually put up a bad shot (a lot of times they'd get the rebound) but other times North Carolina would run out on a fast break. Either Christmas or Grant would get back and stop them, and then Syracuse would have the ball again – a matter of seconds later - and they would run the shot clock down and take another bad shot . . . lather, rinse, repeat.


So Syracuse had a very inefficient second half, but efficiency isn't everything. Their game plan was not to play efficient basketball, but to win comfortably, and in my opinion, Syracuse was incredibly successful doing that. They built nineteen point lead early and seemed content to let it hover there, while the game clock wound continuously down. Did anybody notice how early the game ended? That was the product of Syracuse's successful mission to allow the game clock to run uninterrupted. North Carolina averages 72 offensive possessions a game (Syracuse averages 63) in this game each team only got the ball 59 times. Its all but impossible to come back from a nineteen point deficit with that few possessions when you can't hit threes. Good job by Syracuse. If you didn't watch the game, you should know that the final score was not indicative of the flow of the game. Syracuse was up 17 with seconds left when North Carolina scored 5 uncontested points while Syracuse was just dribbling out the clock.



Player evaluations:


Ennis – This was his worst game of the season. He had driving lanes all over the place as I am sure Boeheim told him that he would (even I knew he would, and I mentioned it in my Pre-North Carolina Thoughts). I think that is why he forced so much early. Yes, North Carolina allows a lot of uncontested lay ups, but you have to give your center time to get out from under the basket and set a screen for you, and you have to give their center time to follow. Ennis was uncharacteristically rushing things and found himself driving right into North Carolina big men when a few seconds delay would have given him an open lay up.


Cooney – First, his defense was great. Five steals is something to get excited about, and Paige never saw the light of day (of course Ennis needs credit for this too). His only real crime was missing some open shots in the first half. In the second half Cooney was often put in the bad position of having to launch a three with the shot clock expiring due to Syracuse's stall tactics. So his bad shooting percentage is not all his fault, but at the same time its clear that he is not hitting with the same super human ability he did at the beginning of the season. This is partly due to the fact that nobody hits 50% from three and he was due for a regression towards the mean. It is also due to the time of year. Have you noticed that there have been a lot of upsets lately? Have you noticed that a lot of great shooters are going through mini-slumps? North Carolina's Paige is one great example, but there are plenty. Its that mid season lull where a lot of guys legs go on them. Cooney has never played these kind of minutes before, and he does an ungodly amount of running each game to get open. I expect this slump to last into early February and for Cooney to be back to his sharp shooting self by the end of the season. That is the typical way these things play themselves out.


Fair – I am honestly running out of things to say about him. Every game its the same thing. He's consistently good, and that is one of the best compliments you can pay a basketball player.


Grant – Player of the game, there is no doubt in my mind. I suppose not many players earn game MVP without scoring in the second half, but Grant's twelve points were secondary to what he did defensively and on the boards. I have talked a lot this season about waiting for Grant to dominate a game with his athleticism, and it finally happened. His ability to rebound, run the court, defend, and block shots was off the charts. There were at least five times he went up for a rebound against two or three North Carolina players and simply out jumped all of them. That's impressive, but its more impressive to be able to actually hold onto the ball in those situations. Grant has great hands! There were another two times where he and one or two North Carolina players had a grip on the ball and Grant just ripped it away. North Carolina might not be the best team, but they have four McDonald's All Americans on their team and three of the four are forwards. Grant made them all look like low tier athletes. His ability to consistently dominate the game with his athleticism is one of the last pieces Syracuse needs to have to become a champion. His ceiling is ACC defensive Player of the Year.


Christmas – 30 minutes at center – we officially have a “thunder and lightning” situation going on at center and I am loving it. Early in the year Boeheim was developing his centers and whoever played better earned more minutes. Now they each have a defined role. Against good shooting teams who will spread us out, Keita's lightning speed is necessary. Remember the Virginia Tech game where Keita played 28 minutes at center (it would have been 30 if they did not empty the bench at the end) and was a real game changer? Against a big strong team that wants to pound the ball inside Christmas's thunder strength is necessary. Against North Carolina he played 30 minutes and was an absolute beast down low, grabbing eight rebounds and blocking four shots. Boeheim seems to have an answer for every eventuality, and its been quite a while since one of our centers could not control the game. On a related note, Christmas really deserves a lot of credit for completely transforming himself in the offseason. Last year he was really soft, and this year, he's the single toughest guy in the conference.


Gbinije – Played well and actually had a better +/- than Ennis in this game which is extremely rare (it actually might not have happened before). With Ennis being the only point guard his +/- gets a boost with Gbinije's usually gets an undeserved drop. In this game Gbinije actually did a better job running the offense than Ennis, and of course we know his defense is always great.


Keita – 10 minutes at center - This was a thunder type game and he is a lightning type player, so he didn't play much. But he played hard (as always) and certainly looked like he belonged in the few minutes he got.
 
General...

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My man.
 
I think I'm getting a little bit smarter. I actually saw some of the things you talk about. Of course you told me what to look for in the pre-game thoughts. But it's still progress!
 
Cooney – First, his defense was great. Five steals is something to get excited about, and Paige never saw the light of day (of course Ennis needs credit for this too). His only real crime was missing some open shots in the first half. In the second half Cooney was often put in the bad position of having to launch a three with the shot clock expiring due to Syracuse's stall tactics. So his bad shooting percentage is not all his fault, but at the same time its clear that he is not hitting with the same super human ability he did at the beginning of the season. This is partly due to the fact that nobody hits 50% from three and he was due for a regression towards the mean. It is also due to the time of year. Have you noticed that there have been a lot of upsets lately? Have you noticed that a lot of great shooters are going through mini-slumps? North Carolina's Paige is one great example, but there are plenty. Its that mid season lull where a lot of guys legs go on them. Cooney has never played these kind of minutes before, and he does an ungodly amount of running each game to get open. I expect this slump to last into early February and for Cooney to be back to his sharp shooting self by the end of the season. That is the typical way these things play themselves out.

This is nice but the R-Squared on those "Cooney sucks 'cause he was 2-12" posts are so much higher...

I have a couple questions for you regarding these recent SU teams:

My sense is that the SU teams over the last four seasons are the hardest working teams SU has ever had, especially on the defensive end, and that JB demands more from his players on the defensive end of the floor than he ever has.

Do you concur with one or both statements and, if not, why not?
 
This is nice but the R-Squared on those "Cooney sucks 'cause he was 2-12" posts are so much higher...

I have a couple questions for you regarding these recent SU teams:

My sense is that the SU teams over the last four seasons are the hardest working teams SU has ever had, especially on the defensive end, and that JB demands more from his players on the defensive end of the floor than he ever has.

Do you concur with one or both statements and, if not, why not?

I don't know that I agree with you on the team working harder defensively . . . not so much because I disagree with you, but because I think most of the team's defensive improvements are the result of recruiting. I do, however, think that almost every time Boeheim benches a player it is because of a defensive mistake which if I remember correctly is a relatively new phenomenon, that does seem to yield results.

I don't necessarily believe that making mistakes means you are not working hard though. Paul Harris comes to mind. He made more defensive errors than anybody I can remember but his errors were all errors of commission rather than errors of omission. He was trying really hard, he just had terrible basketball instincts.

One of Boeheim's biggest strengths in my view is as a talent evaluator. When Syracuse wasn't such a hot commodity on the recruiting trail this strength could not manifest itself, but now that he has his pick of the litter so to speak, he is really doing an amazing job of bringing in players that fit his system.

By way of example, Devendorf had the reputation of not working very hard defensively while Flynn had the reputation of working extremely hard, yet Devendorf was a much better defender than Flynn was because he fit the system better.

James Theus, Allan Griffin, Josh Pace stand out to me as being very hard working defenders who got scored on a lot because they were too small (in Josh Pace's case, only when he played forward which was most of the time).

I think Syracuse has always been a team that works pretty hard defensively, I'm not sure they have always had the talent to be a good defensive team.
 
I don't know that I agree with you on the team working harder defensively . . . not so much because I disagree with you, but because I think most of the team's defensive improvements are the result of recruiting. I do, however, think that almost every time Boeheim benches a player it is because of a defensive mistake which if I remember correctly is a relatively new phenomenon, that does seem to yield results.

I don't necessarily believe that making mistakes means you are not working hard though. Paul Harris comes to mind. He made more defensive errors than anybody I can remember but his errors were all errors of commission rather than errors of omission. He was trying really hard, he just had terrible basketball instincts.

One of Boeheim's biggest strengths in my view is as a talent evaluator. When Syracuse wasn't such a hot commodity on the recruiting trail this strength could not manifest itself, but now that he has his pick of the litter so to speak, he is really doing an amazing job of bringing in players that fit his system.

By way of example, Devendorf had the reputation of not working very hard defensively while Flynn had the reputation of working extremely hard, yet Devendorf was a much better defender than Flynn was because he fit the system better.

James Theus, Allan Griffin, Josh Pace stand out to me as being very hard working defenders who got scored on a lot because they were too small (in Josh Pace's case, only when he played forward which was most of the time).

I think Syracuse has always been a team that works pretty hard defensively, I'm not sure they have always had the talent to be a good defensive team.
On the other hand, we now have the players that allow to the coach to say, "If you want to play, you better go all-out on defense."
 
I would think that the factor of having an all previous player coaching staff, including some gym rats and gritty guys who understood hustle as well as anyone ever will certainly helps to drive that intensity to some degree.
 
G20:

These posts of yours have become an absolute must-read, both before and after the games. Thanks for the immense amounts of time that you are obviously putting in.

Could somebody please promote this guy from the second string, for G-d's sake? This kid's a PTPer all the way, baby.
 
Always great! I think that Grant and Christmas's superior athleticism is what stuck out most to me in that game. Great point about Cooney's second half 3pt attempts. Ialso felt it was Ennis's worst game and your explanation of him rushing helped makes perfect sense to me although I wouldn't have been able to pin point it as that myself.
 
I don't know that I agree with you on the team working harder defensively . . . not so much because I disagree with you, but because I think most of the team's defensive improvements are the result of recruiting. I do, however, think that almost every time Boeheim benches a player it is because of a defensive mistake which if I remember correctly is a relatively new phenomenon, that does seem to yield results.

I don't necessarily believe that making mistakes means you are not working hard though. Paul Harris comes to mind. He made more defensive errors than anybody I can remember but his errors were all errors of commission rather than errors of omission. He was trying really hard, he just had terrible basketball instincts.

One of Boeheim's biggest strengths in my view is as a talent evaluator. When Syracuse wasn't such a hot commodity on the recruiting trail this strength could not manifest itself, but now that he has his pick of the litter so to speak, he is really doing an amazing job of bringing in players that fit his system.

By way of example, Devendorf had the reputation of not working very hard defensively while Flynn had the reputation of working extremely hard, yet Devendorf was a much better defender than Flynn was because he fit the system better.

James Theus, Allan Griffin, Josh Pace stand out to me as being very hard working defenders who got scored on a lot because they were too small (in Josh Pace's case, only when he played forward which was most of the time).

I think Syracuse has always been a team that works pretty hard defensively, I'm not sure they have always had the talent to be a good defensive team.

Thanks for the response.

I would love to spend some time as a fly on the wall when JB is going over strategy against the opposing team.

What you predicted pre-game made perfect sense: keep a poor-shooting NC team in the half-court and make them beat the zone

Instead we did the exact opposite.

NC had beaten three of supposed-better teams in the land by being allowed to get out in transition.

I would love to know how JB knew/why he thought that we could play to their strengths and still beat them easily. It is one thing to think you see it in practice but to implement it all the while knowing that NC had beaten Mich St., Louisville and Kentucky when that same formula had been used...

SWC, maybe you could slip this in as one of your questions on Thursday?

BTW, General, one of this year's projects is a re-do of the backyard and putting in a bocce court is under serious consideration...
 
BTW, General, one of this year's projects is a re-do of the backyard and putting in a bocce court is under serious consideration...

Nice. Not sure what your property looks like but an official bocce court is 90 feet long, which a lot of people don't have room for. I always say you can make it a lot shorter than official length and not even notice/still enjoy it just as much.
 
Nice. Not sure what your property looks like but an official bocce court is 90 feet long, which a lot of people don't have room for. I always say you can make it a lot shorter than official length and not even notice/still enjoy it just as much.

90 is too much. Like to do 60 but may end up at 40 - 45.
 

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