Scout By Numbers: NC State-UNC

An in-depth statistical look at how the Pack matches up against rival North Carolina and what to expect when the two teams battle at the Dean Dome on Thursday night.

A quick refresher if this is your first time reading the basketball version of this column. As a warning in advance, these paragraphs are me arguing in favor of the stats used in this column for first timers or people still unfamiliar with what a lot of this stuff means. Feel free to skip or ignore.

All of these stats are done on a per possession basis - the idea being that if you eliminate the pace a team plays at you get a better idea of their actual ability in certain areas. Virginia is always going to look like one of the worst offensive teams in the ACC if you look at points per game because they play at a snail's pace - but that's not a reflection of their actual offensive abilities.

By the same token, we use percentages for things like rebounding and turnovers. Rebounding margin is a terrible stat because it fails to factor in opportunity. For example, Wake can miss 30 shots and gets 10 offensive in a game while State could miss 10 shots and get four. The margin suggest that the Pack got killed on the offensive glass, while any reasonable person can see that they actual got more offensive rebounds as a percentage of their own misses.

Hopefully that explanation helps more people than it drives away. Let's take a look at the numbers.

Pack Offense against Carolina Defense

Category NC State Offense UNC Defense
Points per Possession 1.10 (39) 0.87 (9)
2-point FG% 51.6 (56) 42.6 (22)
3-point FG% 36.5 (90) 31.7 (69)
Turnover % 19.3 (96) 19.3 (245)
Off. Rebound % 37.5 (32) 27.7 (24)
FT Rate (FTA/FGA) 35.6 (191) 17.4 (1)
Point Dist. - 3pt/2pt/FT 22/58/20 35/53/12

It might be weird to think, but the Heels' defense is actually superior to their offense this year. It's not as weird when you realize that the reason its defense is better is because no team in the nation keeps teams off the free-throw line better than the Heels. They simply don't get called for a lot of shooting fouls or put teams in the bonus often. It's an amazing feat that has been a staple of Carolina's defense the entirety of the Roy Williams era.

Beyond that, this is a defense that does a lot of things really well. They dominate the paint - call it the John Henson factor - allowing just less than 43% shooting from inside the arc. This is going to be problematic for the Pack, as they get a 78% of their points either inside the arc or at the free-throw line. They are not reliant on 3-pointers at all - only Carolina gets less points from 3s - which is normally a good thing but it matches up poorly with Carolina.

It creates a tough dilemma for Mark Gottfried - do you stick to your game and try to attack Henson in the paint? Or do you try to get an outside game going with Scott Wood and CJ Williams? In all likelihood we'll see a mixture of both - Gottfried has a good offensive mind and his sets are designed to take what the defense gives. The key for the Pack could be the offensive glass, getting a few put backs would be a tremendous boost against a good rebounding team like the Heels.

Pack Defense against Carolina Offense

Category NC State Defense UNC Offense
Points per Possession 0.96 (104) 1.13 (17)
2-point FG% 44.5 (66) 51.2 (66)
3-point FG% 35.7 (232) 35.1 (130)
Turnover % 19.3 (247) 17.3 (21)
Off. Rebound % 29.6 (69) 40.6 (9)
FT Rate (FTA/FGA) 32.6 (96) 39.7 (93)
Point Dist. - 3pt/2pt/FT 30/50/20 18/62/20

The Pack offense has been great all season, but the steady improvement of the defense over the last five weeks has to be encouraging for Gottfried and his staff. The Pack has made strides in both 3-point defense and in defensive rebounding - the latter improvement a big reason why it's been able to get more fast break opportunities lately.

The Heels don't turn it over and the Pack doesn't force turnovers so don't expect the Pack to get a lot of points off miscues. The Heels only get 18 percent of their points from 3s, so they will try to get the ball inside all night. They also crash the offensive glass as well as anyone in the league - so holding them to one shot will have to be a key emphasis for the Pack. They need five guys boxing out and no one trying to outleap players like Henson and Zeller.

The difficulty in defending the Heels is that their shooting screams to play zone, but their elite offensive rebounding makes playing zone an invitation to score on put backs. I expect to see Gottfried mix it up some, and he may be forced to go zone if fouls become an issue on his big men again (memo to Richard Howell, you will get called for every reach in in this game. So don't do it.)

The road to victory
Perimeter defense is Carolina's biggest liability on the defensive end but that would require the Pack changing the way it plays offense which would probably be detrimental overall. The best approach is to just run the offense and avoid going directly at Henson whenever possible. He's the best defensive player and the league and he got into the head of a few NC State players last year.

Defensively the key is going to be limiting the Heels to one shot. They are a good shooting team but not great by any means - they live off second chance opportunities though. If you can hold them to one shot 75 percent of the time instead of 60 percent of the time, that's a huge win.

Beating the Heels on the road might not be impossible, but it's going to be a tall order for the Pack. The key for the Pack on both ends is going to be diversity. The Heels don't have a ton of weaknesses that the Pack can exploit.

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