Friday, February 13, 2009

UNC 101, Duke 87

First off, I want to dispel two rumors about this game: 1) that Duke had its first-half successes against the Tar Heel bench, and 2) that the Tar Heels stayed fresher toward the end of the game due to better bench use.

As to the first, Carolina led 31-24 with 8:39 to play, and there was a ball knocked out of bounds. The Heels make a couple subs, and go with Lawson, Frasor, Green, Thompson, and Hansbrough. Hansbrough charges, then commits a defensive foul, then Scheyer hits a jumper. Another dead ball, and Ellington comes in for Green. Over the next 7 possessions, Duke goes on a 16-3 run to take a 6 point lead. So the Devils' big push came against 5 of the top 6 guys in the Tar Heel rotation. Larry Drew, Ed Davis, and Mike Copeland were not involved. During the first half, every Tar Heel but Thompson was in the minus column for +/- - Lawson was -4, Hansbrough -6. Interestingly enough, the 5 on the court for Duke's big run (Lawson, Frasor, Ellington, Thompson, Hansbrough) ended up being the five highest Tar Heels in +/- for the game.

As to the second, if the Tar Heels were fresher at the end of the game, it had precisely zero to do with the minutes played last night. In the first half, Carolina's top 6 played 18 (Ellington), 16 (Lawson), 14 (Hansbrough), 14 (Thompson), 12 (Green), and 12 (Frasor). The other three guys combined for 14 minutes. In the first half, Duke's top 6 played 16 (Henderson), 16 (Singler), 15 (Scheyer), 15 (Paulus), 11 (Thomas), 10 (Smith). McClure and Zoubek combined for 17. The numbers for the second half are remarkably similar - in the same order, Carolina's top 6 played 16, 18, 19, 10, 12, and 15. Davis added 8, Drew 2. For Duke, in the same order, they played 18, 17, 18, 13, 9, 12. McClure added 11, Zoubek 2. There's no meaningful difference in the number of minutes played or the distribution of those minutes.

Now that that's all out of the way, what happened last night was pretty simple: the better team won. When you put a very good team on the court with a very, very good team, and both play well, the very, very good team will win unless the very good team gets a couple breaks. Unfortunately for Duke, all the breaks seemed to go against them. There were, I thought, two key sequences to the game, and they occurred back-to-back. The first was when Lawson decided he wanted to take over, and single-handedly took the Heels on a 6-0 run that spread the lead from 3 to 9. He simply abused Paulus. I've always thought Lawson was great in the open court but only so-so in the half court - last night, he was legitimately great in both. The second sequence immediately followed. At that point, there was 6:38 showing on the clock - hardly an insurmountable time/score deficit. Duke subbed in Smith and McClure for Paulus and Thomas, going for defense and quickness. Coming out of the substitution, Smith threw a pass to a curling Scheyer, who was tripped/slipped - turnover. Carolina takes the ball, and Duke plays the best 30 seconds of defense it played all night. The Tar Heels were left with what was legitimately a desperation three from Hansbrough - that was so out of kilter from his normal shooting form, I thought it would be lucky to hit the backboard. Of course it goes in, UNC by 12. The next possession, Scheyer gets stripped going to the bucket. Lawson misses the break jumper, but gets the board. He pulls out, and Duke again plays great defense, forcing a difficult shot that misses. The rebound bounces around, gets tipped by several guys, finally Singler gets what looked like a good, easy shot to grab it, and he just fumbles it out of bounds. When Carolina resets the offense, Duke again gets a great defensive play from McClure, blocking what looked like a wide open 3 from Ellington. Then Smith fouls Lawson (I think non-shooting, but I don't remember for certain), two FTs good, and more importantly, 57 seconds off the clock. The very next play, Henderson slips on the floor and loses the ball out of bounds. The clock now shows 4:31, and Carolina is suddenly up 14. In that 2:07 span, Duke didn't get a shot off, and held the ball for just :37 (despite having 3 possessions to UNC's 2). Those two sequences were like a boxer's knockout combination. Lawson's three drives were jab, jab, jab, Tyler's three was the cross, and the minute-long possession was the uppercut. Henderson's fall to the floor made it clear that the knockout was in at that point. (Ugh, enough boxing analogies).

I certainly don't mean to suggest that Carolina won the game only because a couple bounces went their way - that's not true at all. They won the game because their offense was exceptional - it was the highest offensive rating posted against Duke since I started charting this stuff (admittedly, not long). My point is only that Duke needs a couple of bounces to go its way to beat the Heels when UNC is playing well, and last night, that most certainly did not happen. That second sequence could easily have been a 9-10 point swing in the other direction - if Hansbrough misses and Singler can grab the board, that's 5 away from the Heels; if Duke gets shots at the other end (and makes them) instead of slip-and-falls, that's 4-6 for the Devils, and it's a 5 point game with 5 minutes to play, rather than 14. But that's not the way it happened.

Duke now has 7 games left in the regular season, 5 of which are on the road. The last four will be particularly tough - Blacksburg and College Park are not fun places for Duke teams to play, FSU can give the Devils all they can handle, and the there's that big ugly building a few miles down 15-501. The Devils really need to carry forward the offensive game they had last night, while recommitting at the defensive end (where they've been torched 2 of the last 3 games after wholly dominating teams all season).

Here's the HD Box from last night - as a little bonus, I've also included the +/- for the Tar Heel players.

Ellington 19
Lawson 15
Hansbrough 14
Thompson 13
Frasor 7
Davis 5
Green 2
Drew -1
Copeland -4


William O. Douglas Loeffler said...

I was wondering how or from where you are deriving +/- numbers. I don't see a lot of those around, on Pomeroy, for example and I was wondering if maybe they are more suspect in basketball, then, say, in hockey.

Douglas said...

Paul, excellent recap. I could hardly agree more with both your assessment of what needed to happen for Duke to win and with the two pivotal spans that DID happen and stood in Duke's way.

The 3-pointer from Hansbrough and Duke's quick turnovers (or obvious non-called fouls, depending on what you want to call Scheyer's "trip") were absolutely killer.

Paul Rugani said...

The +/- numbers come from the box score - GoDuke (and many of the school sites) releases box scores that includes substitution data, so it's easy to track what the score is when particular people are on the court.

As for more suspect, I don't really know what you mean. They measure the same thing - whose team scores more when the player is on the floor. I will say that since scoring is more frequent in basketball, players are more susceptible to quick runs that could affect the overall numbers. This tends to even out over the long run.

Ryan said...

Hey Paul - first, just wanted to say great job with the blog, as always. My reaction to the game was exactly the same. We got outplayed by a better team and at the crucial point in the game, all the bounces seemed to go Carolina's way. Two other plays around the same time (my memory of the exact sequence is hazy by now) that I remember:
1) Jon missing a great look at a 3 from the corner, Lance gets the O Reb and misses a point blank put-back. Tyler gets the board. Would've been a huge momentum play.
2)Shortly thereafter Ellington hit a 3 that was the result of something of a scrum play where I thought Carolina was going to turn it over, and it sort of happened to bounce out to Ellington for a great look.

Just two more examples of "near miss" plays that leaving you thinking what could have been. Would be nice to see them come out firing on all cylinders against BC to get some momentum back.

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