Monday, February 05, 2007

Duke v. UNC - The Backcourts

In the first installment of this week's Devils-Heels coverage, we take a look at the backcourts of the two teams.

Point Guard

UNC has 3 point guards, all of whom have vastly different styles. Ty Lawson is the starter, and after a tough beginning to ACC play, he's come on like gangbusters lately - 49 points in his last 3 conference games on 18 for 28 shooting (7 for 13 from 3) with 15 assists against 7 turnovers. Of course, those last three games were against Wake, Miami, and NC State, teams not exactly known for their defensive chops. Lawson has struggled with turnovers this year (worst among guards in conference play), and Duke will try to put a lot of pressure on him in the half court. He's unique in that he plays more under control going fast than going slow. Lawson's backups are Bobby Frasor and Quentin Thomas. Frasor is pure perimeter - he takes 3 threes for every two, and shoots almost no free throws. He's played only 36 minutes in conference, and before Saturday against NC State, hadn't been on court in any real critical situations. Frasor essentially got Pipped by Lawson - he's struggled with injuries all year and hasn't been nearly the factor he was last season. Quentin Thomas, on the other hand, has been a bit of a pleasant surprise. He's been an assist machine, recording assists on 47.5% of the team's baskets while he's on the court.

When Lawson's out, the points do almost no scoring. In 112 minutes, Thomas and Frasor have scored a combined 9 points. Lawson, on the other hand, has been the most dangerous perimeter threat for UNC. Duke is going to have to work hard to keep him out of the lane and to slow him down on fast breaks.

Duke has one legit point guard - Greg Paulus. Since the first two losses in conference, Paulus has been Duke's most consistent player. In the last 7 games, he has an A/TO ratio better than 2:1, and has shot nearly 50% from the floor. He's also sat only two minutes in Duke's last two games. Earlier in the year, Duke seemed willing to try out Scheyer and Nelson at point for stretches, but it seems like that has been abandoned a bit lately. As far as playmaking goes, the eggs have been firmly placed in the Paulus basket, for better or for worse.

You may not have believed this at the start of conference play, but Duke has almost a 2-to-1 advantage as far as turnovers from the point guard spot. Carolina's point guards average about an 8.0 turnover%, while Paulus is 4.6 (and the possessions played by Scheyer at the point bring the number down further). Paulus and Lawson are both scoring points, averaging over 11 per game (although Lawson does it playing just 24 minutes/game). Lawson is more capable of having a dominant game, but absent that occurring, point guard is close to a push - Carolina's are more volatile than Duke's with more susceptibility to the turnover and they leave the Heels playing almost 4-on-5 when Lawson is off court. The edge here still goes to the Heels, but by a smaller margin than you might otherwise think.

Off Guard/Wing

The deepest position on both teams is on the wing. Carolina starts Ellington and Terry, backed up by Miller, Green, and Ginyard. Duke starts Scheyer and Nelson, with Henderson and Pocius backing them up (no word on whether Henderson will start over Scheyer again). For UNC, this has been, by far, the worst position in conference play. Ellington is shooting just 13 for 40 from 3, and has taken far more shots than he's scored points (27.1% to 22.7%). Terry's PPWS and EFG% are way down in conference play, and Wes Miller has been nowhere near the outside threat he was last year. Green and Ginyard have been solid off the bench - both play good defense, both score well in their own ways (Ginyard inside - 56 2pt%, Green outside - 43.5 3pt%).

Henderson, Nelson, and Scheyer have all had mixed seasons so far. Nelson has tried to take on the brunt of the offensive responsibility, but hasn't been able to consistently come through. His 3pt shot has struggled in conference play (just 4 of his last 14) and he has a tendency to turn the ball over. Scheyer too has seen his shooting fall off of late - he's 4 for his last 18 from outside. His PPWS is high at 1.19 on account of his stellar 95.3 FT% and very solid 53.1 FT Rate. Henderson is the only one who's game has been trending upward. After opening the year with abysmal shooting, he's been steady in conference, with a 1.12 PPWS and a .533 EFG%. He's a bit of a defensive paradox, since he's one of Duke's better on ball defenders, though one of the worst off the ball.

Defensively, Duke's guards have an edge. All are solid on the ball, and Scheyer plays terrific ball denial defense. All are also surprisingly good rebounders. For UNC, both Terry and Ginyard are stellar defenders, although Terry has been susceptible to foul trouble. Green too can cause matchup problems, evidenced by his very solid steal and block rates. Ellington is a lot more offense-only than his teammates, and Wes Miller is a liability against larger players (which is pretty much everybody). When Ginyard and Green aren't in the game, Duke will have much more opportunities to make things happen on the perimeter.

All of Duke's perimeter players share the ball well, with A/B%'s in the 13 range. Carolina's perimeter players are excellent on the offensive glass - Terry, Green, and Ginyard in particular - Ginyard has a 10.8 ORB%, which is among the ACC's leaders. Duke's guards need to keep them off the boards, because they're far less dangerous when they're not getting second shot opportunities (that goes for the Heels as a whole). Duke also is going to need at least one, if not both, of Nelson and Scheyer to hit some threes to start keeping defenses honest.

Duke and Carolina actually match up pretty evenly in the backcourt. Carolina has superior depth, but you can't play all the guys on your roster at the same time, and Duke's team has demonstrated the stamina to play heavy minutes. Duke can force quite a few turnovers if they keep the defensive intensity high, and Carolina may be hard pressed to match them in the turnover battle. Key for Duke's guards will be getting up and down the floor when UNC starts to run, and limiting turnovers to keep fast break opportunities to a minimum.

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