Go Figure: Anatomy of a Breakdown

By Lauren Brownlow | 0 Comment(s) | Posted

A lot of fan bases have a tendency to remember bad games as worse than they really were. “We couldn’t hit a shot” after Carolina shot maybe 40% for the game. “They (the opponent) couldn’t miss.” Obviously, no team has ever shot 100 percent from the floor. That I know of. Okay, that’s semantics.

But last night, Indiana only hit eight three-pointers. It felt like the Hoosiers hit 80. They only had 12 fast break points, and that felt like at least 30 by Cody Zeller alone. And so last night, if you were watching and felt like Carolina could not hit a shot, you were probably right.

It wasn’t for the entire game, but it was enough. In Carolina’s first 23 possessions of the second half - a little over nine minutes of game action - the Tar Heels had three points, missed 18 shots and turned it over twice. It took just nine minutes (nearly a quarter of the game), and they went from down nine points to down 28.

There are a lot of reasons for the drought - youth, panic as Indiana’s lead ballooned, bad decision-making, poor ball movement - but surely, almost any team could luck into more than one field goal in nine minutes, right?

It didn’t help that Indiana got going offensively with about seven minutes left in the first half and didn’t slow their offensive onslaught until 10:49 remained in the game. In that stretch totaling about 16 minutes, the Hoosiers had 45 points on 39 possessions, missed 14 shots and turned it over three times. In their other 45 possessions before and after the run, they scored 29 points, missed 22 shots and had ten turnovers.

Even with a recovery of sorts that saw Carolina average a point per possession on its final 19 possessions of the game, Carolina still scored just 22 second-half points on 44 possessions. That’s 0.5 per possession. Most can tell that number is, well, bad. But to put it in perspective, Dean Smith wanted his teams to average 0.95 PPP in a season and hold opponents to below 0.85.  

A cursory glance through stats from when I used to keep half-by-half points per possession revealed the last two times Carolina had a PPP that low in a half. Interestingly enough, it was the first half of the 2008 NCAA tournament loss to Kansas (0.61 PPP) and the second half of the 2008-09 team’s still-inexplicable home loss to Boston College (0.62 PPP).

(For the record, I’m sure Carolina had a half that bad or worse in 2009-10 and 2010-11, but I had stopped keeping half-by-half PPP.)

There was no sign it was coming, either. Not really. An Indiana run seemed inevitable, but Carolina had been keeping pace just fine in the first half, averaging 0.84 points per possession. When the wheels fell off, it took far too long for Carolina to even pull over to the side of the road, much less put the metaphorical wheels back on.

And really, the Butler loss in Maui wasn’t that different. Carolina’s struggles in that game came in the first half, when it averaged just 0.55 PPP. In the second half, they averaged 1.08 points per possession, but it wasn’t enough.

This young team is likely going to continue to have swings like this: maybe not from half-to-half (one has to hope not, at least for Roy Williams’ sake), but certainly from game-to-game. The Carolina faithful are just going to have to ride that roller-coaster along with them for now.

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