Go Figure: Defensive Commitment
So far, the young Tar Heels are allowing just 0.687 points per possession, which would be a record for a Roy Williams team at UNC. Sure, you’ve got to consider opponents, how early it is, et cetera. But under Williams, no Carolina team has allowed that low an average per possession in its first three games.
The closest any team has come was a team that is reminiscent of this year’s young group: the 2005-06 squad, which allowed just 0.7179 points per possession in its first three games. That team ended as the fifth-best defensive squad under Williams at UNC, behind only two national championship teams and the 2011-11 and 2011-12 Tar Heels.
Now, if you’re getting too excited and need proof that it’s too small of a sample size? The 2009-10 Tar Heels began allowing 0.7235 points per possession and ended as the second-worst Williams’ defensive team, while the 2008-09 and 2004-05 Tar Heels had the worst and second-worst PPP averages allowed through their first two games. The 2004-05 team is still Williams’ best defensively, while the 2008-09 team is fourth:
1. 2012-13: 59.33 Points Per Game, 0.6873 Points Per Possession
2. 2004-05: 70.27 PPG, 0.7937 PPP
3. 2011-12: 67.08 PPG, 0.7981 PPP
4. 2010-11: 68.78 PPG, 0.8067 PPP
5. 2008-09: 72.08 PPG, 0.8092 PPP
6. 2005-06: 68.32 PPG, 0.8106 PPP
7. 2006-07: 68.63 PPG, 0.8120 PPP
8. 2007-08: 72.51 PPG, 0.8228 PPP
9. 2009-10: 71.92 PPG, 0.8334 PPP
10. 2003-04: 74.77 PPG, 0.8564 PPP
The good news about the young Tar Heels is that they’ve been fairly consistent in the early going, too. The 2009-10 team allowed two teams to put up a higher PPP than Carolina has allowed all year so far, but held one team - NC Central - to such a low average (0.4884) that it dragged down their three-game average. The 2005-06 team allowed Gardner-Webb to put up 0.899 PPP in its opener, but held Cleveland State and UCSB to below 0.8.
And since the 2007-08 season - or 189 Carolina basketball games, featuring three of the top five defensive teams under Williams - only 40 times have opponents been held to the same or lower points per possession as Carolina allowed in its worst defensive game at Long Beach State on Friday (0.724). Carolina’s best defensive performance was allowing 0.636 PPP against Florida Atlantic, and since 2007-08, Carolina has only been better than that defensively 11 times. Last year’s team did it three times, including in the opener on a boat against Michigan State.
There’s a catch, obviously - Carolina’s struggling to score the ball (0.925 points per possession). But if Carolina keeps defending like this, they have the potential to be the best defensive team since Williams came back to UNC.
Three-pointers might have kept them in the Long Beach State game early, but the ability to close out defensively against the 49ers - on the road - in the second half is ultimately why Carolina won the game. They’re going to have to follow a similar script much of the year until the offense begins to click, and even perhaps after it clicks. This team is clearly committed to defense, and it’s particularly impressive considering the amount of freshmen on this team.