Preview: Wake Forest vs. North Carolina Tar Heels

Grant Halverson

Wake Forest finished the non-conference portion of their schedule with a 10-3 record and are set to begin ACC play when they take on the North Carolina Tar Heels (10-3) on Sunday at 8 p.m. at The Joel. How do the in-state rivals compare?

North Carolina has been perhaps the most enigmatic teams in all of college basketball this season. They have losses to Belmont and UAB, who are both ranked outside of the top 100 according to KenPom. Meanwhile they've defeated three of KenPom's ten best teams in Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky, with two of those coming away from the Dean Dome. Let's try and breakdown this team some more to try and get closer to solving the puzzle.

Each of the team previews will focus on Dean Oliver's four factors of basketball.

Effective Field Goal %

Offensively, both North Carolina and Wake Forest have similar similar eFG%'s at 50.3% and 49.8%, respectively. This can be attributed to North Carolina's lack of three point shooting. Outside of Marcus Paige and recent addition Leslie McDonald, no one on the team has made more than four three pointers. In fact, North Carolina only has five scholarship players who has made a three pointer this season. They do have some very good inside players, which we'll get to in a bit, and because of that they have the fifth highest percentage in the nation of points coming from two point shots.

Defensively speaking, North Carolina is exceptional at forcing low percentage shots. They are 20th nationally in eFG% at 43.6% and Wake Forest is actually 24th at 43.8%. Again, I'll point out that those numbers are not adjusted for competition. A main reason North Carolina's defense is so good is that they have some very strong shot blockers in James Michael McAdoo and Brice Johnson. Those two could cause problems for Devin Thomas and Tyler Cavanaugh down low as well as when Codi Miller-McIntyre looks to penetrate.

Turnover %

North Carolina turns the ball over on 17.3% of their possessions, while Wake Forest turns it over at a nearly identical rate of 17.2%. Primary ball handler Marcus Paige does a good job of maintaining possession, but freshman point guard Nate Britt is very turnover prone. A similar comparison can be made for the Wake Forest back court because Codi Miller-McIntyre has an outstanding turnover% considering his usage rate, but Madison Jones is exceptionally turnover prone.

When it comes to forcing turnovers, however, North Carolina is in a different class than Wake Forest. The Tar Heels force their opponents to turn it over on nearly 21% of their possessions, while the Demon Deacons force opponents to turn it over on fewer than one out of every six possessions. Similar ratios hold true for steals, which means the Tar Heels pick more pockets than Bernie Madoff and get into their fast and secondary breaks.

Offensive/Defensive Rebounding %

Both squads are strong rebounding teams and the rebounding battle could go a long way in determining the winner of this Tobacco Road contest. Carolina grabs 37.4% of offensive rebounding opportunities (36th nationally), while Wake Forest allows opponents to grab just more than one in four offensive rebounding opportunities (26.4%, 22nd nationally). Those numbers go a long way towards Carolina's offensive efficiency as well as Wake's defensive efficiency. I truly believe whichever team wins that facet of the game, will emerge victorious.

North Carolina is about average at defensive rebounding, while Wake Forest is above average at offensive rebounding, so this should be an advantage for the Demon Deacons. The Deacs will probably have a few of their shots blocked, so grabbing those lose balls is an important component of this as well.

Free Throw Rate

North Carolina is 21st nationally in free throw rate [insert Carolina Refs joke here], but they hit just 62.4% of them, which is awful but still somehow better than Wake Forest's percentage. James Michael McAdoo is North Carolina's best player at drawing fouls, but he has made just 57% of them. Still, even if McAdoo was fouled every time and made just 57% of his FT's that would still translate into 1.14 points per possession, which is above their current efficiency of 1.12 points per possession.

Wake Forest also has a strong free throw rate, but have made just 61.9% of them, which is the lowest percentage of any major conference team in the country. But again, that still translates to an offensive efficiency of 1.24 points per possession, which is far better than Wake's average. Getting to the foul line is a very positive thing.

If it comes to fouling at the end, Wake Forest could be in trouble because Marcus Paige is 94% free throw shooter this season.

Conclusion

I won't pretend to say that I know exactly what's going to happen in this game, because I truly would not be surprised by any result. Call me a homer or call me an idiot, but I'm actually going with the Deacs to win this one. This game is critically important to their season, because if they don't win this one, then it's very likely they'll fall to 0-3 to start the season because their upcoming games are on the road against Virginia and Pittsburgh. Something just tells me that Coron Williams is going to hit several threes, Devin Thomas is going to be exceptional on the interior and Codi Miller-McIntyre will assert himself on the way to a Wake Forest win.

Prediction

North Carolina  71

Wake Forest     75

You can catch all of the action on ESPNU this Sunday at 8 p.m. and if you're in the area get on out to The Joel and support the team. As always, go Deacs!

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