Category Archives: UNC

First UNC Podcast!

Today, on the most romantic holiday of the year, Ben (@TheDevilWolf) and I look back on UNC’s impressive recovery against Virginia, preview Wednesday’s big clash in Miami, examine whether the ACC is the most exciting conference in the country, and even, against everyone’s wishes, spend two minutes on Georgia Tech-Wake Forest. You’ll want to skip that part.

This is part one of the podcast. Wednesday evening, I’ll post the Duke-centric part two. Enjoy, and feedback is appreciated as always.

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Does UNC lack a killer instinct?

I once had a forecasting class where the professor gave each one of us a bag of M&Ms. We were then supposed to count each color and report the results. Predictably some of the M&M bags had more blues, while others had more oranges. My bag in particular had one brown M&M, which was the lowest count of any color in any of the bags. The professor showed the results on a projector and asked the class to imagine each color to be a particular product and that each bag to be an individual store. She then asked what the results meant. Some people said that certain “stores” were better at selling certain “products.” My store in particular was said to be deficient in selling whatever product the brown M&M represented. There was a discussion among people in the class about reasons why certain stores had sold more of certain products. Maybe one store had better employees? Maybe one store sold more “oranges” because they were located in a college town like Syracuse?

At that time I had to raise my hand. I asked the professor if we should maybe consider that the results are random and that it would be a terrible idea to come up with a forecast based on these results. The sample size was way too small, and also we had the advantage of knowing that these results were completely random. For example I doubt that the 6th M&M bag opened in the next class would have a only one brown M&M. Generally speaking it was amazing to watch people try to assign reasons to what they knew were random events. Needless to say I didn’t understand the exercise and I don’t think I impressed my professor with my answer. I wasn’t trying to be a devil’s advocate or a jerk, but rather just start a discussion on the importance of luck in setting a forecast.

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Being wrong…

At no point before or during last night’s game did I think Duke was going to beat UNC. It was a combination of the previous game against Miami and the fact that Duke matched up terribly with UNC. I didn’t know who would guard Barnes, how they would stop Marshall from getting in the lane or how they could prevent UNC from dominating the offensive rebounds. During the game it looked like UNC took Duke’s best shot in the first half and was still up three going into halftime. It didn’t really surprise me that the lead fluctuated between 8 and 12 points for most of the 2nd half. Normally, I don’t text my brother-in-law (the enemy) during the game, but didn’t seem to be that big of a deal because it more closely resembled the Paulus/McRoberts Duke-UNC games. I was content with how Duke played and was actually somewhat ok with them losing to UNC. I was wrong. I was wrong about so many things, but most importantly I was wrong in thinking that Duke couldn’t beat UNC.

Also, I was wrong about questioning any of Coach K lineup decisions. I thought Quinn Cook should play more, and that playing Tyler Thornton wasn’t the best idea. Thornton didn’t have the best game, but this three to start the comeback was an intelligent, critical play. Coach K has been searching for what works with the team, and give him credit for taking a team that lost Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler and Kyrie Iring and leading it to impressive wins against Kansas, Michigan, Michigan State and UNC. I might complain about the team, but they have five wins against top 25 (RPI ranking), which just so happens to be four more wins than UNC has against top 25 teams.  

I was wrong for comparing Mason Plumlee to Josh McRoberts. The middle Plumlee didn’t have the best game, but his steal before Curry’s three was something that at least got him of the McRoberts line. There will be time to analyze his game, but after last night I would like to stay positive.

I was wrong about Austin Rivers. I never really liked watching him play. His outside shot seemed to be at best described as streaky, and I wondered if he was ever going to be a decent three point shooter. Ask Tyler Zeller how his three point shot looks? Anyway, his passion, heart and production last night made me a believer. No matter how the rest of his career goes, Rivers has given me a game and a moment that cements part of his legacy. Just like last year when Nolan Smith and Seth Curry led the comeback against UNC, Rivers never has to pay for another drink around me.

Last night was one of those sports miracles that makes following sports worth it. I had low expectations of the game, and just like a lot of things I was wrong. This was a classic UNC-Duke game and 30 years from now I will still smile whenever I see a replay of Rivers shot to complete the comeback.

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Duke-UNC Recap Podcast, Part 2!

If you missed part one, where Ben and I obsessively dissect the last 2.5 minutes of the game, check it out here.

In part two, we discuss the aftermath of the game, dish out some (dignified) gossip from the locker room, speculate on where Duke and UNC go from here, and analyze the outlook for the ACC. We also enlist your help for a podcast name.

Thanks to all the people who are downloading, and we’d love to hear your feedback. Enjoy!

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Duke – UNC Recap Podcast!

In Part 1 of our recap of Duke-Carolina, Ben and I obsessively pick over the minute details of game’s last two and a half minutes. Our wide-ranging theories are the capstone on the greatest Duke victory of the year.

My written takes on the game can be found at Grantland here (serious, stayed up til 5am writing it) and here (a lot of jokes, took me about 10 minutes).

Ben’s take can be found here, at the Oxford Public Ledger.

Enjoy the pod! Part 2 up later tonight or tomorrow morn.

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My Best Friend is a Duke Fan

(Ed’s Note: Don’t miss the first Tobacco Road Blues podcast, previewing tonight’s game.)

“My best friend is a Duke fan.”


About twice a year (sometimes three), I think these words to myself and physically recoil. How could I be associated with such a being? How could I justify my fandom as a Tar Heel when treason runs so close to home?

In short? I rationalize. Sam and I were friends before I went off to UNC and he went off to Duke. We shared social circles, experiences, friends. We’ve traveled abroad together. Once, we almost got murdered in a Greek soccer riot (true story). We are both hyper-competitive people: Sam crushed his ex in mini-golf on their first date. I once forced my dad to drink a “Cup of Shame” of milk and lemon juice from a sippy cup because I had just defeated him in a game of chess. We are very similar.

Yet twice a year, I mentally lump Sam in with the rest of… those dark blue people. Sam becomes an dookie. I dredge up my anemic highlight reel of dookies fulfilling their stereotype:

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The Fed Spread Offense – Red Zone Challenges

In last week’s post, I broke down the basics of the Fedora offense. The two buzzwords about the Fed Spread, as I’m calling it, are “matchups” and “spacing.” In short, by spreading the field with skill players, the defense is forced to tip its hand before the snap or risk giving up a big play; unless the defense goes to a nickel or dime package, there is then a resultant mismatch pairing a slower linebacker on a faster wide receiver. If the defense goes small, then the run game can dominate.

Now, the spread offense depends on a few things to succeed, the first of which is space. A common struggle of a typical spread offense is that scoring tends to drop off in the red zone, more so than conventional offenses accustomed to operating in a short space anyway. Because the field is much shorter inside the opponent’s 20 yard line, the defense is able to hide its intentions a bit better, since it has less space to cover when making up for lost ground. Spacing becomes less of an advantage as the goal line gets closer, because the vertical game becomes progressively less of a threat. Even the primary goal of the spread, to create mismatches, becomes less attainable since even an out-of-position safety can usually recover on a short field – even Houston’s #24, who had a bad game for the ages against Southern Miss. Hehe.

The screenshot evidence this week is both lacking and of poor quality; for that, blame both the difficulty in ferreting out hard-to-find online video of Conference USA games (go ahead, you try, and highlight YouTube videos don’t count) and the awful video quality of the one USM game I could find on ESPN3, their September 24 contest with Virginia. Southern Miss won the game 30-24, but only scored one touchdown in the red zone.

Let’s first quickly review the basic concepts of the spread in the red zone. In the following play, Southern Miss is on Virginia’s 20-yard line, trying to score in one gulp:

I told you the quality sucked. USM is represented by the smudges in white; the Cavaliers are the nondescript blobs in what I think is navy. Austin Davis, the Southern Miss QB, is about to take the snap in an extremely typical spread formation (and hey, I didn’t call him Anthony Davis this time!). He’s going to read the playside linebacker, circled in red, but he also has to contend with the safety, who’s off the screen standing on the ten yard line. You can sort of see a smudge of him, right at the point where the #2 WR’s arrow ends. More on him in a second. The linebacker is matched up in what looks like 1-on-1 coverage against an athletic tight end. Mismatch.

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Carolina Loss Aversion

As a fan, I readily admit to unreasonable expectations.  I’m not remotely objective.  I create wildly optimistic scenarios and pretend they are objective and realistic.  It’s what fans do and it’s entirely human, if not quite “normal.”

We all live in an overconfident, Lake Wobegon world (“where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average”).  We are only correct about 80% of the time when we are “99% sure.” Despite the experiences of anyone who has gone to college (even at Duke), fully 94% of college professors believe they have above-average teaching skills. Since 80% of drivers  say that their driving skills are above average, I guess none of them are on the freeway when I am.  While 70% of high school students claim to have above-average leadership skills, only 2% say they are below average, no doubt taught by above average math teachers.  In a finding that pretty well sums things up, 85-90% of people think that the future will be more pleasant and less painful for them than for the average person.

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At the Quarter Mark: Some Defensive Charting Stats and Observations

We’re 10 games into a season that optimistic Tar Heel fans hope will go the full 40 (31 regular season games + 3 ACCT + 6 NCAAT). Through the season’s opening quarter, Carolina’s adjusted defensive efficiency places 11th in the country– a slight drop from last year’s final ranking of 6th. This post will try to shine some light on which UNC defenders are already in mid-season form, and which ones are still trying to shake off that early-season rust.

Kendall Marshall

2011 (all)
2012 (1st 10 games)
FG% All 37.6 40.0
3Pt% All. 26.5 35.3
FTA Rate 18.8 13.3
TS% All. 47.0 51.3
Pts. All. / 40 10.7 14.6
Deflections / 40 4.17 6.13
Forced TOs /40 2.56 2.30
Off. Fouls Drawn / 40 0.22 0.00
Denies / 40 0.91 0.77
DR% 7.6 7.5
Stop % 58.9 53.8
%Possessions 15.5 17.5
Def. On-Court/Off-Court +2.1 -8.3

Marshall, now firmly entrenched as a starter, is being game-planned against and attacked like one. Teams are challenging him more on the defensive end, hoping to exploit his relative lack of lateral quickness. After being involved (from a defensive charting perspective) in 15.5% of defensive possessions while on the court last season, that number has jumped to 17.5% this year. That, in conjunction with a drop in Stop% from 58.9 to 53.8, has resulted in Marshall allowing 14.6 points / 40– up from 10.7 as a freshman. Part of the reason for Marshall’s lower Stop% might involve some tactical decisions by Roy Williams. Marshall saw significant defensive minutes against both Jordan Taylor and Casper Ware– the types of assignments that might be increasingly handled by Strickland as the games get more and more important.

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The Spread Offense, Fedora-Style

Unless you’re a diehard football tactics junkie or Josh McDaniels, you probably think of the spread as Mike Leach, 45 points a game, and a fast running quarterback. In fact, let’s do a quick test: when I say, “spread offense,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? If you’re like most people, you probably thought of one of the following:

  • 60 passes a game
  • 5 wide receivers every play
  • A correspondingly bad defense
  •  “System” offenses
  • Colt Brennan.

When UNC hired spread offense disciple Larry Fedora last week, a lot of UNC fans started to dissect the relative merits of the spread against what we’re used to here in Chapel Hill – a pro-style offense using a lot of motion and multiple packages. Fedora’s offense is decidedly not pro-style. Technically, it’s probably best categorized as a one-back balanced spread offense. The big question for most fans, though, is “what exactly IS this spread offense I keep hearing about?”

In this post, I’ll try to provide an overall framework for what Fedora is going to try to do here in Chapel Hill. I broke down the game tape of Southern Miss’ victory over the heavily favored Houston Cougars to illustrate some of the central concepts, so be forewarned: this gets pretty technical at times, though I’ve tried to coach the explanations in everyday language.

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