Heeled up: UNC stepping up its defense


In North Carolina’s penultimate tune-up before conference play starts, the Tar Heels more than doubled-up Northern Iowa — at the time No. 86 in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings — in winning 85-42.

Those 42 points were the fewest UNC has allowed in a game since November 2009, when it defeated North Carolina Central in Chapel Hill, 89-42. It also rates as the fourth-lowest total the Heels have allowed in a game in the shot clock era.

It should come as no real surprise then that this was the slowest game UNC has participated in all season. According to Sports-Reference, there were fewer than 66 possessions in this contest. While the Tar Heels like to push the ball, Northern Iowa ranks nearly dead last in the nation in terms of tempo. The Panthers live on the same block as Virginia, essentially.

North Carolina’s next-slowest game this season was the win over Wisconsin — another team notorious for taking the air out of the basketball. That game featured 68 possessions. For comparison, the loss to Kentucky was an 81-possession contest.

The Tar Heels are averaging close to 76 possessions per game, per Sports-Reference data. But even when adjusting for pace, this was still a dominant effort. UNC forced 17 turnovers, which is tied for its third-largest mark this season. North Carolina, which once again gobbled up a ton of offensive rebounds (11), kept the Panthers off the glass — allowing an opposing offensive rebounding rate of just 9.1 percent.

Northern Iowa shot just 33.3 percent from the floor, so it’s not like the Panthers didn’t have opportunities; Kennedy Meeks led the way on the boards with eight total rebounds.

North Carolina committed just 14 fouls in the game, and Northern Iowa attempted just eight free throws. UNC gave up 63.6 points per 100 possessions, which is its most efficient total of the season; the win over Radford comes in at a close second, though (64.1 points per 100 possessions). Radford isn’t a very good basketball team, however, which makes the defensive effort against Northern Iowa all the more impressive.

KenPom ranks UNC has the fourth-most efficient offense in the country: 1.19 points per possession. The Tar Heels also have the distinction of being a top-10 defense: 0.91 points per possession. They are one of only four teams to rank inside the top 10 in both of these metics — Duke, Kentucky and Kansas are the other three. Not to mention, they have done all of this sans Theo Pinson, their best perimeter defender.

After a week off, North Carolina finalizes its nonconference slate Wednesday night, when it hosts King Rice and Monmouth — another team that likes to push the pace. On New Year’s Eve, North Carolina tees off ACC play with a road contest in the ATL against Georgia Tech.

Keep an eye on North Carolina’s defense going forward; the arrival of Pinson to the lineup could spark the Heels to an even stingier level.