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UNC frontcourt owns the glass in more than one way

 

The North Carolina Tar Heels — winners of six straight games — are red hot. UNC is the No. 9 team in the nation and ranks inside the top 15 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency (one of only four teams hitting this benchmark in the KenPom.com rankings). With Theo Pinson back, Roy Williams finally has a healthy roster at his disposal.

North Carolina possesses a deep and experienced roster that continues to bludgeon opponents in the rebounding department. After finishing third in the nation in offensive rebound rate last season (40.7 percent), UNC has kicked it up to another level; the Tar Heels now lead the nation in offensive rebounding rate (42.7 percent), according to KenPom. In conference play, they have been even more dominant cleaning the glass — an offensive rebounding rate of 44 percent, which is astonishing.

That, however, isn’t quite enough to satisfy Williams, who believes his team — despite rebounding better than every other team in the nation — has room for growth.

Last season, North Carolina, as a team, shot just 32.7 percent on three-pointers, which ranked 268th in the nation, per Sports-Reference. The Tar Heels needed to pound the glass to prop up the offense.

This season, that’s not necessarily the case.

UNC features two of the best three-point shooters in the ACC: Justin Jackson and Joel Berry. Both players make at least two three-pointers per game on 40-plus percent shooting.

North Carolina now ranks No. 80 in the nation in three-point accuracy — connecting on 37.4 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc. But when misses occur, UNC is gobbling up nearly half of those rebounding opportunities. Once a rebound has been collected, a handful of players on the roster transform into instant offense. This team grabs the ball and looks to score.

Six different players, led by senior Kennedy Meeks and freshman Tony Bradley, have at least 20 offensive rebounds this season; here are their scoring metrics on putbacks, courtesy of Synergy Sports.

 Offensive Rebounds (total)Offensive Rebounding RatePut-back FG%Points Per Possession
Kennedy Meeks8217%51%1.11
Tony Bradley6122.1%56.7%1.27
Isaiah Hicks449.8%68.2%1.43
Kenny Williams316.2%69.2%1.12
Luke Maye2813.0%31.3%0.53
Justin Jackson233.9%66.7%1.24

Jackson is shooting more threes this season, which has caused his rebounding rate to drop. Regardless, he’s still very good when he does collect a board. The junior is one of five Tar Heels to have a field-goal percentage on putbacks above 50 percent and score better than one point per possession.

According to KenPom, in conference games last season, North Carolina scored 112.7 points per 100 possessions, which was the third-highest mark in the league. But with improved shooting and command of the glass, UNC has become even more efficient. Through seven ACC games, the Tar Heels have scored 114.1 points per 100 possessions.

This is a team that can bring home a lot of hardware in 2017; if there are in fact opportunities for growth, the rest of the college basketball landscape should be concerned.