Scouting the Heels
Purdue travels to Mohegan Sun to take on UNC on Saturday
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Purdue travels to Uncasville, Conneticut for the weekend for the Hall of Fame Tip-Off event, where they’ll face off against the North Carolina Tar Heels on Saturday and then either Villanova or Tennesse the next day (winner plays winner, loser plays loser). It is Purdue’s first real test of the year, how will they fare against elite talent?
In preparation for Saturday’s game, I watched North Carolina’s last two games, a 94-87 home win over Brown and a 94-83 victory at College of Charleston. The two games were very similar for UNC: Star big man Armando Bacot was a beast down low in both games, a talented guard took over (RJ Davis against Brown, Caleb Love against CoC) in both, and both games were entirely too close for comfort due to Carolina’s porous defense.
This newsletter will break down the Tar Heels, what they do well and where Purdue can exploit them. KenPom has Purdue as nine-point favorites in this one, but UNC is extremely scary to play this season. Let’s dive into Carolina:
UNC (3-0) has gotten off to an interesting start under first-year head coach Hubert Davis, who is, of course, tasked with replacing the legendary Roy Williams. Davis brought in two big-time transfers in forwards Brady Manek (Oklahoma) and Dawson Garcia (Marquette) to add to a roster that already returned a ton of talent.
It’s been a tale of two ends of the ball for the Heels, as they are scoring a very solid 1.067 points per possession on offense, including an impressive 1.064 in the half court. On the flipside, opponents are scoring 0.929 points per possession against UNC, with a blistering 1.325 PPP in transition. Points per possession isn’t the end all be all but it does illustrate how poor UNC has been defending in transition this season.
The Heels run a fast-paced offensive system reminiscent of the old Roy Williams and Dean Smith “Carolina Break.” However instead of having two true bigs as has been the case in the past, Davis went after Manek and Garcia to complement Bacot, two floor-spacing bigs who are more finesse than power. UNC has been particularly excellent on cuts this year, scoring 1.8 PPP on cuts (100th percentile). Their guards can get in the lane off the dribble, and their forwards do a great job cutting and moving to space.
In many ways, North Carolina is similar to Purdue. They have a dynamic scoring guard (Love), elite floor spacers (Davis, Kerwin Walton), and three really solid bigs (Bacot, Garcia, Manek). Here’s a look at their stats so far this season, thanks to CBB Reference:
Field goal percentage, free throw attempts, defensive rebounds. Those three stats, in which UNC ranks 22nd, 12th, and 21st nationally, respectively, highlight what they want to do: get into the paint and control the glass. Will that be easy against Purdue’s frontcourt of Edey, Williams, and Furst? Not at all. But they’re gonna try.
Conversely, here’s Carolina’s Synergy numbers defensively, by play type. Translation: Purdue should really look to run on UNC. And they should put Armando Bacot in a million pick and rolls.
UNC has destroyed its mid-major opponents by pounding the ball inside and hitting big shots. That said, they’ve also let those mid-major opponents run them out of the gym in the open floor, and neither Brown nor College of Charleston has anyone remotely close to Jaden Ivey in terms of open-floor ability and athleticism.
Let’s get into the scouting report, though, because as I break down these players individually it will likely become clear why, despite UNC’s abysmal defense thus far, they are still a terrifying matchup for any team.
PG #2 - Caleb Love (6’4”, 195 lbs)
19 ppg, 4 rpg, 4 apg, 12-24 on 2’s, 4-12 on 3’s, 21-28 on FTs
Love was a five-star recruit out of St. Louis in the class of 2020 but struggled mightily last season, leaving many skeptical about his 2022 outlook. But through three games, Love has been Carolina’s best player. He is an athletic and long point who is a menace in transition due to his speed and strength as a finisher (1.333 PPP in transition, 83rd percentile). Like Ivey, Love has no problem blowing right by his defender and accelerating to the rim. Unlike Ivey, Love has consistently done so in both transition AND half court situations this season. Carolina likes to get Love in switches against bigs and will undoubtedly target Caleb Furst in those scenarios (I’d be surprised if Purdue gave up that switch easily).
Love is an excellent passer (13 AST, 5 TO), especially in transition. He uses his speed and the threat of his shot (4-12 from three) to break down defenses, draw help, and dump down or kick out. This might be a game where Eric Hunter Jr. sees more minutes because Love is big, strong, fast and very difficult to handle. Despite strength and length, he’s been a poor defender, especially in the pick and roll (1 PPP). In the clip below, Love does a solid job initially then gets caught ball-watching on the ball reversal. This type of play happens way too often on film.
C #5 - Armando Bacot (6’10”, 245 lbs)
18 ppg, 9 rpg, 1 apg, 3bpg, 23-28 on 2’s, 0-0 on 3’s, 8-17 on FTs
UNC’s most reliable player is Bacot, there’s not much variability with him. Like our resident behemoth Edey, Bacot has been dominant this season, sealing smaller defenders deep underneath the basket and getting easy buckets around the rim. Bacot’s average distance on his shots this season is four feet, matched only by Edey, whose average distance is three feet. Bacot is skilled in the post and score over either shoulder with a beautiful jump hook. He is shooting an absurd 82 percent from the field so far.
Bacot is a high-level, if not dominant rebounder, but hasn’t shown much as a passer out of the post (not sure I would either if I was 23-28). He has been an elite shot bocker, posting an insane 11 percent block rate thus far. He has shot just 47 percent from the line and got in foul trouble against College of Charleston, very nearly fouling out of that game. Has been an elite defensive big.
The Edey/Bacot matchup will be fascinating, but I’d be concerned if I were UNC for two reasons: first, Edey may still be too damn big. He’s got six inches and 50 pounds on Bacot. Second, Carolina doesn’t have a backup center. Purdue has Trevion Williams. Bacot can’t play every minute even if he doesn’t get in fould trouble. If he does, watch out.
G #4 - R.J. Davis (6’0”, 160 lbs)
13 ppg, 3rpg, 5apg, 6-13 on 2s, 7-12 on 3s, 5-6 on FTs
Davis is the OTHER five-star guard from the class of 2020 for UNC, and he has had an inconsistent start to the season. He pretty-much single-handedly won the Brown game in the second half, but has done very little in the other two. Davis is an elite shooter and shot-maker, and he can do it off the catch or the dribble. Whereas Love is looking to get downhill in a hurry, Davis prefers to lull you to sleep and hit a stepback three. Because of his small stature and lack of explosive athleticism, Davis rarely gets out in transition and is a below-average finisher at the rim. But man, when he gets hot from three, it’s a scary sight.
Davis is an elite floor spacer but the size is a major problem defensively. He simply can’t offer much resistance on dribble penetration, and has not shown the effort required to make up for it. Unfortunately Purdue has a starter who UNC can hide Davis on in Isaiah Thompson, as Thompson will be unable to exploit Davis’s size offensively. Davis does provide value as a passer (15 AST, 5 TO) and rebounder (3 RPG).
F #45 - Brady Manek (6’9”, 231 lbs)
17 ppg, 7 rpg, 0.7 apg, 14-21 on 2s, 4-15 on 3s, 11-14 on FTs
Manek originally made a name for himself as Trae Young’s sidekick during his freshman year at Okahoma. Now he’s North Carolina’s sixth man and thriving in his role. Manek in theory is a floor spacing big who hits threes and roams the perimeter. Thus far the three ball hasn’t fallen, but his presence on the floor provides spacing for Love and Bacot. He has great mechanics and proved at OU that he can shoot from three (37% over 4 years). He’s found his way to the foul line a ton so far. Manek also has the size to punish smaller guards on post-ups and does so frequently.
Manek is one of those guys who will either shoot you out of the game or go 5-8 from three and win it for you. He has rebounded it well and provided a major spark off the bench. It will be difficult for Purdue’s backup fours (Morton and Stefanovic) to fuard him down low. He is a decent post defender but you want to try to get him in switches for Ivey and/or Newman. Guards will need to exploit him if Purdue can get those switches.
W #24 - Kerwin Walton (6’5”, 209 lbs)
10 ppg, 2rpg, 0.7 ast, 3-5 on 2s, 8-15 on 3s, 0-0 on FTs
Walton is an elite 3-and-D role player. Great shooter who consistently makes off the catch and has shown flashes of making them off the dribble. Shot 42% on nearly five attempts per game from three as a freshman last season. He’s got good length at 6-5 even if he’s not an impressive athlete.
Walton is a smart player off the ball but isn’t quick enough to sprint off screens and isn’t fluid enough to shoot on the move, prefers to be set and the more open, the better. Does basically nothing but shoot and play defense, but can occasionally use the threat of his shot to get to the rim. Another below-the-rim finisher who will really space the floor.
F #13 - Dawson Garcia (6’11”, 235 lbs)
9 ppg, 8 rpg, 1 ast, 6-12 on 2s, 1-6 on 3s, 11-15 on FTs
Garcia is a skilled, fluid faceup four. He was extremely productive during his freshman year at Marquette (13 and 7, 36% from 3) but has yet to see that translate. Through three games he looks afraid of contact, and during most post-ups or finishes at the rim his body is moving away from the basket. Can handle the ball in the open floor better than the average four. Will have a length advantage against Purdue, but Furst is more physical.
Only three of his 20 total rebounds are offensive. Just three assists to four TOs. Mechanics on the jumper are good, but he’s just 1-6 from three. Can be overpowered in the post or confused on pick and pops, but he can also be an impressive defender when switched onto guards and wings because of his extreme length and mobility for a big. UNC will likely try to avoid having Garcia guard Williams or Edey at any point in the post because he simply isn’t strong enough to compete. Garcia has not been involved in the offense to the degree most expected, but the skill is there.
F #1 - Leaky Black (6’8”, 201 lbs)
4 ppg, 4rpg, 3apg, 5-9 on 2s, 0-1 on 3s, 3-4 on FTs
Black is the fifth starter for UNC who is playing 24 minutes per game. He is a known commodity at this point, a long, athletic wing who is a good defender. Black may cause problems for Purdue offensively if UNC sticks him on Ivey (Ivey 6’4, Black 6’8). He is longer and more athletic than majority of Purdue’s guards and wings.
Fortunately, he’s an abysmal offensive player. Bad shot mechanics, airballed his only three-point attempt so far (a wide open corner three). Not very fluid, but can get out and run in transition similar to Aaron Wheeler (like Wheeler, it is often not pretty). On this UNC team, if Black is taking a jumper it is a win for Purdue. Good passer and rebounder. Good weak side cutter, can be a lob threat. Again, could potentially be very disruptive on defense.
North Carolina poses a significant threat to Purdue, but if Jaden Ivey is able to play anywhere near the level he did against Indiana State, Purdue’s dribble-penetration defense improves, and the two big men feast, it could end up being a fairly confortable victory.
UNC has a ton of offensive firepower, so it wouldn’t surpise me to see this game end up in the 80s or 90s. That being said, I think both teams tighten up defenisvely, and Purdue pulls it out at the end.
Prediction: Purdue 77, North Carolina 71