Saturday, December 29, 2012

Sticky Tar Heels - Observations from the loss

The basic plot of this game was whether the re-emergence of UNLV's place in college basketball could out muscle a under-performing UNC, who get a shot at revenge this time in their home arena. The end result was a 79-73 loss.

The oddsmakers kept it real, while UNLV is a fantastic basketball team most nights, and arguably loaded with as much talent as any team out west, the Runnin' Rebels were 4 point underdogs to the Tar Heels. Why? Home court advantage, they are UNC, and they were motivated. The Rebs lost the game by slightly more than the spread, but nonetheless it was a close game in the second half. Even though UNLV was the #20 team and UNC was unranked, this was in no way an "upset" as some media outlets have called it.

The statistics show that several players played well - starters, and the bench did not add enough to boost the Rebels to victory. Katin Reinhardt was particularly impressive with his 3 point shooting, as was Anthony Marshall. The ESPN commentators lauded Marshall considerably for his dominance over whatever guard matched up against him. Its tough to figure the Rebels losing a game where we had four players with double digit scoring, but Marshall, Reinhardt, Bennett, and Bryce Dejean-Jones all had production. They accounted for 59 of the Rebels 73 points (almost 81% of scoring). Anthony Bennett was not his normal self in the first half, and finished the game without hitting a signature three pointer. While the four that did score shared the load, very little else was contributed from the others whereas UNC didn't have that problem.

The other reason that the Rebels lost a game with four guys scoring in double digits, was a lack of effective defense. The Rebels played a passive lackadaisical defense in the first half, and when they did actually try UNC still managed to make their shoots look too easy. The Tar Heels shot 53% in the first half, compared to the Rebels 38%. Even with defensive adjustments in the second half, the Rebels were only able to drop the Tar Heels to 47.8% in the second half. Besides their free throw shooting, UNC just had a really good shooting night - whether or not the UNLV defense bothered them.

Telling stats in this one besides overall shooting, was the Rebels dominated rebounding (38-33) but turned the ball over far more than the Heels (17-12). While both teams shot poorly from the free throw line, UNC got themselves in the double bonus very early and had a lot more opportunities (at home) to make some. In all, they were 20 of 33, whereas the Rebels were 11 of 21. That's a nine point difference, enough to have swung the game into a Rebels victory.

Home advantage - The common notion is that playing in your home court gives you a ten point advantage, due to familiarity  lack of having to travel, and fan support. Putting that notion to work, that would explain our victory over then #1 UNC last year (by 10) and our loss this year. Clearly, had UNC played us at the Mack or even the Orleans this year, we likely would have won this game. On the subject of fan support, UNLV did have a robust fan contingent travel to Chapel Hill and watch the game - that speaks well of UNLV fans and how much they support the team. Bravo!

Splitting the series - While it still stings to lose a game when you've only had one previous loss, its is not a bad loss, its an explainable loss, and regard the 'legacy' that Anthony Marshall alluded to when referencing potentially beating UNC today - this still is a good legacy. The Rebs played UNC close today, and were not "dominated" in any way by them. Fact of the matter is nobody  has beaten UNC at home this year, and their overall home winning percentage is almost 90% over the last five years - and that's playing in the normally tough ACC. Beating UNC last year at a 'neutral' venue, and playing them close at home this year is an admirable accomplishment and is definitely improvement.

Mike Moser - It was nice to see Mike Moser back on the court, surprising since Coach Rice said it was unlikely and would be a game time decision, and Mike himself said  there was 'no way' that he would play in this game. But, having seen Mike in there you have to wonder whether it was the right decision. First, I don't believe Mike cost the Rebels the game. Had he not played we may have seen more of Savon Goodman, Quintrell Thomas, and Carlos Lopez-Sosa, but none of those guys had much going for them, so it was a wash. But, Mike was either not fully recovered, or likely a bit rusty. In just 12 minutes of playing time he picked up 5 fouls, and only contributed 3 points. That kind of fouling would make even Carlos Lopez-Sosa blush. Nobody is going to argue that having Mike Moser on your team is a bad thing, but it appears (hindsight 20-20) that it might have been better for Mike to bring him back against our next two cream-puff opponents (Chicago State and CSU Bakersfield).

Conclusion - In all likelihood just one of the players the Rebels normally count on to do big things (Justin Hawkins, Khem Birch, Quintrell Thomas, or Mike Moser) being productive would have won the game, or at least have made it a nail biter. The saying that you learn more from your mistakes then victories rings true, and the Rebels will benefit from this loss. I would say Katin Reinhardt should have confidence from his shooting, Bennett can be emboldened by his dunks on UNC, Marshall out played the Tar Heel guards, and Bryce Dejean-Jones made some difficult shots. Everyone else knows they can and have done better. The Rebels may fall a few spots in the rankings, or may fall out completely - not their fault. It all depends on who's popular among the voting group, and whether there are 25 better teams out there then the Rebels. Clearly, New Mexico has claim to one of  those spots, but it will take more from Texas and UCLA to lay claim to one given their records so far this year. UNC may have gotten back into the high 20's with this win, who knows.

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