UNC Basketball Summer Stats Series: Rebounding


Part three of the 2022 UNC Basketball Summer Stats Series, looking back at a specific stat category from last season and projecting what to expect for 2022-23. Today’s category: Rebounding.

The Roy Williams-era Tar Heels rebounded at or near the top of the NCAA on an annual basis. Heading into Hubert Davis’ first year at the helm for UNC, many wondered how his more modern lineup would fare in the rebounding department. Would trading two traditional bigs for one traditional center and a stretch-four yield the same results?

After losing Day’Ron Sharpe to the NBA and Walker Kessler (Auburn) and Garrison Brooks (Mississippi State) to transfer, would Armando Bacot, as the lone holdover, be able to nearly single-handedly shoulder the weight and replicate the success Carolina has long-enjoyed on the glass?

The answer to these questions, it turns out, is “sort of”. Overall, UNC rebounded at a level commensurate with Roy Williams-era teams. The one area that was lacking was offensive rebounding, and Hubert Davis is likely okay with that outcome. Why?

The Carolina offensive attack under Coach Davis yields many more three-point attempts than it did under Coach Williams. Three-point shots often lead to longer rebounds, which are less predictable in terms of securing the basketball.

OFFENSIVE REBOUNDING PERCENTAGE

Just how far off was the offensive rebounding from Roy Williams-era levels?

Let’s first look at the offensive rebounding percentage (OR%), which, for those who aren’t aware, is simply the percentage of your team’s shots (both field goal attempts and rebound-available free throws) that your team rebounds.

In the 18 seasons of Coach Williams’ tenure, the Heels were in the top 27 nationally 17 times, the top five for a span of six years in a row, and were number one three times (2007-08, 2016-17, and 2020-21) in OR%. Contrast those rankings with Hubert Davis’ first year when UNC was 71st in offensive rebounding percentage.

What about the actual OR% itself? Of Coach Williams’ 18 teams, the lowest OR% was 34.6% (2012-13). 13 of his 18 teams were 38% or higher, and six were 40% or higher. Coach Davis’ first team on the other hand – 29.8%,

How do the two iterations of Tar Heel teams compare on a single-game basis in OR%? Let’s just look at Coach Williams’ last team (2020-21) and Coach Davis’ first team. Last year’s Tar Heels highest single OR% was 48.1% (@ NC State). For the season they hit 40% or more nine times. The 2020-21 Tar Heels comparatively ran circles around the 2021-22 team in OR%. Their highest single game number was 60.5% (Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament) – 12.4 percentage points higher. The ’20-’21 team hit the 40% mark or more 17 times, 50% or more six times, and 60% one time. Oh, and by the way, Coach Williams’ last team did all that in 10 fewer games.

But let me remind you, Coach Davis isn’t likely concerned with this downturn. Obviously, you would love to grab a higher percentage of your own misses, but due to the lineup type and shot selection, the current Tar Heels simply won’t ascend to Coach Williams-era teams.

OVERALL REBOUNDING NUMBERS

Don’t forget though, that while offensive rebounding numbers were down, overall rebounding kept on just like it always has. Last season, Carolina was sixth in the nation in total rebounds per game (Total RPG), third in defensive rebounds per game (Def RPG), and third in rebound margin.

To provide some level of comparison, finishing sixth in total RPG is right on par with Roy Williams-era teams. Here is a list of where all 18 of his teams finished nationally in total RPG: 3, 2, 1, 1, 1, 16, 2, 10, 30, 1, 1, 3, 2, 1, 2, 8, 11 , 15. An astonishing 12 of those 18 finished top-three nationally. 17 of the 18 were top 16 nationally, with the lowest-ever being 30 – what a track record of consistency. A sixth-place finish for Hubert Davis’ first team is more than acceptable.

ARMANDO BACOT

How did the Tar Heels fare individually in rebounding last season? That conversation begins and ends with Armando Bacot. Here is a list of some of his rebounding accomplishments last season:

  • 2nd Tar Heel with 400+ rebounds in a single season.
  • 1st Tar Heel with 500+ rebounds in a single season.
  • 13.1 RPG – 5th-highest in Carolina record book.
  • Only six total Tar Heels averaged double-digit rebounds in the Roy Williams era, none more than Sean May’s 10.7 in 2004-05. Bacot bested that 2.4 RPG.
  • The last time a Tar Heel had a higher average than Bacot’s 13.1 was Billy Cunningham’s 14.3 in 1964-65. That was 57 years ago.
  • Third-highest rebounding average in the country (second among major college players).
  • Became just 10th Tar Heel with 1,000+ career rebounds (1,001).

One thing to keep in mind is that the new lineup structure likely plays a role in Bacot being able to grab more rebounds. When Brice Johnson got to 416 rebounds in 2015-16, he was battling the likes of Kennedy Meeks for rebounds. Bacot, on the other hand, didn’t have to share with another traditional big. STILL – what he accomplished on the glass last season is overwhelmingly impressive.

Despite Bacot’s achievements, perhaps the most intriguing offensive stat is that RJ Davis, standing all of 6-feet-flat had the third-most total rebounds on the team and was fourth in per game average.

2022-23 PROJECTION

What do all these numbers and data points mean for the 2022-23 Tar Heels? Because ultimately stats are nothing but numbers if they don’t help us tell a story. Here’s the bottom line:

There’s no reason to think North Carolina won’t continue to rebound at the same elite level again in the 2022-23 season.

The Tar Heels lose Brady Manek (6.1 RPG), Dawson Garcia (5.5), Kerwin Walton (1.2), and Anthony Harris (0.4), BUT they retain 76.9% of their rebounding while bringing in four freshmen, all of solid rebounding height.

Guard Seth Trimble is 6’3, wing Tyler Nickel is 6’7, and frontcourt players Jalen Washington and Will Shaver are each 6’10.

Carolina, as a team, has averaged at least 40 RPGs since the 2014-15 season. What would it take for the Tar Heels to reach that threshold again? Honestly, the surprising thing would be to NOT hit 40 RPG.

Let’s say Bacot regresses down to 12 RPG, Nance hits six RPG (his average each of the last three years at Northwestern), and the rest of the three starters (Davis, Love, Black) combine for 15 RPG (they combined for 14.1 last year, so a jump of 0.3 this season). All of those numbers are extremely doable and alone total 33 RPG.

So the Heels would need to average seven RPGs from the combination of Puff Johnson, Dontrez Styles, D’Marco Dunn, Justin McKoy, and the four freshmen.

Frankly, the number could be closer to 45 RPG than 40 RPG.

QUESTIONS

Does Bacot have any room to keep growing, to average more than last season’s 13.1 RPG? Perhaps a better question: does he need to?

Will the other players have a natural progression with regard to their rebounding numbers?

Does Coach Davis have any desire to grow the offensive rebounding %? IS that even possible while hoisting up a higher number of three-pointers?

A NOT-SO-BOLD PREDICTION

Armando Bacot averages a double-double for the second season in a row.

A(NOTHER) NOT-SO-BOLD PREDICTION

Only two Tar Heels have 1,100-plus career rebounds – Tyler Hansbrough and Sam Perkins. Only one Tar Heel has 1,200-plus career rebounds – Hansbrough (1,219 total).

Bacot will not only pass Hansbrough to have the most career rebounds for a Tar Heel, but he will also be the first one to break 1,300 boards. Bacot just needs 219 to pass Hansbrough and 300 to pass 1,300, coming off a season in which he totaled 511.

All-in-all, things are looking up to have another stellar rebounding team in Chapel Hill in Hubert Davis’ second campaign.

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