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Big City Classic Participant Profile: North Carolina

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The Big City Classic is ready to almost / kind of / probably not take over New York City this Sunday as six schools descend upon MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, for a massive tripleheader starting at 1:00 P.M. ESPN3 will have the broadcast of the opener and ESPNU will have the last two games of the day. As I need the pageviews and you need the skinny on the participants, College Crosse is going to profile each of this weekend's combatants

Despite the issue that Joe Breschi Masonry, Incorporated has had in figuring out which stone goes where in erecting the offensive wall that North Carolina is looking to erect, the Tar Heels have still been a chainsaw-wielding threat this season with the ball. Carolina still has issues on the defensive end -- ball watching from an Adirondack chair has been a bit of an issue -- but getting the Tar Heels into a "Last to score wins a brand new Cadillac!" type of game is something that North Carolina loves and thrives upon.

Anyway, here's the heat on Carolina.


There's two very dangerous aspects to the Tar Heels this season: They're almost fanatical at getting and maintaining offensive possession; and when Carolina gets the ball, they do a fine job at canning the bean. Opponents haven't done that good of a job at stopping that this season and the only blueprint that seems to have worked in controlling that was provided by Lehigh. Here's an abbreviated chart of North Carolina's production this season. For a more complete, mind-bending picture, here's a .pdf of the complete report.

Record 7-3 (1-1) Clear % 91.33% (2)
Adj. Off. Efficiency 33.11 (12) Opp. Clear % 79.41% (14)
Adj. Def. Efficiency 29.44 (33) Faceoff % 58.68% (8)
Poss. Percentage 54.21% (2) Pace 70.10 (17)
Off. Poss./60 min. 38.00 (4)
DEFENSIVE STATS Def. Poss./60 min. 32.10 (20)
Save Percentage 54.0%
Saves/Def. Poss. 0.34 (21) OFFENSIVE STATS
Opp. Sht. %. 29.71% (37) Goal Differential +26
Opp. Effective Sht. % 31.04% (38) Shooting % 32.16% (13)
Def. Assist Rate 20.87 (53) Effective Sht. % 32.75% (15)
Man-Down/Def. Poss. 0.12 (48) Assist Rate 21.58 (11)
Man-Down Conversion % 37.50% (37) EMO per Off. Poss. 0.08 (52)
Man-Down Reliance 0.16 (48) EMO Conversion % 41.94% (18)
C/T per Def. Poss. 0.20 (17) EMO Reliance 0.11 (37)
Turnovers/Off. Poss. 0.43 (14)
Opp. Saves/Off. Poss. 0.27 (9)

Three pieces of incredibly important information from my brain to your eyes via your Internet computing machine:

  • R.G. Keenan is an ox. He doesn't have a yolk or anything -- that'd probably be a violation of the Thirteenth Amendment or something -- but all he does is get the job down at the face-off dot. Only six guys in the country have a higher win percentage than Keenan at this point and his efforts -- almost single-handedly -- have kept Carolina in the top eight nationally in face-off percentage. The result? The Tar Heels are dominating the possession percentage game over their opponents, playing almost six more offensive possessions per 60 minutes of play than their opponents. This has allowed Carolina to insulate its defense and allow its strength -- the offensive death squad bearing weaponry of medieval destruction -- to dictate play. While this has been a formula for success for the Tar Heels this season, it may not come as easy on Sunday against Johns Hopkins: The Blue Jays rank 11th nationally in face-off percentage and will roll out a guy -- Mike Poppleton -- that is every bit as good as Keenan on the draw. As North Carolina's ability to clear will be matched by Johns Hopkins' ability to ride, and as the Tar Heels' ability to ride will be matched by the Jays' ability to clear, Keenan's ability to control face-off play will be of maximum importance if the Heels want to dictate possession percentage at MetLife Stadium (especially considering that Hopkins is right behind Carolina in possession percentage on the year, playing about five more offensive possessions per 60 minutes of play than their opponents).
  • Steven Rastivo takes a lot of gruff from people about his ball stopping, but the bigger issue to me is Carolina's defensive ball watching. Only eight teams this season are yielding more assisted goals per defensive possession this season than North Carolina, and with that kind of ball watching leading to shots from preferential positions -- hands-free with open space or doorstep looks -- Rastivo is going to be asked to make a lot of difficult stops. This may be the biggest reason why the Tar Heels' defensive shooting percentage is in the bottom half of the country, and until North Carolina finds that comfort zone in its ever-morphing defensive schemes, the rate at which opponents help each other are going to kill the Heels. As a positive for North Carolina, though, is that Johns Hopkins hasn't exactly done an exemplary job sharing the bean within its offense: the Jays rank only 40th in offensive assist rate on the season. If Carolina has the opportunity to focus on the ball and avoid situations where they need to keep their heads on swivel, the Heels' defensive efficiency may increase.
  • Now, the biggest issue facing Carolina on Sunday: Johns Hopkins is a crushing defensive force. They're like a wood chipper against opposing offenses. They have the defense, headlined by Tucker Durkin and his dislike of anything that comes in his path; they have the goalie in Pierce Basset that is a stalwart against goal accommodation; and they have the short-stick defensive midfielder in Marshall Burkhart that can lock off anything that maintains motion. There's just so many pieces of Hopkins' defensive puzzle -- not to mention one of the best defensive minds in the game adjusting his baseball cap on the sideline -- that Carolina's offense (as good as it is) may have trouble on Sunday. It's been the offensive unit that has driven the Heels to their seven wins on the season, and if that unit is limited will Carolina have enough on the defensive end to pull out the victory? A major metric to watch is going to be the Heels' ability to share the ball (offensive assist rate) and Hopkins' ability to deny looks (defensive assist rate). Each team is toward the top of the country in the respective measures, and whichever dominates could be the biggest factor in the final result.

For more on North Carolina's opponent -- Johns Hopkins -- check out the Blue Jays' profile here.