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Theo Pinson Is The Key To North Carolina’s Tournament Performance

CBS Sports

As a senior, Pinson is finally the player he needs to be.

I have one question for Theo Pinson. Why now?

After three and three-quarters of a season, the UNC forward has all-of-a-sudden become one of the nation’s top players. He’s always been a great rebounder, passer, and defender, but before this year he was never a threat on offense. 

Although Pinson has improved steadily each season, he’s taken a leap in 2018. He scored 15 or more points for the first time in his college career this season, and he’s done it eight more times, including three 20-point games.


While his 2018 numbers show major improvements from last season, what he’s been doing lately is far more impressive.

On Feb. 12 against Notre Dame, Pinson attempted double-digit shots for just the fifth time all season and the second time in ACC play. He went 6-for-10 from the field for 16 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and tallied five assists. This game would prove to be nothing out of the ordinary for Pinson moving forward.

Including that game, here are Pinson’s stats since Feb. 12.


He’s still not much of a three-point threat, but he has obviously become an absolute weapon for UNC’s offense. For a player who has never had a good jump shot, this offensive explosion is confusing. It seems unlikely that after over three years of mediocrity Pinson just got this hot.

The difference in Pinson’s production, then, must’ve come from the way the Tar Heels run their offense, opening up more shots for Pinson.

This change was clear in the Heels’ victory over Syracuse on Feb. 21. In his best game of the season, Pinson shot 9-for-12 from the field for 23 points and added six rebounds and seven assists. He was so effective against the Syracuse zone defense because he became the middleman of the Tar Heels’ offense.

Throughout the highlights, you’ll see Pinson often inside the zone defense at the foul line.

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Once he gets the ball, he has the opportunity to either pass it off to the open man under the hoop or take it to the basket himself. Below, he drew the defenders and passed it off to the open man for an easy two.

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But if the defenders stay back, Pinson attacks the rim. Below, he scored an acrobatic bucket using his strength and size (6‘6).

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Pinson’s success continued against Duke in the ACC tournament Friday. Although he only tallied eight points against the Blue Devils, he still managed seven assists and four rebounds while playing as the middleman in-between Duke’s zone defense. 

Pinson’s passing ability is what makes him so effective in the UNC offense. He ranks seventh in the nation in assist rate according to KenPom, so he’ll find an open man if defenders double-team him, as Syracuse showed above. Because of his knack for distribution and his seemingly newfound scoring ability, Pinson is a perfect point-forward.

Not only has Pinson become more confident in himself on offense, but also his team has grown to trust him more. Pinson is used in just over 20 percent of the Tar Heels’ possessions when he’s in the game, compared to just 16 percent in his last three seasons. While this isn’t a huge increase, it makes a difference.

Much of Pinson’s success has shown itself in very confident play. He’s now taking the ball to the hoop much more frequently on his own. Pinson’s 25-point game against Miami on Thursday made clear that he is now a primary option for the Tar Heels, and he’s not afraid of that. He even went 2-for-2 from three, which is surprising to say the least. 

Pinson, in short, is a new player. He’s always had the athleticism and hustle to be a top-tier player, but it seems he lacked the confidence until now. The Tar Heels should keep feeding Pinson the ball because his playmaking ability is finally shining through. He’ll beat you off the dribble, and he’ll beat you with his passes. Either way, Pinson is on fire, and this is a gift for UNC heading into the NCAA tournament.

Against Syracuse on Wednesday, Luke Maye, who averages over 17 PPG, and Joel Berry II (also over 17 PPG) produced only 21 points together. Pinson added 16 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists and the Heels won handily. Again on Thursday against Miami, Maye and Berry had just 13 points combined. Pinson dropped 25, and the Heels won easily.

This shows that Pinson has the ability to carry this team if (and when) the leading scorers are struggling. In the NCAA tournament, Berry and Maye will be guarded tightly, which will leave Pinson with only one defender. He’s proven he’s up for the task, and his playmaking ability gives this Tar Heels team a real chance to make a run at things.

Theo Pinson, after more than three seasons, is finally the player he could’ve been all along.

Edited by Jeremy Losak.

When was the last time the North Carolina Tar Heels didn't make the tournament?
Created 3/9/18
  1. 1995-1996
  2. 2003-2004
  3. 2009-2010
  4. 2013-2014

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