It’s the Christmas cupcake season for ACC basketball fans. With conference play still about a month away, it’s a good time to dust off the Roland Rating (RR), one popular statistic in the field of APBRmetrics, to divine early trends and difference makers among the Triangle schools.

For those unfamiliar with the RR, it comprises the difference between the net points a team scores/allows while a particular player is playing, minus the same differential for the minutes the player isn’t on the floor. Compiled by StatSheet, a company headquartered in Durham, N.C., the RR isn’t useful in assessing the contributions of players who appear only briefly during a game, or those who play all but a few minutes since their RR will usually mirror the team’s overall performance. Blowout wins or losses aren’t always instructive, either, since the team will likely amass or surrender a large number of points irrespective of which players are on the court.

However, it is an enlightening statistic for determining how players receiving regular playing time stack up against their teammates during key and/or close contests. For North Carolina, N.C. State and Duke, some of the findings are obvious, but some are surprising.

Duke Blue Devils
Games compared: vs. Kentucky (Nov. 13); vs. Louisville (Nov. 24); vs. Ohio State (Nov. 28)

Duke hasn’t lost a game, but that doesn’t mean they perform equally well no matter which players are on the floor. For instance, Mason Plumlee had a terrific RR against Ohio State (plus-11). But, Plumlee posted a minus-5 against Kentucky and minus-1 versus Louisville, as did point guard Quinn Cook. Duke outscored UK and UL while Plumlee and Cook were in the game, but they outscored each opponent by more when they weren’t.

There are only two Blue Devil regulars who posted positive RRs in all three games. Not surprisingly, one is senior leader Ryan Kelly. The other is freshman dynamo Rasheed Sulaimon, whose impact for Duke is stark and unassailable. In process of Sulaimon posting a double-digit positive RR in each game, Duke outscored all three opponents when he was on the floor yet was outscored in each game when he wasn’t.

North Carolina Tar Heels
Games compared: vs. Long Beach St. (Nov. 16); vs. Butler (Nov. 20); vs. Indiana (Nov. 27)

Critiquing UNC is tricky since all their games have been double-digit results, notably the 24-point thrashing by the Hoosiers. James Michael McAdoo’s importance to the Tar Heels is obvious regardless of Roland Rating or any other statistic. However, of the Tar Heels who played a minimum of 15 minutes in each of the three targeted games, only one player posted a positive RR in all three, and it probably isn’t who you think: freshman Joel James. Sure, Carolina was outscored when James was on the floor against Butler and Indiana. But, the margin was even greater when the 6-10 forward wasn’t out there filling up the middle and disrupting shots.

The other consistent contributor is Leslie McDonald, who notched a plus-13 RR against Long Beach and plus-3 in the loss to Butler. And while he posted a minus-8 RR in 22 minutes against Indiana, that compares favorably to fellow guard Reggie Bullock’s minus-22 in 27 minutes.

N.C. State Wolfpack
Games compared: vs. Oklahoma State (Nov. 18); vs. UNC-Asheville (Nov. 23);
vs. Michigan (Nov. 27); vs. Connecticut (Dec. 4)

Perhaps not surprisingly, no clear trend line emerges when looking at the up-and-down Wolfpack. Of the four games I compared, N.C. State won two and lost two. Only two players posted a negative RR during each loss and a positive RR in each win: C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown. That the Wolfpack’s fortunes rise and fall with the performances of their two mainstays isn’t surprising.

What’s perplexing is that Richard Howell and T.J. Warren, currently the top two scorers and FG pct. leaders on the team, did not both post a positive RR in the same game. Indeed, the only positive RR posted by Warren was during the seven-point loss to Michigan (plus-3), while the only one posted by Howell was during the two-point win over UNC-Asheville (plus-10). Indeed, Howell’s RR was a whopping minus-17 against Michigan and minus-8 in the win over UConn, both games in which N.C. State was outscored with Howell on the floor yet outscored their opponent when he was off. Indeed, that same trend applied to Warren for the UNC-Asheville and UConn games. The lesson is that in order for N.C. State to succeed come conference play, Howell and Warren will need to learn to work and contribute together.