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North Carolina

Heels hoops leaning on defense

Posted November 7, 2012

— Roy Williams offered a surprising, yet insightful, analysis of his basketball team this week when the 10th-year UNC head coach expressed more concern for his offensive capability than his defense.

Scoring has arrived in avalanches of points ever since Williams returned to his alma mater in 2003. The 2009-10 squad averaged 74.5 points per game, good for third in the ACC and 55th out of 334 teams nationally, and is considered an outlier in Williams’s resume of prolific offenses.
North Carolina ranked third nationally in scoring offense (81.3) last season. That team, however, lost 71.8 percent of its scoring with the departure of four starters – Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall. North Carolina Logo More UNC Stories

Junior wing Reggie Bullock (8.8 ppg) is the top returning scorer for UNC in 2012-13, followed by forward James Michael McAdoo (6.1) and guard P.J. Hairston (5.7). None of those three have proven to be consistent scorers at this point in their careers, prompting Williams’s intriguing comments on this radio show this week.

“I’m more concerned about our offense right now and scoring points,” Williams said. “… We’re more worried about the offensive end of the floor than we are the defensive end.”

There will be plenty of time to gauge North Carolina’s offensive production and corresponding efficiency in the coming weeks, but the latter sentence in the quote above hints at defensive confidence.

In 2011-12, Henson, a two-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year, and Zeller, an underrated post defender, headlined North Carolina’s defensive approach as the Tar Heels led the ACC with a 39.7 field goal defense percentage in conference play. Opponents took a league-high 345 3-pointers against UNC (21.6 per game), which highlights two important aspects – (1) teams knew they would fare better on the perimeter due to the Henson/Zeller factor in the post; and (2) there were more open options on the perimeter.

"I do think we can be very good defensively,” Williams said. “Last year's team wasn't consistent with it and I think this year's team has to be really good defensively, I think they understood that, and they will be.”

Sophomore forward Desmond Hubert believes that this current crop of Tar Heels is exhibiting better team defense in practice, while acknowledging a reliance on Henson cleaning up defensive lapses on the interior last season.

“I feel like, collectively as a team, we can be better defensively this year than we were last year,” Hubert said. “Our perimeter guys are doing a lot better job of containing people on the outside and making it easier for us to play defense on the inside...

“We’ve been trying to do a better job of talking, being in our spots and knowing where we’re supposed to be on the help side when people drive. It’s just knowing where we’re really supposed to be on the floor and being able to read everybody else and seeing the big picture. I feel like we’ve been doing a better job of that.”

Part of the increased emphasis on defense is the knowledge that North Carolina will have to be better on that end of the floor to offset the potential scoring deficiencies, but there’s more to it than that, according to Hubert.

In his opinion, this group of players naturally approaches defense with more intensity and desire.

“I feel like defense is kind of easy – it’s just effort,” Hubert said. “It’s just one thing to focus on. I think the freshmen are doing a better job and the team as a whole is.”

There’s no doubt this edition of the Tar Heels has a wealth of length and athleticism. Starting point guard Marcus Paige should be able to use his speed and quickness to stay in front of the ball better than his predecessor and help limit penetration, while Bullock emerged as one of UNC’s top defenders last season after stopper Dexter Strickland went down with injury.

Hairston and Leslie McDonald have the athleticism to be effective defenders, but that potential will have to develop into consistent effort. Hubert arrived in Chapel Hill known for his shot-blocking and rebounding skills, while McAdoo has already patented his halfcourt-steal-and-transition-dunk move.

Add in J.P. Tokoto’s freakish athletic ability, as well as Joel James’s size in the post, and the raw ingredients appear to be present for Williams to whip up a surprising concoction that would make Wanda proud.

Good defense, of course, can go a long ways in helping ignite an offense.

“Defense is going to lead us into most of our offensive points this year,” Hubert said. “Just pressuring the ball and causing turnovers will make it easier for us to score so that we don’t have to bring the ball down and play against a set defense.”

While North Carolina is known for its explosive offenses during the Williams era, it’s also developed a reputation for going through the motions defensively for stretches at a time.

Hubert told IC that he felt as though last year’s team didn’t ratchet up the defensive intensity until the second half of games, and acknowledged that approach has to change this year.

Look no further than the opening 25 minutes in the exhibition against Shaw on Oct. 26 for an example. The Bears led UNC 43-41 after knocking down 42.5 percent of their field goal attempts (17-of-40, 5-of-12 3FG) to start. The Tar Heels then locked down defensively and held Shaw to 2-of-20 shooting over the next 14 minutes.

“Hopefully this year we don’t have the same problem and we can just go from the jump and clamp down on defense,” Hubert said.

That will be key for North Carolina this season, especially if Williams’s concern over scoring points bears out.

28 Comments

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  • BeastOnTheHill Nov 9, 1:25 p.m.

    I'm expecting about 10-12 losses for the Heels this year, no better than a Sweet 16 run in... View More

    — Posted by BlueDevils00

    Exactly. When you are a UNC or a UK and the ability to go after and land your choice of... View More

    — Posted by 903 mens national championships

    Strange that you say that since Duke had the 2nd ranked recruting class last year behind... View More

    — Posted by ncstateforever

    Who had better players last year, duke or unc?

    Who had better players last year, duke or uk?

    — Posted by 903 mens national championships

    UNC and UK, that was easy. oh yes, and Lehigh. and better coaching too!

  • kato_karma.v3 Nov 9, 1:21 p.m.

    What Roy's not saying is the turnovers are going to be a big problem. The sure hands of Marshall... View More

    — Posted by Turn Left

    Totally agree about Marshall - he will leave the biggest hole in the line-up and will be missed... View More

    — Posted by Gunnstigator

    Goes back to outside shooting, of which, Marshall's was suspect (hardly a threat until his last few games). If UNC's 1, 2, and 3 positions show better consistency than last season, their half-court offense inherently improves.

    Me thinks they have the capability to be a very good outside shooting team and, when combined with their length and athleticism, will also get easy baskets via defensive pressure and turnovers.

    That said, they'll still be in a dogfight to better a #3 regular season finish.

  • kato_karma.v3 Nov 9, 1:13 p.m.

    Who had the better players last year, dook or Lehigh?

  • 903 mens national championships Nov 9, 2:42 a.m.

    I'm expecting about 10-12 losses for the Heels this year, no better than a Sweet 16 run in... View More

    — Posted by BlueDevils00

    Exactly. When you are a UNC or a UK and the ability to go after and land your choice of... View More

    — Posted by 903 mens national championships

    Strange that you say that since Duke had the 2nd ranked recruting class last year behind... View More

    — Posted by ncstateforever

    Who had better players last year, duke or unc?

    Who had better players last year, duke or uk?

  • mxteam44 Nov 8, 10:11 p.m.

    I'm expecting about 10-12 losses for the Heels this year, no better than a Sweet 16 run in... View More

    — Posted by BlueDevils00

    Exactly. When you are a UNC or a UK and the ability to go after and land your choice of... View More

    — Posted by 903 mens national championships

    Strange that you say that since Duke had the 2nd ranked recruting class last year behind... View More

    — Posted by ncstateforever

    Don't confuse 'em with facts.

  • ncstateforever Nov 8, 7:14 p.m.

    I'm expecting about 10-12 losses for the Heels this year, no better than a Sweet 16 run in... View More

    — Posted by BlueDevils00

    Exactly. When you are a UNC or a UK and the ability to go after and land your choice of... View More

    — Posted by 903 mens national championships

    Strange that you say that since Duke had the 2nd ranked recruting class last year behind Kentucky. Also, Duke did pretty well adding Rasheed Sulimon the number 1 shooting guard, and Amile Jefferson the number 3 ranked PF. Also, I don't think any other team in the NCAA could red shirt a senior with the quality of Andre Dawkins. Also, I find it strange that on several of you post in the "smack talk" you have made reference to how Roy is being hurt by the "scandal" and is missing out on recruits and that Duke is getting anyone they want. So, which is it? About the Duke and Kentucky thing. Kentucky won the National Championship last year with the number 1 recruiting class, and Duke lost to Lehigh with not only the 2nd ranked recruiting class, but with a load of returning upper classmen. It looks as if K does a great job of recruiting but doesn't get the best out of his talent.

  • heelsforever Nov 8, 4:17 p.m.

    'UNC being a young team isn't an "excuse", it's a "fact".' - mxteam44

    Took the words out of my... View More

    — Posted by senor wuf

    Don't know if you are serious about those two losses, but with an 18 game ACC schedule I expect... View More

    — Posted by heelsforever

    Yeah, it was poorly worded. I meant that they should only have 2 losses at the most at the end... View More

    — Posted by senor wuf

    Gotcha...

  • Rapid Deployment Nov 8, 3:23 p.m.

    Hokie 94, I must respectfully disagree with your assessment of UNC's ability to shoot the basketball. Donald Williams is the last pure shooter I can remember on a UNC team. Ellington was SUPPOSED TO BE, but he was there sometimes, but just as often, he didn't show up. If it had not been for Hansbrough's ability to get to the line and make free throws, there would be one less banner hanging in the rafters. Would love to see a recruit come in that could shoot like JJ at Duke. He did it as all four years. You could count on it. It's been well documented the lack of ability of our team to shoot the three on a consistent basis, and with the running style of offense of the typical UNC team, we should get a lot of open looks at the three point line for the trailer. Again, I respect your opinion, just don't see it the same way. And believe me, I would like to be totally wrong this season. Being a good shooting team would push the guys to play stronger defense.

  • zonk Nov 8, 1:59 p.m.

    Toddler what are you talking about ? You are the only one I hear coming up with excuses for anything. Carolina's basketball record speaks for itself through the years.I have not heard football mentioned on this thread except by you.

  • Gunnstigator Nov 8, 1:29 p.m.

    What Roy's not saying is the turnovers are going to be a big problem. The sure hands of Marshall... View More

    — Posted by Turn Left

    Totally agree about Marshall - he will leave the biggest hole in the line-up and will be missed the most, especially with the offense Roy runs. Teams that made Carolina play 1/2 court always seemed to give the Heels fits.

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