UNC Basketball: Tar Heels Must Improve Defense to Be Considered Title Contenders

Ian HanfordFeatured ColumnistNovember 27, 2012

Nov 11, 2012  Chapel Hill, NC, USA;  Florida Atlantic Owls players Pablo Bertone (25) and Dragan Sekelja (3) race against North Carolina Tar Heels Dexter Strickland (1) and Leslie McDonald (2) for a loose ball in the second half at the Dean E. Smith Center. North Carolina won 80-56.  Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-US PRESSWiRE

The North Carolina Tar Heels have enough firepower on offense to stick with college basketball's top contenders, but defense wins championships.

If the Tar Heels' young team wants to take the next step, that's where they must improve.

That goes for all levels too. Guards must pressure shooters and shut down slashers in the mid-range. Big men have to close down the paint and box out, claiming every ball as their own.

But that hasn't been the case in every game this year, especially the Tar Heels' 11-point loss to the Butler Bulldogs. Allowing 12 three-point shots is going to happen sometimes, but North Carolina gave Rotnei Clarke and Co. wide open looks more times than not.

It's important to close out on shooters. It doesn't guarantee a miss, but fundamental basketball is necessary for young teams if they want to stick around. That doesn't just mean making layups and simple jump shots; that goes for the defensive end as well.

Perimeter defense is the real key here. North Carolina is almost completely guard-oriented with very little depth underneath. That puts the onus on those players to pace the attack and stifle opposing teams on the offensive end with their quickness.

Dexter Strickland and Reggie Bullock are both capable defenders, but it has to be a team effort.

The big guys must do their jobs as well. Desmond Hubert and Joel James aren't offensive threats, so defense must be their focus. Even if they just block shots, eat up space and grab rebounds, that's a success for the young center duo.

North Carolina will survive on offense this year, but it's the defense that will be relied upon to turn this team into a title contender. Without it, that's impossible.

Locking opponents down and doing the little things will go a long way. This isn't last year's team, which had enough firepower to come back from minor mistakes. This group must play very good basketball on a nightly basis if they want to win.

That starts on the defensive end.