North Carolina Basketball: 5 Changes Heels Must Make After Indiana Blowout
It is way too early in the season for fans, coaches and players to give up on the North Carolina Tar Heels after crushing losses to Butler and Indiana. But that doesn't mean changes shouldn't be made.
Roy Williams knows that.
Remember the 2010-11 season? UNC lost to Minnesota, Vanderbilt, Illinois and Texas during the first two months of action. After a 20-point loss to Georgia Tech, Roy decided he would go with Kendall Marshall over Larry Drew II at point.
The rest is history.
The team that was looked at as a joke at the beginning of the season went on to win the ACC regular season title. It also made a tourney run to the Elite Eight to put the cherry on top of an unthinkable season.
It could happen again.
Coach Williams is still flip-flopping his personnel groupings, and eventually, he will find one that works. This is a very young, but very talented team. With so many new characters, their game is raw and team chemistry has yet to form its bond.
Sometimes, coaches will also have to look beyond his or her usual scheme to find what works with the individual skill sets of their players. That may be the latest test for the Tar Heels' fiery leader.
I'm no Hall of Fame coach, but I have a few suggestions that may be worthy of consideration.
In watching this young team over the last seven games, it should be pretty obvious to all viewers that the opposition is getting too many easy looks.
It's kind of hard to overlook when their opponents have averaged 24.6 three-point attempts per game. Excluding their game against the Tar Heels, those same opponents are averaging 19.1 three-point attempts per game.
It gets more disturbing from there.
Opponents are shooting 31.9 percent beyond the arc, which I'll admit isn't horrible. However, they really only faced two good teams in Indiana and Butler, who combined to knock down 44.4 percent of their threes.
I have seen it with my own two eyes, and those statistics just back up the claim. The open shots are there—it's just a matter of whether or not the team is good enough to make them.
The most disturbing figure I found in my calculations is this: 39.4 percent of the opposing teams' shots have been threes.
I have no words for that. The statistic speaks for itself.
These teams aren't getting open looks because individuals are just poor defenders. The backcourt is stacked with good-to-great one-on-one defenders. They just appear bad in the hedge and recover scheme Williams deploys.
My solution here is to go man-to-man—especially when the defense is continually failing to defend the perimeter. Its drawback is there could be fewer fast breaks off picks and rebounds. I would contest that steals could be just as prevalent with the defensive talent of this crew.
Never underestimate the power of frustration. Players get erratic when they can't find uncontested looks, forcing bad shots and making mental errors that lead to turnovers.
Many of the Tar Heels' steals haven't just come from jumping the passing lanes; they have also come from picking pockets in one-on-one play.
I think it's time to introduce a new defense with this team. Man-to-man will not only play to their strengths, the young players won't have to think as much, allowing their instincts to take over.
Most importantly, opponents won't be left wide open downtown.
There are many facets of the game in which the Tar Heels could use a heavy dose of energy. To me, the most obvious area is on the boards.
Despite being the biggest players on the team, Joel James and James Michael McAdoo seem to be the least physical. I don't see the energy or physicality the fight for rebounding position demands.
I saw that from James in his high school film. Where did it go?
Even when James and McAdoo have position to get the rebound, they won't get up to snatch it. It seems to me the only players that want to get off the floor for rebounds are Brice Johnson, J.P. Tokoto and Jackson Simmons.
I see way too many tip-outs. Just get up and grab the ball.
Oddly enough, the team's leading rebounders are McAdoo and James. Just imagine how good they would be if they had a little fight in them.
Beyond rebounds, the team's lack of intensity is shown when attacking the basket. It'll avoid contact with layups and floaters when it could've taken it up strong for a dunk. The worst is seeing bigs under the basket try to finesse it in.
It's things like that keeping the Tar Heels off the line. Carolina is 278th in the nation, averaging only 16.1 free-throw attempts per game.
An overall lack of energy is likely why we have seen mass substitutions midway through the second half against Butler and Indiana. Roy is not only making a point to the starters, but he is also showing them how they should be playing.
That move was effective against Butler, but it never really clicked with them against Indiana. It was a smart move nonetheless, and I can't disagree with his strategy.
Roy just needs to continue finding ways to spark the intensity of this squad.
Utilize the Pick and Roll
Through all the bad of the Indiana game, I saw a lot of good in Marcus Paige. That may have been his best game to date.
While three assists isn't anything to write home about, the poor shooting of his teammates did factor into that equation. What I saw was a young point guard getting comfortable in his role as the floor general and showing a willingness to stick his nose in the paint.
This was something we hadn't seen much of from Paige in his first season, but doing it against the best in the land speaks volumes on his progression.
Being effective in the paint won't be easy for Paige, as he only weighs 157 pounds. But he doesn't have to rely on speed and strength alone to get to the bucket if Roy implements the pick and roll.
For those unfamiliar with the terminology, typically, the center will set a high screen for the point guard and then "roll" to the basket. In turn, the point guard is temporarily freed of his defender and will allow the other defenders to dictate the play.
If nobody covers the rolling center, it's an easy pass and dunk. If they bring help from the perimeter, a guard will open up on the wing or the power forward will have an easy 15-footer.
If the defense doesn't bring help, then Paige can drop a pull-up jumper, a floater or take it all the way in for a layup. Throw in some back-door cuts, and the point guard is left with a myriad of options off a simple pick.
Though he isn't as good of a passer, Dexter Strickland would also be very effective with this style of offense, given his quickness and ability to get to the rim. And getting to the rim is something the Tar Heels desperately need to find a way to do.
Against good defenses, their current offense becomes stagnant because of their personnel. Coach Williams just doesn't have his usual inside threats.
I would also venture to say McAdoo has been relatively ineffective in the post. This style of offense will allow him to use more of his face-up game from 10 to 15 feet out, where I see him excel the most.
I truly believe the pick and roll is the optimal solution with the talent Roy is blessed with. But if he doesn't go with the pick and roll, there is another adjustment Williams could make that would help alleviate the woes of their current offense.
Move McAdoo to Small Forward
While James Michael McAdoo is a physical specimen on the outside, he isn't on the inside. Playing the post positions isn't just about size—it's also about mentality.
McAdoo is an even-keeled player by nature. He never gets too worked up emotionally and always carries a calm demeanor.
I love that about him—as a person.
As a power forward, there needs to be some ferocity to his game. Simply put, one has to have a mean streak to be effective at the 4. I don't think he is mentally capable of that, which is one of the reasons I used to explain why McAdoo won't live up to expectations this season.
John Henson didn't have have the body of McAdoo by a long shot. And, yes, his insane length did help. But he also had the ability to turn off his lovable grin with a flip of a switch.
Henson was an intense player, and opposing defenders and fans hated him for it. They hated him because it was effective. He may have shown his butt a little bit at times, but I'll take that over a lack of intensity down low any day of the week.
Don't take this to mean McAdoo doesn't have game, though. I'm certainly not saying that. I just feel being a power forward in the ACC—and especially in the NBA—takes a certain mentality.
In a recent column by Sports Illustrated's Luke Winn, he gives a complete breakdown of McAdoo's usage and efficiency. While the numbers are staggering, what caught my eye the most was this quote:
I'm just starting to break through and understand the ins and outs of being a post player. I struggled a lot last year, but toward the end, I found my niche, and one of the big things I've worked on is not trying to overpower everybody, and focusing on my footwork instead. I know that just because I'm posted up doesn't mean I have to back my way to the basket.
That is true to some degree. There are a lot of moves that can be made without having to back a player down.
However, a post will have a hard time being effective when he is shying away from contact. It isn't just about backing the defender down. It's also about getting position, getting separation for post moves, drawing fouls and fighting for rebounds.
Those are the things he doesn't do to the level that is expected of a 4. However, what he does could fit the 3.
Personally, I think McAdoo's best game is facing the basket about 15 feet out. He struggles at times with jump shots, but not nearly as much he does when someone puts a body on him. It also gives him room to penetrate from his position and force the defense to collapse.
It may not be the perfect solution, but I think McAdoo's NBA future is at small forward. Why not give him a head start?
He can still be used as the primary scorer, and his efficiency will start to climb. I don't see that happening at his current position.
In Winn's column, he points out that McAdoo is used in 29.6 percent of the Tar Heels' possessions—a higher rate than any of Roy's bigs that have come through North Carolina. However, his 0.692 points per touch is the worst in the group.
That doesn't add up to efficient offense. If that trend continues, it's going to be a long season.
On the flip side, Brice Johnson is making 66.7 percent of his shots—McAdoo is only making 47 percent. Johnson is the more efficient post.
I think putting Johnson in at the 4, and McAdoo the 3, maximizes the team's offensive potential in Roy's current inside-out scheme.
Give Hairston, Johnson and James More Minutes
If you're looking for efficiency and intensity, look no further than P.J. Hairston.
Hairston missed out on Indiana due to a sprained knee, but he should be starting at the 2 when he is ready to come back. Strickland is a quality player; it's nothing against him.
However, one can't overlook what Hairston has done on the court this season. He has been masterful in every facet of his game.
Hairston has nailed 35.3 percent of his threes after starting out just 1-of-7 this season. He has also been very effective driving to the basket, which is something Carolina desperately needs without a true threat in the post.
What has really stood out to me is his defense and rebounding. He's averaging 4.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals in just 15.7 minutes per game. He always seems to make big plays when he is in the game.
Starting or not, 15.7 minutes just isn't enough for this guy. Roy needs to find a way to get the sophomore some playing time.
The other player I would like to see more of is Brice Johnson. He has proven to be an excellent mid-range shooter and very efficient in the post.
Aside from Desmond Hubert, he is also the best shot-blocker on the team at 0.9 blocks over just 14 minutes per game. Despite his minutes, he is also the fourth-leading rebounder for the Tar Heels.
While Coach Williams is toying with the lineup, why not try Paige, Hairston, McAdoo, Johnson and James as the starting five?
I know it may not be conventional, but Roy threw conventional out the window when he played Hairston and Tokoto at the 4 and Johnson at the 5.
I applauded the move too. It shows his willingness to adapt to the strengths and weakness of the squad. Hopefully, that adaptation will continue throughout the season.
If he considers the pick and roll option, McAdoo would fit just fine as the four. It would keep him on the move and use his athleticism more than just relegating him to the post.
For this offense, I would use Paige, Hairston, Bullock, McAdoo and Johnson. But if James can step up his game, he could be lethal too. And nobody wants to get blind-sided by a 260-pound wall on the high screen.
The idea is to put the most efficient players on the floor and see if they can mesh. Roy Williams is certainly trying—he just needs to continue expanding on that effort.
To get a better idea of player efficiency, I adjust Carolina's key players' averages to 40 minutes. Though this isn't an accurate depiction of what they would do over 40 minutes, it does allow us to compare averages on a time-adjusted scale.
Player PTS REB AST STL BLK
Hairston 27.5 10.7 3.8 3.1 1.8
Johnson 25.4 13.1 0.9 1.7 2.6
McAdoo 22.4 12.5 1.4 2.0 0.4
McDonald 19.4 4.9 3.2 1.5 0.2
Bullock 17.6 7.4 5.0 2.9 0.4
Strickland 14.1 3.8 5.6 3.4 0.2
Tokoto 13.8 10.0 2.7 1.2 0.4
Paige 12.8 3.7 5.3 2.1 0.0
James 10.3 12.7 1.0 1.4 1.7