The saga continues.
Over 10 games this season, the North Carolina Tar Heels have been up and down in just about every category. Through it all, two things have been consistent: good three-point shooting and poor defense.
While the former is promising, the latter is one of the most concerning categories for this young UNC squad, as it is only three games away from the ACC gauntlet.
"Right now, there's not anything Ole Roy's ecstatic about. Let's put it that way," head coach Roy Williams said in his latest postgame press conference.
It's hard to blame the coach for feeling that way. The Tar Heels allowed East Carolina as many points in the second half as they should have the entire game.
Closing out the first half with a comfortable 42-26 lead, UNC seemed to have it all under control. Then ECU went on a 14-5 run to open the second half. Then it proceeded to score 47 more, for a whopping total of 61 points in the final 20 minutes—10 more points than Carolina mustered.
How did the Pirates do it?
The same way just about every other team has: three-point shooting.
ECU shot 10-of-27 beyond the arc, and sharpshooter Akeem Richmond was left open on seemingly every possession in the waning minutes of the contest. Richmond finished the game 5-of-10 from downtown—and came close to helping finish off the Tar Heels.
It's a good thing UNC has the shooters to counter, or there would would be a few more games landing in the loss column.
How concerning is the perimeter defense? Let's take a look at the numbers.
Carolina is allowing 25 three-point attempts per game, of which the opposing offense is knocking down 33.6 percent. That's 25.2 points per game the Tar Heels are giving up beyond the arc.
While those numbers may not be eye-popping to many, consider UNC's opponents are only scoring 43.6 points per game inside the arc. Going even further, 39 percent of the opposing teams' attempts have been threes.
Thirty-nine percent. That can't be overstated. No team should be that comfortable in that area of the floor.
To give some perspective on that number, three-pointers only account for 29.7 percent of the Tar Heels' attempts.
With conference play starting next month, it's time to get concerned.
The teams Carolina will face in the ACC this season are shooting a combined 35.1 percent from three-point land. Of the 11 teams on its schedule, seven are shooting better than 35 percent—and five of those teams UNC will play twice.
How do these shooters continue to get open looks?
Roy Williams implements a man-on-man defense with a hedge-and-recover twist—a typical defense used by coaches with experienced players and in the NBA. The issue with Carolina is there isn't much experience on this squad.
Hedge and recover is basically used to defend the screen, but it takes all five players working in unison to guide the ball-handler into a vulnerable position while blocking off passing and cutting lanes. One wrong move by the defense, and the offense will have an open cutter or a spot-up three.
It's basically a game of chess, and Roy is having trouble finding five Bobby Fischers.
The players tend to play the hedge too hard and early, leaving too much space to cover when they try to get back on their man. They also stay on the double-team too long, which occasionally forces unnecessary—and late—switches.
This is why the defense looks to be in a constant state of confusion.
Since the zone is rarely used in the NBA, I like the fact Roy implements this defense with his team. It makes them more prepared for what they will be doing at the next level.
However, he might want to look into a way to gradually work the hedge and recover into the defensive strategy, rather than throwing them to the wolves. Basketball IQ and chemistry are two key components to making this defense work—neither of which these Tar Heels are showing much of as a collective group.
That isn't to say this group isn't capable; it just seems they are having trouble finding their comfort zone, which is affecting them on both sides of the floor. That will happen when a team only has three upperclassmen.
What Defense Should UNC Use?
I truly feel if Roy starts with straight-up man-on-man, these players can build confidence in what they are doing defensively. As their confidence and chemistry grows, he can work the hedge and recover in some of their opponents' possessions.
Yes, they will occasionally get burned by the screen, but will it really be any worse than what we are already seeing? That's kind of hard for me to fathom.
This team is loaded with great defenders, but they just seem lost right now.
With Texas, UNLV and the ACC coming up, the Tar Heels are running out of time to experiment. One way or another, this squad will have to get it together to make the 2012-13 season a successful one.