North Carolina vs. Illinois Preview: Roy Williams' Tar Heels Take on the Illini

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North Carolina vs. Illinois Preview: Roy Williams' Tar Heels Take on the Illini
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Tar Heels Blue?

Personnel

First let’s start with the Illini personnel. March To March’s jc25 has a great breakdown of Bruce Weber’s squad here. Take some time to familiarize yourself with this group and then come on back.

As you can see this is an experienced squad. They return all five starters from last season, but more importantly, they have a core group of players that compliment one another’s skill sets impressively.

McCamey is the floor general with John Wall-like stat lines if not talent. He’s got shooters to extend the floor in backcourt mates Paul and Richardson, and the Illini have an experienced interior duo that moves well in tandem in Webber’s open post offense which forces not only your perimeter to play sound ball-you-man defense, but your bigs as well. More on the importance of Carolina’s bigs playing sound positional defense in a moment.

Off the bench, Illinois has got experience in both the backcourt and frontcourt in Head and Cole to provide some steady minutes. They’ll also roll out some explosive talent on the wing with McDonald’s All-American Jereme Richmond who at 6’8” and with some perimeter skills is the Illini’s only true small forward.

Again, it’s a more experienced group than it is a talented one, but the pieces fit so well together that end product is certainly better than the sum of its parts.

As for North Carolina, they’ve been fighting themselves in a battle to make life easier on freshman phenom Harrison Barnes. He’s a bell-cow, the point forward, stat sheet stuffer, and popcorn vendor all at the same time—a heckuva pressure cooker for an 18 year old. That said, Barnes, especially against Illinois three guard, can really make some hay in this game. More on that in a minute.

Dexter Strickland and Larry Drew have struggled to really take over as the lead guard compliment to Harrison Barnes’ brilliance. The Tar Heels, in fact, should be looking to a freshman in this role, according to our UNC experts at The Rathlkeller. As a total package he’s probably the answer at least long term, but he’ll get a stiff challenge from Demetri McCamey tonight.

At forward, the Heels’ duo of Tyler Zeller and Jon Henson have played remarkably well, and the good news is that they can matchup with the Illinois frontcourt. Henson is a good analog to Illinois’ Tisdale as they’re both built like rails. Zeller can punish Davis inside on one end, but the real question is can he limit Davis’ face-up game on the other. I’m betting Roy Williams is willing to give up 15 footers to Davis most of the game, so Zeller’s ability to float away from the bucket may be a moot, but strategic point.

 

Keys to the Game For Illinois

Halfcourt Tempo

Like most games this season, Illinois is going to decide if they have a strategic advantage pushing pace or playing in the halfcourt, because they’re dynamic enough to do both rather effectively. Against a Roy Williams club that tends to struggle in a halfcourt, especially without a proven point man, I would guess the Illini wouldn’t mind getting in a battle of halfcourt offense with the Heels.

I mean why bail out a team with a dearth of playmakers by providing 94 feet of freedom? Especially when you have one of the nation’s premier halfcourt weapons, Bruce Weber’s open post motion offense. Weber’s open post motion is a confluence of five-man motion open post offense, some of flex cutting, wrapped in a bow of Bobby Knight’s motion offense concepts, which include a steady diet of down screens, reading your defender, and then cutting appropriately (curl, fade, or a cut to a jump shot.) More on this in minute.

 

Manage Harrison Barnes

Other than true freshman Jereme Richmond, the Illini don’t have a true cover for Harrison Barnes. Texas’ true three-man Jordan Hamilton gave the Illini all sorts of problems so I’d expect the same from Barnes. The Illini need to find away to take Barnes out of the game by placing the onus on the sketchy Tar Heel guard play. You do that by wing denial and throwing multiple bodies at Harrison.

 

Run Your Stuff

Weber’s motion attack has the potential to absolutely confound a young Tar Heel squad with all sorts of screening and backcutting. More on that in a minute. It’s designed to punish undisciplined, out of position defenses which means this should be a wheelhouse game for Illinois’ half court attack.

 

Keys to the Game For Carolina

Guarding the Illini Motion Attack

This video isn’t the best illustration Weber’s offense, but there are two instructive items that Coach Lavin mentions in the piece that work with my analysis:

First, I’d like to talk about the down screen which is the second play in the video. One of the core concepts of Weber’s offense, which employs a lot of Bobby Knight’s offensive philosophy, is reading defenders when coming off of screens. Notice how McCamey curls off of the Tisdale screen and finds unfettered access into the heart of the defense for an easy find and bucket.

That can’t happen if you’re guarding with the scouting report in mind. Offensive players should not be treated equally so why the hell would you trail the screen when guarding one of the best penetrators/dimers in college hoops. The defender should have gone through the screen on the ball side cutting off the lane. Horrible.

If that was a shooter like Richardson or to a lesser extent Paul, by all means trail the screen, chase them off the jumper and roll the dice with these two players in the lane.

For UNC to have a chance stopping the Illini motion this can’t happen. This young Tar Heel team will have to pay particular attention to the strengths and weaknesses of who they’re guarding or they’ll be making the task of defending Weber’s mix-master doubly hard.

As for the frontcourt and the other instructive part of the video, the UNC bigs are going to have to be prepared to hedge these screens and then recover to different parts of the floor. Same play, but watch where Tisdale the screener goes because this will be an important point for Jon Henson.

Instinctually, a big man is going to hedge or help to a down screen or a flex cut and then recover to the goal because that’s typically where the screener (his man) is going. If you’re guarding Tisdale, however, you have to be prepared to recover away from the bucket as Tisdale floats to his “sweet-spot” which is 15 feet out.

The senior Illini post is slightly built and has the tendency to shy away from contact. He’s actually a wheelhouse type of cover for Henson physically, so that’s some more good news. It’s just a matter of Henson being able to pay attention to the scouting report.

Illinois’ other post, Mike Davis, is going to screen and dive or screen and rescreen, but ultimately he wants to occupy and carve out space on the weakside block for easy offensive rebounding opportunities. He won’t float to find his face up game as much as Tisdale. The Carolina bigs, specifically Zeller, have to help and recover with this in mind.

 

Stop Demetri McCamey.

Cut off the head and the body dies right? Well, yeah sort of, but in this instance, it just means the body grows a pretty solid halfcourt offense. But first things first.

The Heels must stop McCamey from using his strength and deceptive quickness to get in the lane and collapse a young UNC defense. McCamey’s penetration is the Illini’s easy money on offense. He probably has the best vision in all of college hoops, and he’ll downright destroy your frontcourt if he’s allowed to breach the perimeter shell and create fouls.

Since McCamey is a credible jumpshooter, the Heels can’t cheat on penetration by giving a huge cushion and playing off of the senior to take away the dribble drive. He’s been to that movie and shot so well he got some free popcorn.

 

Wreck Shop With Barnes

Whether that means an open floor game getting Barnes in transition against the Illini’s undersized guards, or punishing Illinois in the halfcourt by making sure Barnes gets touches, this is the offensive key for Illinois. They have to punish Weber’s three guard loof whether it’s going to the goal or on the glass.

 

Prediction

I don’t think the Heels have the guard play to force the sort of favorable pace they’ll need to win. Illinois’ guards, especially McCamey, will be able to run when they have numbers and execute the Heels to death when they don’t Without solid guard play, the Heels are just along for the ride in terms of tempo.

For that reason, I’ll say 78 to 64 Illinois especially if Weber self scouts the Texas game.

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From the FanTake blog: March To March

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