Five Pressing Issues for UNC

Let’s be honest. There are concerns with the 2006-07 version on the Tar Heels. The expectations based on the talent and the perception that no one in the ACC was even close may have been a tad high. Or maybe not. Maybe everyone else was much closer to UNC than we all thought. At any rate UNC sits in a very precarious situation. The #1 seed for the NCAA Tournament is hanging by a thread, the Heels have now twice squandered the outright lead in the ACC, and some of the fan base is restless to the point of openly question whether or not Roy is a good coach. And while I am not going to jump into that pit of snakes, I think there are five issues in respect to this team that should be addressed.

1. The Rotation

This is every analyst’s and talking heads’ favorite point to exhaust when discussing UNC. Roy has made it clear that he thinks the best chance for his team to win is to play 12 guys. Statistically speaking UNC actually only plays ten players for more than ten minutes with Stepheson and Thomas averaging around seven minutes a game. The premise most folks are operating on is that it will become necessary to play only eight players consistently with the other four seeing the floor sparingly. As the theory goes the most consistent line up with offer UNC more consistency on offense and allow the players to develop better on the court chemistry.

Based on my observations what Roy appears to be doing is (1) shuffling multiple players in and out in hopes of creating a depth gap with the opposing team and (2) responding to various game situations by inserting different personnel as the flow of the game dictates. And this should come as no surprise since Roy has stated he does not believe in combinations per se. He also tends to punish poor effort by benching a player and rewards great effort with playing time. In one respect the depth gap works except when UNC plays a team that successfully controls the tempo or has enough depth to handle UNC. The common thread in the five losses is that the depth issue never kicked in. Gonzaga and NC State controlled the tempo and staked decent leads, Virginia Tech has the depth to hang with UNC as does Maryland.  Another part of the mix here is Roy’s own admission that he tends to substitute by the seat of his pants rather than by any sort of design.

My take is that it might work to invest in more combinations of players which could be accomplished while using much the same spread of minutes among the players. I am fairly certain the offense and defense is charted with the combinations of players in mind. The question is which teams are the most effective in either offensive or defensive situations? Determining that would go a long way to figuring out which players should be on the floor at any given series of plays. In fact I would also think that as long as you can keep it close in the first half then the revolving door at the UNC bench can be employed which would give UNC a leg up on the edge. However in the second half I think having the rotation function with about eight players who are used to playing with each other might help UNC overcome some of the offensive consistency.

2. Defending the Other Team’s Shooting Guard

Roy did some spinning on the issue of one player, usually a guard, killing UNC by saying Maryland had five different players score in the final four minutes. That still does not change the fact that D.J. Strawberry has 27, Duke’s Jon Scheyer had 26, VT’s Zabian Dowdell had 33 and 23, NC State’s Courtney Fells had 21, Tennessee’s JaJuan Smith had 18, and Gonzaga’s Derek Raivio had 21 all against UNC. The common thread here is that all of these guys were playing two guard who had Wayne Ellington as a defender.  So while it is great Ellington scores 12 ppg, it is possible he might be giving up that much with his failure to play good defense. The point is all it takes is one big 30 point night from some opposing guard in the NCAA Tournament to end the season. This is why I think reducing Ellington’s minutes in favor of Marcus Ginyard and a little Wes Miller might be more productive overall than the points Ellington is putting on the board. UNC is not lacking in offensive options with Ellington off the floor and the value of Ginyard’s defense especially as it relates to shutting down a hot shooting guard cannot be overlooked.  It just seems that if you get into a game with one guy who appears to be getting off, why not tap either Miller or Ginyard to shut him down a bit and take away him as an offensive option.

3. The Half Court Set

Anyone else concerned about the inability of this team to run one play and get a good shot?  This, almost more than anything, scares the living daylights out of me.  What is even more shocking is that UNC has numerous offensive options yet in a late game situation or even in the course of the game when a basket is absolutely needed, the half court offense does not seem to click.  UNC has lost two games while possessing the basketball with a chance to win or tie and being totally inept when it comes to getting a good shot.  It also should be noted that during the few minutes Maryland was busy dismantling UNC’s lead, the Heels ran offensive sets in the half court and came up empty.  At the same time I am convinced one of the reasons why this is such a struggle is the lack consistent play from the 2 or 3 position who can work to create his own shot.  So when it comes down to one play it is either on Ty Lawson to create something on the dribble penetration or hope that you can isolate Brandan Wright or Tyler Hansbrough for a move to the basket.  The problem is without the significant threat from either the 2 or the 3 slot, defenses can stay in front of Lawson and front the post players to disrupt their ability to receive the ball in a scoring position.  Since Ellington’s defense is so suspect and his ability to create his own shot is equally suspect it either means that Danny Green or Ginyard need to be more of an offensive threat or Reyshawn Terry needs to step it up.  Terry is the X factor.  When he is on, UNC plays at a different level.  He gives the opposing defense pause and opens up the other aspects of the offense.  In a half court situation if Terry is an serious option I think it creates more flexibility all around.  Aside from that or a more well rounded game from Ellington, the offense will struggle when it is fully being keyed upon by another team’s defense.

4. Rebounding and Effort

It happened against Virginia Tech, NC State, and it happened against Maryland.  The best rebounding team in the ACC with a +9 edge in rebounding over their opponents has often been caught flat footed on the boards by teams who struggle in this particular facet of the game.  And there is really no other way to look at this besides the effort and fundamentals of rebounding.  Opposing teams seems to understand better than the Heels that they can get an edge by crashing the backboard and taking away high percentage shots from UNC by limiting them to one shot.  The offensive boards are particularly troubling since that doubles the defensive effort required to stop a team from scoring.  In broader terms it is about intensity.  I think the rebounding may prove more than anything else that this team tries to rest too much on their talent and does not put forth an effort which convinces you that every rebound and loose ball must be gathered at all costs. As every team that has beaten UNC this season has proven, talent can take you a long way but that little extra push can give you a distinct edge regardless of the talent gap.  And while UNC has been taught this lesson at least five times now and each time we hear from the players how they need to change the way they approach the game.  At some this either has to sink in and become the basis for this team bringing focused intensity to the floor or the next time the lesson is forgotten it could be six months before they can put it to practice again.

5. Place Foot on Neck and Push Down

Finishing teams off is paramount.  UNC allowed Maryland and Virginia Tech to hang around to the point all it took was a sequence of two big shots from the other side to shift the momentum.  Some folks call it the killer instinct, I call it the simple ability to make the plays necessary to control the lead and it requires all of the above.  It means stopping the other team’s guy when they need a basket to close the gap.  It means scoring on a crucial possession in the half court or grabbing a key rebound or loose ball.  It is about making enough good plays in the clutch to win and it often helps if you have the rotation tuned to the point where you have a cohesive unit out there when it gets down to the brass tacks.  The ongoing evaluation of UNC as a team is that they possess as much talent as anyone in the country.  The same thing was said about the 2005 team which went on to win the national title.  That team had all the right components in terms of personnel as well as the chemistry of having played together for two years and also been at a point in 2002-03 where everything was not turning up so rosy.  Compare that to this squad which is shuffling in new personnel who by and large are still figuring out how it all works on the college level.  They are also playing beside guys who are only in their second season with the exception of Terry, Thomas, and Miller.  In every respect this team is very good and if they can ever find that button to push to bring it all together and play with championship level effort, then they can make a run to the national championship.

This is not as much as coaching issue as it is the players making the effort to do all of the not so glamorous tasks in the course of a game to effectively outwork their opponent.  A team that is more talented than you which also works their rear ends off is pretty freaking difficult to win against.  The former is not really a problem, the questions we all have lies in the latter half of that equation.  A late season road game in Atlanta is a great test to find out if this Tar Heel team is ready to put the fire with all of the obvious skills they bring to the court.

Otherwise it is going to be a total crapshoot from here on out and we can readily pronounce this team to be one year away.

11 Responses to Five Pressing Issues for UNC

  1. C. Michael says:

    I honestly thought they were one year away at the begining of the year. That’s not to say they still can’t be great this year, but it is not realistic to expect greatness from a team full of sophomores and freshmen.

  2. Mariah says:


    For being excessively stupid.

  3. hhn111 says:

    Your comment about half court set plays is dead on and is a common thread in the a majority of their loses this year. As the game get tight, UNC inability to get off good plays really hurts them and may be a component of on court inexperience and savvy. UNC is great in the open court but if you start to slow them down, you have a higher chance of sneaking out a win. The only exception to this is in the Duke game where Lawson scored on some good drives due to the slow footedness of the Duke guards. The BC game was also very close at the end but the win was helped by BC inability to hit the FTs.

  4. Tom says:

    Great points as always. I agree with all of them, but there is one factor you didn’t mention: For some reason, Roy has ended all 5 losses with at least 2 time outs still in his bag. The youthfulness of this team has a hard time overcoming a extremely loud crowd…and they seem to be unable to hit the “killer shot” that will silence a loud crowd / and hot streaking team. That ability comes with experience and having one or two “go to” guys that can rain a 3 or slam it down over someone. You must possess the ability to reclaim lost momentum.
    Roy is too good of a coach to believe these freshmen can just “play through” every situation – I think he is wise to save his timeouts, but at the end of close games, that is the time to settle his team, take a breather, design a specific play and execute.
    Again, I am not throwing Roy to wolves, but I think we all forget that these guys are so young – possibly even Roy.

  5. Tar Heel alum and fan says:

    All interesting points. I too have been frustrated by the lack of a “killer instinct” by this team. Against Maryland, a key moment was when Lawson picked up either his 3rd or 4th foul and Frasor subbed in for him. We were on the verge of putting Maryland away; you could see they were getting tired and frustrated. Soon thereafter Maryland made their run. Not sure if Frasor is all the way back from injury; he doesn’t seem to be playing like earlier in the season. Perhaps Quentin Thomas should be the first choice after Lawson at point – his play has really improved this year and he can create off the dribble. I also would like to see Danny Green get more minutes somehow. When he’s in the game good things usually happen and he is an under-appreciated offensive threat. I think we still have a shot at a number one seed – but need to win out through the regular season and the ACC tourney.

  6. Tar Heel Fan says:


    I have not been so bothered by the timeout situation but I can see where on Sunday night when MD hit that three to cut it to seven he maybe should have sensed the turn in the game and gotten a timeout to make sure they scored. Sidney Lowe made judicious use of his timeouts against UNC before the runs really got going which really saved them in the first game.

  7. Chris says:

    All good points……I think Roy is doing as good a job as possible with this group, which just hasn’t jelled as a team. Part of that in my mind is the revolving door of 10-12 players. Part of it is poor guard play with no natural leader; Lawson is a year away, and the others are not legitimate ACC guards other than for certain roles. We need to put Ginyard out there to guard their #2 guards as you said, and hope and pray that Lawson can play big in the big games.

  8. Andy says:

    I completely agree with starting Ginyard ahead of Ellington, or at least giving Ginyard a ton more minutes. Ginyard reminds me of Jackie Manuel; a guard who wasn’t a terrific shot blocker, but one who has tremendous athletic ability to annoy the snot out of our opponents’ best shooters. The difference between Ginyard and Manuel, however, is that Ginyard can drive and slash to the basket, something I don’t think Jackie Manuel was too great at. Ginyard was my favorite player on last year’s team, and continues to be my favorite this year.
    Ty Lawson has impressed me this year; I don’t see a lot of dumb decisions from him at the point, and I think he’s one of the most dangerous point guards in the country with his ability to drive to the basket. While Ellington is a decent shooter, he gives up so much defensively he makes Rashad McCants look like an all ACC defensive team captain at times.
    This year’s UNC team reminds me of the classic playground bully. You know, the one that takes the milk money away from all the smaller kids and gets cocky enough to mess with older and bigger kids. The minute the bully gets challenged and punched back in the mouth, they back down. There are times that I wonder (with the exception of Hansbrough, Ginyard, Miller, and Lawson) if a lot of these kids know how to respond when another team makes a run. I was so impressed with the way they fought back in the game at Blacksburg, but then frustrated as hell as losing a 13-point lead against a good Maryland team. I also think there is a little bit of a chemistry issue with this team down the stretch, but that just might be frustration pouring out because they haven’t gone for the throat when they needed to win some big games.
    Sorry to be so long-winded, but I get frustrated when I see a group with this much talent who should be flogging a lot of teams lose down the stretch. I don’t think it’s fair to blame Roy Williams, but you have to wonder how a coach with this much talent can’t close the deal.
    I’m just praying that we can get out of Atlanta with a win tomorrow night, and another W against Duke. The #1 seed in the NCAA tournament is that big of a deal to me, but potentially getting a #3 seed and having to play a #6 in the second round scares the daylights out of me. Here’s to hoping that UNC can pull it together.

  9. williamodouglas says:

    The NCAA is played on neutral courts. Don’t get too worked up about tough road losses in February. Williams may be letting them play through things, knowing that it might cause avoidable losses during the regular season. If anyone knows that a glittering record in February means very little, it is Roy Williams, having had Kansas at number one for most of the 1997 season before losing a Sweet Sixteen game.

  10. Russell says:

    1. As Terry goes, so go the Heels. Obvious. Statistically, more points Terry scores and less points Hansbrough scores = more UNC wins. Check it out.
    2. Ginyard ILO Ellingotn – no brainer.
    3. Time outs. Roy calls them very late when the game is on the line, team is on the ups, and disrupts/destroys the team’s flow. “Over-coached.” -John Wooden.
    4. Roy’s (re: Achilles’) Heel: questionable courtside balance between sensing the art and orchestrating the craft.
    Time to put it together, Heels! Nine tonight is the Beginning…

  11. williamodouglas says:

    Everybody is a critic. This season isn’t over but I think Roy has done a far better job of dealing with “too much talent” than Dean did in 1994, where he had everybody back except Lynch and added Stackhouse and Wallace and McIness and finished lower than the year before. I think it is always easier to coach a bunch of overachievers like last year’s team or the 1997 team Dean’s last year, than to deal with all the head games and personalities of multiple future NBA stars.

    Thus, while we all say that Roy did a great job last year, he probably did a much better job the year before, keeping those guys together and from self-destructing the way they had during his first year when they were only marginally better than the 2003 team was under Doherty.(19-11 vs 19-16, with May out much of the year).

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