Feb. 18, 2013
By Matt Winkeljohn
For those griping about college basketball becoming too slow and too physical, tonight’s game may offer relief. The way Georgia Tech goes about defense may prevent a track meet, yet the way North Carolina goes about offense just about guarantees this game won’t be much like Miami’s 45-43 win at Clemson the other day.
In McCamish Pavilion tonight (9 p.m.), you will not find a coach opposed to the running game. If Tech mentor Brian Gregory had the personnel, the Yellow Jackets would run more. As it is, Tech is pushing the pace a good bit more than last season, but neither he nor his players are programmed to push like the Tar Heels.
Gregory favors a run-out when numbers and angles dictate, not just to do it.
North Carolina (17-8, 7-5 ACC) just goes, period, and with some recent roster tweaks they went and went and went Saturday in a 93-81 win over Virginia – which entered the game with the nation’s second stingiest defense.
The Tar Heels are going small, sort of, as coach Roy Williams has moved 6-foot-5.5 sophomore guard P.J. Hairston off the bench and into the lineup as a “power forward.” That gives UNC four guards and wings and one big. Just about all of them shoot the 3-ball. Hairston scored a career-high 29 points against Virginia.
“Hairston is a natural three man that they’re able to play at the four spot,” Gregory said. “This is going to be a big challenge for Robert [Carter Jr.], and Kam [Holsey] and Julian [Royal] and at times Daniel [Miller] to be able to step out on the perimeter and guard guys who can the 3 and also put the ball down.
“Our communication and our defensive intensity is going to be important. I think this year UNC has shot more 3s than any team coach Williams has ever coached.”
UNC’s adrenalized style didn’t serve the Jackets well last month at UNC, where the Tar Heels pulled the visitors into their game.
Tech (14-10, 4-8) put up 75 shots that day, but scored just 63 points with 20 turnovers. That was not efficient. UNC scored 79 on 70 shots. That was.
And these are not quite the same Tar Heels. UNC isn’t running much more or less now than then, but the Tar Heels are shooting more long balls. They made 13 against the Cavaliers. Hairston was good on 6-of-12. That’s not the kind of player Carter, or Holsey and certainly not Miller are accustomed to guarding.
Slowing Hairston and the Tar Heels will require several things beyond turning and running rather than merely backpedaling on defense.
Tech’s defense will start with its offense. The Jackets, who after losing their first five ACC games have won four of seven, while losing the other three each by one possession, have to cut their turnovers.
Gregory also said that when the Jackets put up a shot, each player has to then either hit the glass or be primed to retreat in a hurry on defense. “We had too many in-betweens,” at UNC, the coach said.
This has not been a typical season for the Tar Heels, who are tied with N.C. State for fourth place in league play. Some things, however, don’t change much.
“Carolina through the years, and this year as much as any, is one of the best transition teams in the country so you have to do a great job in your transition,” Gregory said.
“Taking quality shots and taking care of the ball is every bit as important as getting back, so there is no one phase that isn’t important when you play a team that is as talented as North Carolina.”
While the Tar Heels are more likely to fire away from distance, the Jackets can improve their offense quickly by making more shots up close. That has been a problem recently, not only at UNC but even in Saturday’s win at Wake Forest.
“That’s something we have to be better at, finishing the ball. We had a zillion of them at North Carolina,” the coach said. “You have to finish the plays around the basket. Some of it is youth and inexperience and a lack of strength and maybe explosiveness.
“That’s not going to change over night so maybe you have to use some pump-fakes inside. You have to finish through contact and not avoid it.”