A coach's view on the Tar Heels
In an effort to ease the task of replacing four established Division I stars -- three of which were drafted in the first round of the 2009 NBA draft -- North Carolina Coach Roy Williams has had to shorten and simplify his playbook, according to a coach whose team already has faced the Tar Heels this season.
Last year, North Carolina could rely on guys like Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green to execute the team's offense precisely. But they're all gone now, and what remains for Williams to work with are few developed products and many raw pieces.
"They don't run as many things this year, and I think that's out of necessity," said the coach, who was granted anonymity in return for his candor. "I don't think they have as much in their playbook this year, and they lost a lot of people that were really good last year, too, that had been in that system three or four years. Now they're trying to do it with inexperienced kids."
Seven of North Carolina's top 10 players have played less than two seasons at the collegiate level. The Tar Heels' top five options off the bench are all freshmen. As Maryland will attest, experience counts for a lot -- especially in the ACC this season -- and North Carolina simply doesn't have much of it.
"There's a huge learning curve for young kids," the coach said. "When you're bringing off (the bench) five kids that have never run that system before, and you have (point guard Larry) Drew, who is only a sophomore, (forward Ed) Davis is only a sophomore, so when you have two, three, four very inexperienced players on the floor at the same time in the college game, that's very difficult."
The coach said North Carolina's problems on the court stem primarily from its guard play. Larry Drew II (6-foot-2, 180 lbs.) runs the point for the Tar Heels, and he is backed up by freshman Dexter Strickland (6-foot-3 180 lbs.). In league play, North Carolina has amassed 79 assists to 97 turnovers, and that, the coach said, is a reflection of the team's struggles at the point guard position.
"Their offensive system has always (relied on point guard play), all the way back to Phil Ford and, really, Roy Williams's system hasn't changed that much from the Dean Smith system at all, other than that you can't use four corners any more," the coach said. "But their offensive system is extremely reliant on point guard play and knowledge and all that kind of thing, and their point guard play is just not up to the standards of their typical point guard play. Drew is very average, and Strickland's not really a point guard. He's a scoring guard, but he's not a true point guard."
That being the case, North Carolina's more polished products -- forwards Deon Thompson (6-foot-9, 245 lbs.) and Ed Davis (6-foot-10, 225 lbs.) -- do not get the ball in positions to score as often as they should, the coach said. Davis, who many observers felt would have been a lottery pick in last season's NBA draft had he entered, ranks fourth on the team in field goals attempted. That, the coach said, is simply unacceptable.
"He's fairly limited offensively to eight feet and in, and so I think people are being very physical with him," the coach said. "And I think the inability of point guards to ge him the ball and the inability of their youth to run the system properly, I think he's gotten better; he's just not stronger."
The coach said Thompson, a senior, is being "fairly productive," but he is suffering from a combination of factors, only one of which is that the guards are not finding enough ways to get him the ball. Thompson also has been hurt by the injury to sophomore forward Tyler Zeller (7-foot-0, 240 lbs.), who will be out until at least the middle of February with a stress fracture in his right foot. Consequently, the coach said, Thompson is having to play more minutes than he otherwise would and opposing defenses are able to put more focus on shutting him down.
"I think it does hurt them a lot without Zeller," the coach said. "Zeller's really good. And so they don't have that rotation of three or four guys that can get in there."
Still, Thompson and Davis currently are the only two Tar Heels averaging double digits in points.
As for the two guards who join Drew in the backcourt, the coach said neither is as multi-dimensional as were the wings who flanked Lawson last season. Redshirt junior Will Graves is "a one-dimensional scorer," the coach said. Sixty percent of Graves's field goal attempts are from three-point range. Graves (6-foot-6, 240 lbs.) is shooting 38.5 percent from three-point range.
"He's got a big body, but he's not as long, not as fast, not as quick as Ellington," the coach said, comparing Graves to North Carolina's primary long-range threat last season. "He's shooting well from three, but you can play him just as a three-point shooter, which is what people do."
Redshirt senior Marcus Ginyard (6-foot-5, 210 lbs.) has struggled with his shot since spraining his right ankle earlier this season, though the coach noted Ginyard's offensive production was never what he was known for anyway. Ginyard is shooting 43.2 percent from the field and 35.4 percent from three-point range on the season, and those numbers have dipped even further during conference play.
"He was never that good a shooter anyway, right?," the coach said. "He was known as an athletic guy that moved without the ball and scored off of other people and stuff, so you know, that's extraordinarily bad, what he's shooting, but he was always a guy who scored off of other people, maybe slashing drives. They're not as quick and fast up and down the court as they used to be, either. He used to get an awful lot off of that."
The coach noted that North Carolina is "not creating as mch offense off of their defense as they used to," and said that is directly affecting the Tar Heels' potency on offense. North Carolina is averaging 69.9 points per game in conference play (tied with Virginia for fifth in the ACC), and it is allowing ACC opponents to tally an average of 73.4 points per game (No. 11 in the conference).
"As their young kids learn their defense, it kind of feeds on each other," the coach said. "They get the game going up and down, get some steals, get some easy baskets, you know, I mean that's a team that's averaging even in league play last year probably 90 points a game. This year they're averaging 70. And some of that is the offense, but some of that is not creating as much on defense. In league play, their opponents have more assists than turnovers. They only have 41 steals in six games. In the past they got a lot more than that."
February 6, 2010; 11:34 AM ET
Categories: Men's basketball
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