If ou had to pick an opponent on the schedule to try new things against, you can't pick a better one than Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights are good enough that you can get an accurate gauge on how well the team is doing, but not deadly enough that small mistakes can kill you. The game falls late enough in the schedule that the team should have the basics down, but still before the start of conference play. It's a good time to mix things up, and with Marcus Ginyard out for this and the upcoming Albany game, you were already going to see something different.
And so we did. UNC came out in their throwback uniforms from the opening game, playing a much more aggressive style of play with less posting up on offense and more slashing drives to the basket from guards. Justin Watts and Will Graves returned to the starting lineup, but it was Dexter Strickland who got the increased playing time. He made the most of it, going 6 of 8 for 18 points, 4 assists, and 2 steals. The defense was equally aggressive, with more full court pressing than I've seen in quite some time and an overemphasis on disrupting the passing lanes. This led to some easy baskets for Rutgers when they beat the press, but also got he Heels seven steals.
The end result had Rutgers playing a different game than last year. The penetration by the Carolina guards kept the Knights' big men in foul trouble (three minutes into the second half they had six team fouls and two players on the bench with four apiece) and Mike Rosario off balance from behind the arc. Rosario is still incredibly talented, and got 22 points, but was 1-9 from three compared to last year's 5-7 against the Heels. The new look for UNC could be very useful come conference play, especially when three-point shooting for the Heels goes cold.
Unfortunately, there were still too many turnovers, stupid mistakes, and another large collapse that saw the lead go from 17 to 4 late. And in fact the Strickland three that helped put the game away was among the dumbest shots of the evening and would have been an unmitigated disaster had not fallen in. The good news is Roy Williams has almost certainly had enough, judging by his postgame comments and one timeout where he gesticulated so wildly he hurt his arm so badly he couldn't instruct the team. The players interviewed after the game seemed incredibly chastened, and there are hopes that this could be a turning point in the season.
It had better be, because the flaws are beginning to show. Deon Thompson hasn't had an impressive game since Gardner-Webb. John Henson had more turnovers than rebounds. As a team the free throw shooting is lousy, and the mistakes inexplicable. There are still thirteen days until conference play begins for the Heels, and only two games before that. If this team is going to buckle down and make a large improvement, now is the time.