After two games this season, UNC has looked like a team trying to find itself which is not unusual for a group of young players some of who are playing college basketball for the first time. So, there is really no need to even be overly concerned at this point since the season is barely a month old and Roy Williams did not get to where he was at without knowing how to bring a group of players to the point where they can play as one of the best in the nation. Still there are some issues to address and here are the five I think are the most crucial at this early juncture.
This was a major problem last season that abated somewhat when the Heels had their huge run through February into March. This season it has reared it's ugly head once more but not nearly on the same level. UNC committed 15 turnovers against Sacred Heart and 16 against Winthrop. The real issue in the Winthrop game was 14 of those came in the first half and was instrumental in handing the Eagles an eight point halftime lead. Turnovers happen for a variety of reasons. There can be a lack of focus, bad decisionmaking, or in some cases the defenses just causes them. Youth can be a factor in how many a team commits, especially if said youth is acclimating to a new system and new temmates. This would seem to be the case here. Ty Lawson had five of the 16 turnovers against Winthrop. Tyler Hansbrough and Wayne Ellington gave the ball up three times though in Hansbrough's case as much traffic as he sees in the lane, there are bound to be some cases where he gives it up. Of course cutting down on turnovers is more incumbent upon the guards who do most of ball handling. I expect this aspect will get better when as the players continue to get more comfortable with the speed of the game and begin to get a feel where their teammates are at on the court.
2. Perimeter Defense
If I had to pick one I was most concerned about it would be this one because as a UNC fan I have walked this road before. UNC's defense on the perimeter has been downright abysmal in the first two games, even if the stat sheet only says they are surrendering 36% from beyond the arc. That might be less of an issue if you are limiting their looks outside and forcing them to do something else with the ball. That does not seem to be the case and against Winthrop they got by with giving up a huge cache of threes in the first half because one steadfast collary of college basketball is that hot shooting usually only lasts for a half. This was the case with Winthrop and also with Sacred Heart. The main problem UNC faces is that ACC teams can be a little more consistent without being scorching hot. Giving up huge points outside the arc is a deadly thing against a team like Virginia whose offense is primarily perimeter driven by two stellar guards. It can also be a killer in the NCAA Tournament where a hot shooting team can send you home rather quickly. As for UNC, it is probably a matter of getting everyone on the same page defensively. Teams do not tend to shoot that well if the shots are not open shots. The challenge UNC faces is reducing the number of cleans looks opposing teams get from behind the arc. This is all part of the learning curve, especially for the freshmen.
3. Free Throw Shooting
And by this I mean more in terms of getting to the line rather than making a high percentage though UNC could stand to do both right now. Against Sacred Heart, the Heels reached the line enough times, 28 total, but only hit 17 of them for 61%. Against Winthrop UNC only saw the line 15 times and again hit in the 60% range. Historically speaking great teams get to the line a lot. The 2005 national title team averaged 26.9 trips to the line hitting 72% of those attempts. That averaged out to 6.9 points more from the FT line than their opponents and when you consider they won that title game by five points it is a big deal. As with the other issues, having the players, especially the new ones getting comfortable in the offense and make moves to the basket will result in more free throw attempts. As for making them, only practice is going to help that part.
I said this after the Pfeiffer game that I thought this team was prone to lapses. After two regular season games I am sure of it and the first half against Winthrop was one 20 minute long lapse. It is possible that having so much talent could breed a little laziness. I also think that someone needs to step up leadership wise and make sure everyone is on the same page and singularly focused on the task at hand for a full 40 minutes. The nature of early season games may also be factored in here and by the time we reach the ACC season some of these issues will be abated simply by being involved in games with significantly more meaning. Roy Williams earns his paycheck with his tremendous skill at coaching motivation and working a team to a point where they can be focused. This is one of the issues Williams takes a much harder line on than others and usually garners the proper response.
No, not the one Williams doesn't care to talk about. This kind of chemistry is the one where the players on the court feel comfortable with one another, understand what everyone will be doing at any given time, and play as a cohesive unit. Williams said in the preaseason he did not buy into combinations, he thought that if you can play basketball, you can play with anyone. I cannot really argue with that logic but I do know that the 10-12 guys who will be seeing time on the floor needs to develop good playing relationships with one another. It was my impression there was a some hesitation out there against Winthrop and a tinge of uncertainty which seemed to stem from players not being sure of their teammates' capabilities and placement on any given play. This is not unexpected and working in three freshman along with the returnees means it will take some time to work out those kinks. Players at this level develop a sense for what other players on the team are capable of and where they will be on the court at any moment. This can only come from experience and playing together. There is no doubt it will come and it may lead to some sloppy play at times.
As I said in a previous post, the Heels have one definite piece of the puzzle working exceptionally well and that is Hansbrough. The rest of the team is a mixed bag. Bobby Frasor is putting in some consistent minutes at point and Reyshawn Terry had an excellent game against Sacred Heart but was mostly MIA tonight. Wright and Ellington have been impressive so far but are still learning how to play at this level. Lawson shows all the signs of being a great point guard but is still picking up the system and feeling out his teammates in live action. Other guys like Wes Miller, Marcus Ginyard, Deon Thompson, Danny Green, and Alex Stepheson are likewise getting a feel for what their roles might be and how best to help the team. It is a puzzle right now with a definite framework of pieces already in place and Roy Williams trying to figure out how to fit the rest of them in there to form a complete picture. I am convinced it will happen sooner rather than later and when it does, given the UNC talent and depth, this will be an impressive team to watch.