UNC fans got what they were hoping for on Tuesday night with a desperately-needed win over NC State after a week off. Much of the message board banter and punditry during the week focused on what adjustments Roy Williams and the coaching staff would make during the football equivalent of the open date.
If you don't mind the "inside baseball" talk, here is the take on the tactical side of the State game:
Inside first: UNC clearly wanted to establish the inside play with Deon Thompson and Ed Davis. While State's bigs had been playing pretty well of late, neither Tracy Smith nor Dennis Horner are particularly adept post defenders. UNC cleared out one side of the floor and attacked, since State does not double down in the post. As a result, Thompson and Davis got some easy buckets early, and certainly in Thompson's case, seemed to prime the pump offensively.
Transition offense: Larry Drew seemed to focus more on dribbling the ball up the floor against NC State that passing up the floor. Earlier this season it seemed Drew was trying to speed up the offense through long, down-court passing, which is great when the passes are accurate. Drew is perfectly fine as a ball-handler, and dribbling allowed him to take better care of the ball even if it is not as fast in transition.
Halfcourt offense: UNC showed more offensive continuity against State, primarily based on being able to flatten out the top of the offense and start from the top of the key. Carolina also employed a lot of shuffle cuts (where a player on the side away from the ball flashed horizontally across the lane) rather than more vertical basket cuts, which put the bigs (and Ginyard at least once) in the position to get the ball within 5-10 feet of the basket. As State spread out to stop the shuffle cuts, the middle opened up.
State did make a half-time adjustment to this and jammed the lane to prevent the cuts. UNC responded by jacking up some outside shots and the Pack took advantage to make their early 2nd half run. Drew finally stopped the bleeding with a three and State had to stop jamming the middle, leading to two quick inside baskets.
General defense: Carolina brought a more focused defensive intensity to the game, holding State to less than 65 points. The Heels made a couple of defensive tweaks of note. First, UNC delayed a little on the double down in the post, rather than doubling down and trapping immediately. This seemed to encourage State's bigs to go ahead and commit to making a basket move, thereby reducing the kick-outs back to the perimeter. Plus, their basket moves were mostly lane-side, rather than baseline side, which allowed the guard dropping for the double-team to be able to hesitate for a second and still recover to challenge the shot.
The team seemed to be more technically sound on defense as well, which is usually the result of a lot of practice work. The spacing in defending the passing lanes was much better, as was the positioning on defense off the ball (Bobby Knight used to tape a line on the floor to demonstrate this). Carolina also went back to fighting through screens rather than switching but did a much better job showing on the screens. There were a couple of times where UNC was beaten on screens, particularly the screen and roll, but for the most part Carolina defended the screens well which led to more contested shots on State's part.
Zone defense: UNC continued to mix up its man and zone defenses, and the zone used in this game had more of a traditional Dean Smith-style "point zone" look than the basic 2-3 that we had seen most of the season. The result ws a little more ball pressure and freedom of movement for the bigs.
Post defense: Carolina played straight behind the post instead of trying to deny the entry pass, but denied anything outside the paint. As a result, Tracy Smith (who posts up) became a jump shooter and Dennis Horner (who doesn't post up a lot from the 4 position) didn't get a lot of touches. UNC also rotated players on Smith, using fouls and keeping people fresh.
Line-up: The coaching staff must have seen something from John Henson in practice because he took the minutes David Wear had been getting, and to a good result. No starter played more than 33 minutes, and other than the cameo appearances from David and Leslie McDonald, UNC settled into an 8-man rotation.
As C. Michael pointed out in the game summary comments and Eric Montross confirmed yesterday on the radio, Drew and Strickland seem to play well together we may see more of that as the season progresses.
In summary, it was exactly what we have come to expect from a Hall-of-Fame coach with a top-notch staff. Carolina had scouted State well and addressed some of their own needs also. Now, with an early-week game before a Sunday night game, UNC gets extra practice time to prepare for UVa's somewhat unique offense.