It's not a secret that Roy Williams prefers his basketball at breakneck speeds. Even if it wasn't blatantly obvious to anyone who's seen a Carolina game in the last six years, we have his word on it:
My offensive philosophy is that we're going to run. We're going to try to make the other team 's players run faster and longer than they have ever run in their lives. In a typical game we want to have between 90 and 105 possessions, and we try to get that number up as high as we can, because if I'm better than you are, the more possessions we play, the more likely it is that I'm going to beat you. If I play golf against Tiger Woods for one hole, I might beat him, but over 18 holes, I have no chance.
And Williams puts his money where his mouth is. From 2004 to 2009, UNC was 16th, 8th, 22nd, 9th, 8th, and 8th again in the country in possessions per forty minutes. They've kept up this season as well, and are currently 9th with a tempo of 74.8. The question is, should they be playing that fast?
UNC's turnover rate is up 50% from last season, their defensive rebounds are the lowest since Williams' first season, and most damnedly, the teams that are beating them aren't trying to slow the Heels down. They're pushing them faster. The UNC-Texas game had 88 possessions per team; Clemson, 75, and Syracuse 74. ESPN tried to run an analysis on Carolina's secondary break before the Georgia Tech game, but didn't really show any footage of the traditional secondary break. Instead, it was all poor shots taken early in the shot clock, either layups over two or three defenders or quick outside shots. It doesn't strike me as intelligent offensive decisions, and the recent final scores back that up.
So, open and shut case, right? There's just one thing. Almost all of Carolina's losses through the Hansbrough years were to teams that ran at UNC's pace. Last year's Wake Forest game went 89 possessions, the two Duke losses 80 and 83. Only once in the last three seasons did the Heels drop a game played with less than 72 possessions, to Florida State in the ACC Tournament with Ty Lawson on the bench. And then there's the 2006 UNC team, the closest analogue to this year's squad. They lost as many slow-tempo games as fast ones, with a turnover rate as bad as this year's team, and ended with a 65 possession debacle to George Mason.
And although the 2006 squad is remembered as an overachieving young team, they had a rough start as well, against a much easier schedule. They gave up steals at the same rate as this year's team, and started the ACC season 3-3, including losses to less-than-stellar Miami and Virginia teams. They pulled out of the tailspin on only three day's notice, when at 11-5 they beat Arizona on their way to winning 10 of their last 11 games. The postseason that year wasn't anything to write home about, but no one really has much in the way of postseason expectations for this team, either. This team can turn it around, too. I'm just no longer convinced the way forward is at a snail's pace.