The Heels opened the basketball season with two blowout wins against NC Central and Robert Morris. Each game was a dominant Tar Heel wire-to-wire win with neither team really threatening the Heels. There were common trends in each game many positive, but a few negative. The upcoming game against Davidson and the Bahamas tournament should each indicate whether these are worrying trends or if they're early season rust the Heels will quickly shake off.
Free Throw Shooting:
The Heels still struggle a little bit with the Heels' historic flaw, weakness at the foul line. Against Central, the Heels were 20-30 (66.7%) from the foul line. This poor number was mainly due to Isaiah Hicks, who was 2-7 from the foul line. Against Robert Morris, the Heels were much better, shooting 27-36 (75.0%) at the line. Each of these marks are much better than how UNC started last year and encouraging for fans. The performance of both Kennedy Meeks and Bryce Johnson from the foul line is particularly encouraging. Meeks is shooting 64.7% from the foul line and Johnson is shooting 77.8% from the field.
New Defensive Scheme:
In each game the Heels have played so far they have added elements of a press to their defense. The Heels have run some full court press and multiple types of half court press in each game. Their half court press is a four corners press, trapping opposing ball handlers in each corner of the half court. The most interesting addition to the Heels' defensive scheme is the changes to their pick and roll defense. When an opposing big man sets a screen that man's defender is stepping out and hedging hard to contain the ball handler. The ball handler's original defender then comes over the screen and the two Carolina players trap the ball handler on the perimeter. This has caused numerous turnovers in the first few games and these have led to quick transition points. This new wrinkle suits this team well, everyone on the roster is long and mobile. This new strategy should benefit the Heels well throughout the season.
How to Handle the Zone:
In each of the opening games of the season the Heels have faced a zone defense. NC Central employed a box and one scheme, with one man following Marcus Paige around the entire game. Robert Morris played a modified 2-3 zone that most of the time looked like a 4 out zone, that is, four men on the perimeter and one man in the middle. Against Central the Heels seemed to struggle at times, the game was slower than Roy Williams wanted and it wasn't until the second half that UNC really pulled away in earnest. The Heels were much more comfortable against Robert Morris, they simply fed the big men down low and they went to work, Meeks had 21 points and Johnson had 23. If the bigs play like this against every zone they face then there will be open shots for Marcus Paige on the perimeter, making the Heels one of the most dangerous teams in the nation.
Justin Jackson is Really Good:
The only freshman in UNC's starting lineup has really impressed in his first two regular season games. Jackson has shown a surreal knack for positioning on the field. He makes perfect cuts to the basket, finds exact spots for putbacks and has an uncanny knack to finish through contact. He also has superb passing skills, he is both accurate and smart with his passing. Considering the fact he rarely is asked to create on offense it is particularly impressive that he has six assists through two games. He also makes his free throws, a must for any player who wants to finish games in ACC play. The most scary thing about Jackson is that he might get much better as the season goes on. In the pre-season, Jackson showed he can also shoot well from 3, something that hasn't materialized in the regular season yet. Additionally, several times against Robert Morris, Jackson ran back on defense after passing the ball, assuming that the Heels would make the shot. After the game, he admitted this was a bad habit he needs to break. If Jackson crashes the offensive glass even more, then he can use his amazing instincts to grab even more points.