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UNC Basketball: What I hope Santa brings the Tar Heels before conference play begins

We’re in the holiday spirit here at THB, and with that comes our list to ol’ Saint Nick.

North Carolina-Wilmington v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Ever since the Tar Heels basketball season started back in November, it’s been quite a whirlwind of events. Remember that opening game against Wofford? No? Truth be told, I barely remember it either aside from the image of Fletcher Magee’s horrific-looking perimeter shooting being burned into my brain. I digress, the reason that it’s difficult to recall that far back is because UNC played eight non-conference games in November. Three of those games were away from the Dean Smith Center, and two of those games were on a neutral court. It’s not unusual to have that many games in November, but it never fails to make my head spin.

In the current month of December, UNC will face off against Gonzaga, Kentucky, and Davidson to complete a four games in four months stretch. The Heels got a much-needed win against UNCW following the beatdown suffered by the hands of Michigan, and will look to use that momentum to try and hand Gonzaga their second loss in a row.

The problem, however, is that exams have started on campus, and so this is the time where Roy Williams is having to work around school schedules in order to get quality time in with his players. Once he finally gets a good amount of practice time with them, however, there will undoubtedly be a number of adjustments made in order to get his players ready for ACC play near the beginning of January.

So then what adjustments should be made? What is the formula for success when it comes to this year’s team? In the spirit of the Holidays, I would like to share my wish list of adjustments to be made before UNC tips off against Pitt on January 5th.

Evaluating the Post Situation

Let’s call a spade a spade: the post situation for this year’s Tar Heels has been a little weird. How weird, you ask? It can only really be explained by sharing a few stats about Roy’s post players in order to paint the full picture:

1.) Luke Maye, despite not looking like a comfortable, fourth-year preseason All-American player is averaging 13.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.

2.) Sterling Manley is averaging 4.8 rebounds per game, despite being the biggest player on the team. Oddly enough, this tops his season average last year of 3.6 rebounds per game.

3.) Garrison Brooks, who is one of UNC’s better defenders, is averaging 18.9 minutes per game compared to Nassir Little’s 19.7 average. A large part of this is because of the amount of foul trouble he’s found himself in so far this year.

4.) Nassir Little, who is a 6’6 small forward, averages the same amount of rebounds per game as Sterling Manley.

The biggest reason that I point all of this out, is that Roy Williams may have just as hard of a time this year figuring out a reliable rotation as he did last year. To be fair, scoring in the post hasn’t been anything close to what it was just a couple of years ago for reasons beyond the post players themselves. Coby White starting at point guard means there’s a learning curve to getting the ball into the paint, and not to mention there are so many shooters on the team that sometimes the guys on the perimeter just end up having a better shot.

However, it’s fair to say that once again Williams is dealing with another “each player makes a fraction of an entire player” situation. Garrison Brooks not being on the floor means you lose reliable defense, Sterling Manley is still one of the better offensive rebounders on the team, and Luke Maye is dangerously close to averaging a double-double, but has looked brutal at times.

So here is my wish: I wish that Roy Williams would take a hard look at Garrison Brooks and figure out whether or not he is best served starting or coming off the bench. To request this is to admit that I don’t know the solution to this situation at all, and I can’t bring myself to demand that Nassir Little takes the starting job and that Luke Maye moves over to the five. As many will recall, Maye at the five spot didn’t always go very well last year, and so maybe more than anything this is a situation where Roy has to look at how he can get the most production out of Brooks or Manley that he can possibly get before conference play starts.

Corrections on Defense

This year’s team has been hard to watch on the defensive side of the ball, and the reasons for it are plentiful. One of the easiest reasons to point to is that UNC has been allowing an uncharacteristic amount of points via dribble penetration, which tends to spell disaster as it opens up a lot of other things on the floor. The Heels also seem to not have a solid plan for handling the ball-screen, which could spell disaster when they take on Gonzaga on Saturday.

The issues on defense will 100% be addressed by Roy Williams when he is finally able to get in a quality amount of practice time with his guys. This problem has frustrated Williams more than we have seen from him in a long time, and it’s understandable why. UNC has all of the pieces to be a good defensive team, but the players have to want to be better than the other team on that end of the ball. So far, we’ve seen flashes of them wanting to, and flashes of them not wanting to. This needs to change before Saturday, but most importantly, it needs to change before January.

Perimeter Shooting

Alright, so this is and isn’t something that Roy Williams is able to help make adjustments with. But hey, technically this is a list for Santa, right?

This year’s team has all of the makings of a great shooting team, but so far this year there has been flashes of good and bad. The player currently leading the Heels with the highest three-point percentage is Leaky Black, who has made 50% of his attempts. The second-best shooter is Cameron Johnson, who is shooting at a 44.4% clip. Following Johnson is Coby White at 41.9%, and Andrew Platek at 40%.

What really interesting is that a lot of coaches across the country would probably take just these four players’ shooting abilities any day of the week. However, the mind-blowing part is that UNC could be a lot better. Luke Maye is only averaging 31% from three this year, after finishing last year shooting at a 43.1% clip. Kenny Williams, who finished last year making 40% of his shots from three last year, is only making 24.3% of his attempts this year. If we want to take things even further than that, Brandon Robinson was the third-best shooter on the team last year making 39.1% of his attempts, while only making 30% of them this year. To sum things up: this team has a chance to be an extremely dangerous shooting team.

With that said, my final wish is that Luke Maye, Kenny Williams, and yes, even Brandon Robinson find a way to get going from behind the arch. Lately Williams has been a lot better in that department, and hopefully he can find a way to keep it going. I’d love to see what this team can do when everyone is at the top of their game, and it could be that when they are, this is one of the top-five best shooting teams in the country.