North Carolina meets Miami tonight in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals. Last week, the ‘Canes won in Chapel Hill in the cruelest fashion possible. That win also gave Miami head coach Jim Larranaga a 7-6 record against Roy Williams. The Heels will look to avenge both of those terrible developments
Last night, between the under-12 and under-8 media timeouts in the first half, Roy Williams ran a run-n-jump style defense where North Carolina trapped the ball handler on the initial ball screens. That’s a defense that is usually saved for opponents coming out of a timeout, deep in the second half of close games. The tactic worked and forced Syracuse into three turnovers as the Heels took a 16-16 tie and turned it into a 27-19 lead.
Unlike his mentor Dean Smith who often mixed up different defenses throughout a game, Williams is not known for defensive surprises. However, he has shown a willingness to have some fun in March. Remember, last season Williams deployed defensive wrinkles in the NCAA tournament - specifically throwing a 2-3 zone during key late possessions against Kentucky and Oregon.
After last week’s dismal defensive performance against Miami, it’ll be interesting to see if he has any tricks to earn a high-level win.
Bury them early
Last week, the Heels allowed the Canes to punch them in the mouth a couple of times before Joel Berry II and company decided they wanted to punch back. North Carolina was able to come back from a 16 point deficit thanks to Berry’s heroics and the Dean Dome’s atmosphere. That place was insanely loud. All 23,000 people in that building were responsible for having Miami on the ropes.
That will not be the case tonight. With eight teams still hoping to cut down the nets in Brooklyn, even the most partisan UNC crowd won’t come close to matching that atmosphere in Chapel Hill. North Carolina has to start strong, fast, and physical before Miami has a chance to get comfortable in their first action of the week.
If they don’t, it’s going to be a dog fight, in the words of Lionel Richie...
Attack the basket
Part of last night’s success was UNC’s ability to attack the rim and get Paschal Chukwu and Bourama Sidibe in foul trouble. That resulted in UNC shooting 22-28 from the foul line. They have to maintain that aggression against Miami, and attempt to replicate that foul trouble for Miami. The Hurricane twin towers of Dewan Huell and Ebuka Izundu dominated the paint. The easiest way to neutralize their impact is to keep them off the court.
Additionally, last week when the Heels did get to the line, they failed to deliver. North Carolina were only 13-20 from the line, and just 1-2 in the first half. Cameron Johnson and Joel Berry II were a combined 7-12. The Tar Heels, and particularly those two, are too good to shoot just 65% on uncontested 15-footers.
Miami is already a tough match-up that has the offensive firepower to keep pace with the Heels. Every foul and every point matters — especially if North Carolina wants to get out to a fast start and put Miami in trouble early.