Much has been made about UNC’s inability to get consistent production in and through the post, despite the awaited return to Roy Williams’ preferred two-big system. Armando Bacot has shown the normal freshman ebbs and flows. Garrison Brooks continues to develop into a multi-threat scorer, but still relies on putbacks or teammate’s assists to produce. (Per hoop-math.com, 71.2% of his made field goals have come from an assist).
The same issues reared their head against Pittsburgh on Saturday. UNC tried to work the ball into the post with varying levels of success, but the team struggled to find a real rhythm. That may seem counterintuitive considering UNC outscored Pittsburgh 28-14 in the paint and held a 47-27 rebounding advantage. In North Carolina’s offense, though, an inability to establish any sort of inside consistency leads to inefficient offense — especially this season.
Yes, the location and timing of post entries are a problem, but other deficiencies were painfully evident. An inability for the big men to finish when they were put in good scoring position was glaring. North Carolina’s 24 second-chance points were aided by Bacot and Brooks missing 13 shots in the paint. Slow or poor decision making out of the post didn’t help matters. Nor did Pittsburgh's defensive game plan which called for it’s wings to sag or double team, leaving shooters wide open, because, well, nobody respects UNC’s shooting ability.
So, with those disclaimers out of the way, let’s take a look at a few possessions from Saturday’s loss. Then we’ll compare those to possessions against UCLA.
Platek to Bacot turnover
In the opening minute Bacot puts Pitt’s Trey McGowens on his hip. Platek drives hard to his right and delivers the ball in a decent location, but now Bacot is 8 feet away from the basket with four defenders crashing on him. Note:
- Xavier Johnson crashes from the wing, leaving Platek.
- Eric Hamilton sags off of Brooks and drops to the lane
- Justin Champagnie just walks away from Leaky Black
Bacot loses the ball on the way up. He continues to struggle with being “strong with the ball,” but he’s a freshman. These things are not a surprise. Pitt’s defensive scheme also doesn’t give him any help.
Bacot to Leaky for 3
A few seconds later, a similar situation presents itself. This time, Bacot takes time to survey the defense, looks for space, and then kicks it back to Leaky. Xavier Johnson again digs deep, leaving Black wide open. The offense always looks better when you’re making shots.
Platek to Bacot turnover #2
A couple of possessions later, Platek feeds Brooks and slides up the perimeter. They repeat the process, only Brooks never tries to gain better position. Platek’s only choice is to feed him, again, ten feet from the basket.
With nowhere to go, Brooks kicks back to Platek who was actually trying to set a screen for Robinson. Platek does his best to make a play, pump fakes, and finds Bacot who once again attacks into three defenders and loses the ball. This was a solid sequence for Platek.
Of note, all five Pitt defenders were in or around the paint. Robinson and Black were both open on the perimeter. Once again, a major part of the equation are defenses packing it in. Pitt’s Champagnie hardly even moves from the bottom block during the entire sequence.
Brooks missed jumper
Robinson tries to curl off of multiple screens, but nobody touches McGowens. Brooks doesn’t fight for position until Robinson picks up his dribble with McGowens in his face. The result is Brooks getting a late post feed three feet outside the paint. He turns into his shooting shoulder and throws up a fadeaway jumper while being triple teamed. Bacot cleans it up anyways.
This should have been a clean three for Robinson or an easy two for Brooks. Fundamentals folks.
Same song. Different verse. Bacot sets the screen for Leaky and lumbers down the lane. Leaky looks off Keeling and dribbles to the free throw line. Bacot does a great job of working for position but McGowens comes almost from the old three-point line for the block.
That has to be two points and/or a foul. Here’s another angle.
Credit to Bacot for not wasting moves or dribbles, but he has to be stronger going to the hoop. Instead, Bacot lets Gerald Drumgoole change his path just enough for McGowens to recover.
One last clip. Pierce does a decent job getting position, receives the pass....and...waits. He misses Francis’ relocation, lets the defense settle, then tries to drive into the middle. Robinson may have even been open with a quick turn and a diagonal pass. Instead it’s a turnover.
To prove not all hope is lost (yet), here are a few possessions from the win against UCLA. They are mostly self-explanatory.
Brooks-Bacot Hi-Lo Lay-up
Francis flattens the defense, taking the ball to the corner. He reverses to Brooks, who fires it deep into Bacot. Easy bucket.
The key was Bacot’s effort. He gets position on his defender and controls the initiative. Very few possessions against Pitt looked that aggressive.
Francis to Brooks
Brooks shuffle cuts off of Robinson’s screen and goes straight to the block. He pushes his defender out of the way, seals him off, and Francis finds him for the bucket.
Robinson to Bacot Lay-up
Robinson takes the pass off the curl screen, looks low, and fires a perfect pass to Bacot. Yet again, notice the positioning and effort by Bacot to get deep in the paint. This looked like a completely different team than what we watched Saturday, despite only missing Anthony Harris from that UCLA contest.
Francis to Brooks dunk
It helps to have a point guard who can get into the lane, as Francis does here. He draws the defense and dishes to Brooks.
With Francis going through expected ups and down after 2+ years away from competitive basketball, and Cole Anthony still out, North Carolina does not have a player who can do regularly this. Christian Keeling found Pierce one time in the first half off a curl screen, but Pierce hesitated and his shot was blocked.
UNC’s reliance on post production has struggled for multiple reasons. Against Pittsburgh, it was largely a lack of effort and positioning by the big men, combined with Pitt essentially ignoring the three point line on defense. Part of the reason for those 21 rebounds was Pitt’s constant double-teaming in the post, leaving at least one Tar Heel open to crash.
North Carolina struggles when it lacks a point guard who attacks the paint, a shooter that extends defenses, or post men who struggle to get position and/or finish at the rim. Against Pitt, they lacked all three. The effort in the post was doubly disappointing considering how UNC lost to the Panthers 10 days prior.
That lack of driving ability and/or shooting can be slightly mitigated with quick ball movement, well-timed screens, and minimal hesitation on passes and shots. Unfortunately, this UNC team has proven to be slow moving the ball, struggle to make contact on screens, and are extremely hesitant to shoot anything outside 15 feet. Defenses blatantly don’t even guard the three-point line.
The bottom line is that this team collectively lacks the fundamental acumen, basketball I.Q, and/or God-given talent to beat anybody without giving 60 minutes of effort in a 40 minute game. The lack of mental focus, an unwillingness to get physical, and an inability to show discipline on either side of the court has gotten UNC to this point in the season. Cole Anthony’s return will help and there is enough talent on this team to finish with a winning conference record.
Without major mental adjustments, however, this team will continue to fall short of their potential — no matter how high or low that potential is.