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UNC Basketball: Problems with the backdoor pass

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Carolina comfortably dealt with Pitt, but the Panthers found some joy going through the backdoor

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Last Tuesday’s win at Pitt was a signature win on the road. UNC’s offense seems to be getting into a groove with the Heels looking to score inside. The big men are also converting a higher percentage of their shots, with Garrison Brooks, Armando Bacot, and Day’Ron Sharpe collectively hitting 19 of their 25 two-point shots. Not too shabby.

One additional wrinkle that Roy Williams showed against the Panthers was frequent switches on ball screen defense. Pitt’s flex action offense put Carolina defenders in a lot of screens, particularly Kerwin Walton. UNC would switch more often than they have all season, sometimes putting a big on a guard or wing out along the 3-point line. All of Pitt’s motion and screening left Carolina susceptible to backdoor cuts.

Let’s take a look at them. If you have ESPN+ you can pull up the game in “Event Replay” to follow along with the time hacks.

1st Half

17:44 - Champagnie has the ball near the top of the key. Kerwin Walton is guarding Ithiel Horton at the left corner three but gets caught ball-watching. Xavier Johnson cuts to the basket, but instead of going all the way to the rim, sets up a screen between the left block and elbow. Caleb Love sticks to Johnson and signals to Walton to fight through with his thumb. Walton is lacking and Horton goes up for an easy layup.

3:28 - Caleb Love is marking Xavier Johnson as he slowly brings the ball up court. Behind Love, Champagnie posts up on Garrison Brooks all the way out to the 3-point line while Coulibaly leaves the right elbow to screen Love on his left hip, Bacot sagging just behind the Pitt forward. Love senses Coulibaly and goes underneath the screen while Johnson camps out on the right side of the 3-point line, Love a good eight feet away. When Coulibaly resets to the top of the key to receive Champagnie’s pass, Love is late catching up to Johnson, who starts his cut as soon as Love plants his feet in deny position. Coulibaly gets a clean bounce pass to Johnson, which pulls Leaky Black off his man, Noah Collier. Johnson makes another nice bounce pass to Collier, who bungles the pass out of bounds. If Brice Johnson caught that pass, it’s an easy two-handed dunk and a scream heard all the way out to Heinz Field.

2nd Half

19:12 - On a live ball turnover, Pitt has a four-on-three fast break advantage with Toney leading the break. Toney is in between Brooks and Walton, both of them running towards Pitt’s basket. Toney veers left to engage Walton and Brooks sets up at the top of the key, clearly keeping an eye on Champagnie, who is already 4-4 from 3-point range. Toney dumps the ball off to a trailing Xavier Johnson, and is probably set to camp at the corner, but Walton inexplicably lets him go free to help Brooks double-team at the top of the key. Instead of going to the corner, Toney dives towards the basket where Leaky Black makes the wise decision not to engage as a vicious dunk is thrown down.

17:10 - Caleb Love gets put in the washing machine. Carolina has made the conscious decision to switch more on defense to combat Pitt’s multiple screen action on their flex offense. Love is guarding Xavier Johnson at the top of the key, and Pitt brings two screeners at the 3-point line in an extended horns set. Johnson drives right and Love gets stuck on Terrell Brown’s screen, forcing a switch with Bacot. Bacot, fearing the drive, sags deep, and Love fights through Brown’s body to get back on Johnson. Meanwhile, the other horn, Champagnie, follows Love and sets a loose screen, giving Johnson the option to pick-and-pop on this drive back to the top of the key. Brooks switches off Brown to get in front of Johnson. Love is a step late on the switch, and is a step behind Brown towards the paint when the Pitt forward/center dives to the basket. The backdoor pass whizzes by Love’s ear as Brown catches and dunks over the freshman guard. Coincidentally, Leaky Black was close enough to the basket action to be included in the poster. He’s unfortunate this time.

9:52 - on a left-side SLOB play, Pitt inbounds to Coulibaly, who dribbles to the center of the key. Toney, who was camping on the right wing with Leaky Black loosely guarding him, one foot in the paint to help anything towards the basket. Toney takes a step towards Coulibaly to show for the ball, and as soon as Leaky takes a step to follow, Toney plants his foot down and dives towards the basket. Easy bounce pass and dunk. Princeton would be proud.

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Roy Williams will want to clean this up in the days leading up the Clemson game this Tuesday. Regardless of what kind of offense any team runs, backdoor cuts can be incorporated easily. Now that Carolina has shown that they’ll give up points, teams will likely pick at that scab until the Heels consistently show that these cutters will either be denied the pass, or met at the rim by the outstretched paws of Day’Ron, Armando, Garrison, and Walker Kessler.