CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Monday, the day after North Carolina lost its ACC season opener at Virginia, coach Roy Williams asked his assistants to identify the team’s main problem.
They all gave different answers. And the same thing happened when the question was posed to the players.
Thus, it isn’t surprising that Williams himself offered a lengthy list of improvements he wants his 10-4 squad to make, preferably beginning with Thursday night's game against Miami.
“I’d like to have more inside scoring," he said, “and I’d like to get to the free throw line more. I’d like our big guys to turn it over less. I’d like us to be more consistent shooting the ball from the outside. I’d like to handle dribble penetration better.”
Miami, which has been tested by one of the nation's toughest schedules, will in turn test all of those things. The 10-3 Hurricanes will continue to be without big man Reggie Johnson, who is expected to miss another six weeks with a broken thumb. But they are now 3-2 since he was injured, and are trying to replace his double-double average with a plethora of players.
“The whole key for us offensively is to just have good balance, to have different guys step up and make shots for us," Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “The other day against Georgia Tech it was Rion Brown. Often is the case [that] Shane Larkin and Durand Scott are our leading scorers. But Kenny Kadji can really shoot the ball well, and in Julian Gamble's first start against Hawaii he scored 16 points and had 13 rebounds. Trey McKinney Jones is shooting the ball very well. He's been in double figures most games.
“If we can get four or five guys in double figures, then I think we're in good shape offensively.”
A few things to watch as the Hurricanes attempt to start league play 2-0 for the first time since joining the ACC, while the Tar Heels try to avoid 0-2:
Scott, a senior, and Larkin, a sophomore, are combining for 27.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.6 points per game. And they rarely take (or give defenses) a breather, averaging more than 35 minutes apiece per game.
“They’re a difficult team to guard because Durand can take the ball to the basket so well and get fouled, get to the rim and he can make some 3s, too," Williams said. “We tried to go under the screen down there a couple of years ago and he makes three 3s in the first eight minutes.
"Larkin is really, really playing well. He’s really aggressive and he’s doing a good job. That gives them two point guards that have good assist-error ratios.”
UNC’s junior wing has had the hot hand of late, averaging 17.7 points over his past four outings. During Sunday’s loss at Virginia, Bullock, who is trying to take on more of a leadership role, scored 22 points on nine shots, and Williams wants his team to do a better job of recognizing who has the hot hand -- and work on getting him the ball more often.
“What we’ve got to do is be aware; it’s not an equal opportunity," Williams said during his Monday night radio show. “Some guys can shoot better than others, some guys can score better than others, and we’ve got to figure that crap out. And we’re pushing them in a direction to figure it out, but still, they’ve got to do it out on the court. We need to work harder, when someone’s as hot as Reggie was [Sunday] night, we need to work harder to get him shots.”
And Bullock’s shooting may be counted on even more Thursday, if reserve guard Leslie McDonald -- who is averaging 8.4 points and 17.9 minutes, and is making 40.2 percent of his 3-pointers -- can’t play. McDonald “tweaked” his right knee, and did not practice Tuesday or Wednesday.
The Hurricanes rank 18th nationally in field goal percentage defense, holding foes to 37.4 percent shooting per game.
The Tar Heels have held opponents to 39 percent shooting for the season, but have often been inconsistent and failed to communicate on defense when it mattered most. At Virginia, for instance, UNC allowed the Cavs to shoot 52 percent in the second half.