Thought of the week: Halfcourt needs work

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
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North Carolina has to change its template for scoring in halfcourt sets.

Sunday’s loss to UAB doesn’t retroactively make the Tar Heels' win over Louisville last week a fluke. And their loss to the Blazers definitely was not a fluke, either. The difference was the Cardinals allowed the Heels to run, which they can do well. The Blazers dared the Heels to execute in the halfcourt, which they don’t do well.

As embarrassing as it was for the Heels to be outrebounded 52-37, they still outscored the Blazers 13-12 in second-chance points. That’s why it was UAB coach Jerod Haase’s defensive game plan that provided the blueprint to beating North Carolina.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Paige
Kelly Lambert/USA TODAY SportsUAB focused its defensive attention on Marcus Paige and the UNC halfcourt offense suffered without a consistent perimeter threat to spread the floor.
It started with how the Blazers defended leading scorer Marcus Paige. He was the only UNC player they respected on the perimeter, and they guarded him as such. The strategy was very effective in the first half, when Paige was just 1-of-4 from the floor.

Part of that was on Paige, who seemed content not to hunt for his shot in the first half. He was much more assertive in the second half, making 5-of-12 attempts and finishing with 13 points.

In this age of no hand-checking, there’s really no excuse for the Heels attempting a season-low 11 free throws. Over their previous three games, they had averaged 41 attempts per contest from the line. But UAB managed to take the aggression out of Carolina.

Nate Britt, Luke Davis and J.P. Tokoto were all free to take as many jumpers as they chose when they had the ball on the perimeter. Instead, their would-be defenders just clogged the lane and prevented the Heels' post players from establishing position.

Until another Carolina player not named Paige can show some consistency making shots from outside -- or until P.J. Hairston or Leslie McDonald rejoin the lineup -- the Heels are likely to see more of the same from opponents, starting Tuesday at Michigan State.

The way Carolina can change that blueprint is by staying aggressive on offense. Too many times against the Blazers they settled for perimeter shots instead of driving to the basket.

Britt was a prime example. After consistently getting to the rim against Louisville, he was just 0-of-3, including a missed 3-pointer, against UAB.

Even James Michael McAdoo, who played much of the game at small forward, was lured into taking bad perimeter shots en route to a 3-of-13 performance that included missing all three attempts from behind the arc. That moved him to 0-for-5 from 3-point range on the season.

The Heels played well enough defensively to win, holding the Blazers to 30 percent shooting from the floor. But in a rarity during the Roy Williams era, the offense failed them against the Blazers. And unless they find a way to jump start it, Sunday’s outcome could be a recurring theme this season.

C.L. Brown | email

College Basketball

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