North Carolina coach Roy Williams hinted that he doesn’t have a mature enough team to work ahead on preparation. The 2009 championship team, for example, could handle the installation of new sets that they wouldn’t be using until a game or two later.
The current Heels are too young for that. So instead of spoon-feeding a few plays that may help on Saturday’s trip to No. 2 Syracuse, the Tar Heels have stayed focused on preparing for Wednesday night's game against Miami.
Williams made it painfully clear that the Heels couldn’t overlook the Canes when asked on the ACC teleconference about the Orange.
“If one of my guys is thinking for one friggin’ second about Syracuse then I would say, ‘You’re the dumbest guy who has ever lived,’ because we haven’t beaten the team we are playing Wednesday night yet,” Williams said.
Fortunately for Carolina, there is a way for its players to be focused on the Canes while still getting good preparation for the Orange.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim hitched his brand to the 2-3 zone in a way that he should get a trademark for it. The secret to why it’s typically so difficult to play against lies in the length of the Orange. Boeheim recruits wingspans to go with the size to play his defense.
It can be an extremely difficult adjustment for opponents who haven’t faced much zone. (Ask Indiana what it was like to play against in last season's Sweet 16.)
Miami just happens to also use zone this season, and coach Jim Larranaga quietly has the Syracuse-like length to play it. It starts with Tonye Jekiri, a 7-foot sophomore at center.
Louisville mixed in zone with other defenses against UNC but didn’t have the size across the lineup that the Canes will have. The Heels haven’t faced a team that primarily plays zone this season.
Carolina will need Marcus Paige and Leslie McDonald to have a better 3-point shooting performance than their combined 2 of 15 outing in Sunday’s loss at Wake Forest. And the Tar Heels bigs will have to finish around the rim better than they did against Wake, when Williams said they got “eight million offensive rebounds” but hardly any putbacks.
Ultimately, though, Williams said it’s not about Miami or Syracuse. He just wants North Carolina to play well.
“There’s no question that we need to bounce back, we need to get more positive feelings,” Williams said. “The best way to get positive feelings is play your butt off.”