Pushing the pace is the one thing North Carolina coach Roy Williams can usually depend on, and it’s been one of the many things his team has been inconsistent in executing this season.
“I really love pushing the tempo, I really do, and we haven’t gotten into that nearly as much as I’ve wanted to,” Williams said.
Since ACC play started, the Tar Heels have only reached double figures in fast break points once. In Monday’s loss to Virginia, they only got one basket off the break.
Pace has been a problem for the Heels all season. Against teams that wanted to run, they’ve typically played their best and scored the most. Those marquee wins over Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky came because Carolina was able to run.
Williams said he doesn’t measure the Heels' effectiveness running by how many points they scored. He wants to see how much pressure running can put on an opponent.
“What I like to look at is if I think the other team we’re wearing them out and we’re scoring before they get the defense set,” Williams said.
"That’s what I go by: Are we putting the other team on their heels, no pun intended, that they’re sprinting back?" he added. "The other thing in the past that has helped out: us covering the defensive boards because teams tend to send two or three guys back to stop our break. I don’t think we’ve scared anybody yet this year with our break.”
Not even with two point guards in the lineup. Freshman Nate Britt and sophomore Marcus Paige had some success dictating a faster pace earlier in the season. But with senior Leslie McDonald back in the rotation, Britt and Paige don’t log as many minutes together and the pace has slowed down against ACC foes.
When it’s working correctly, Williams’ teams have trademarked scoring even after made baskets by pushing the ball up the floor fast. That has happened precious few times this season.
Just like the other weaknesses that have held back the Heels this season -- like missed free throws -- they haven’t found a lot of answers.
There are many reasons why the Heels aren’t running, starting with the most basic premise.
“We need to commit to running harder,” Paige said. “Our wings need to run better, bigs need to run the floor better, and myself and Nate need to push the ball harder. It’s just something we haven’t taken advantage of like teams in the past have.”
Sophomore forward J.P. Tokoto pointed out the Heels weren’t getting the ball out fast enough but added that their inability to push the pace also had to do with effort.
“What it comes down to is our effort and our want to,” Tokoto said. “That’s pretty much holding us back from a lot of things, not just getting out on the break and running.”
James Michael McAdoo sees Carolina’s defense as another factor that has prevented the Heels from running more. Generating more stops will allow them to get out on more breaks.
“That’s the biggest thing, just knowing that before we can get on offense we do have to play defense,” McAdoo said. “That’s something that we need to really start taking pride in and continuing to work on and then just getting out in transition like we’re supposed to and we’re capable of doing.”