TarHeelIllustrated - Carolina's Problems Identified, Now It's Set On Fixing Them
{{ timeAgo('2021-11-25 11:33:10 -0600') }} basketball Edit

Carolina's Problems Identified, Now It's Set On Fixing Them

Nobody has to itemize UNC's issues thus far, the Tar Heels already know and are intent infixing them.
Nobody has to itemize UNC's issues thus far, the Tar Heels already know and are intent infixing them. (USA Today)

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CHAPEL HILL – With Thanksgiving and its bountiful plenty on tables everywhere, North Carolina’s basketball team’s focus of late has been more on what’s missing from its plate.

The Tar Heels stand at 4-2 through their first six games, but acknowledge finding sources of concern isn’t exactly a chore, and their menu during this mini-break before Michigan visits Dec. 1 is rather feast-like.

Topping the spread is Carolina’s issues on defense. The elephant in the room, it is impossible to overlook, and the Heels know it.

Carolina ranks No. 314 out of 350 Division One schools in scoring defense, allowing 78.7 points per game, a figure positively affected by giving up just 53 points to UNC-Asheville on Tuesday night. Before that 19-point victory, the Tar Heels allowed five consecutive opponents a minimum of 83 points.

Three of them had halves in which they converted at least 60 percent of their field goal attempts, and last weekend at the Mohegan Sun, Purdue shot 55.7 percent in scoring 93 points, and Tennessee hit 54.3 percent of its shots while tallying 89 points. A day earlier, the Volunteers went into halftime versus Villanova with just 15 points on the board.

Even Ivy Leaguer Brown shot 60 percent in the first half in its narrow loss to the Heels. So, this is an issue that is of paramount importance.

UNC Coach Hubert Davis knows all of this, and appears to not exactly get a thrill out of the regular reminders from the media. But there’s no escaping it, and he isn’t. The supremely positive thinker Davis is, he chooses to look ahead at the prospect of improving.

“This is a great opportunity for us to get better as a team,” he said following the win over Asheville. “We’re off for eight days, we’re gonna celebrate Thanksgiving, we’re gonna spend time together as a team away from the court, but we’re also gonna practice a lot, and we’re gonna get better.”

Tennessee had plenty of uncontested shots against UNC's struggling defense Sunday.
Tennessee had plenty of uncontested shots against UNC's struggling defense Sunday. (USA Today)

Basketball teams are never perfect. Nobody pitches no-hitters or puts up goal line stands keeping opponents out of the end zone. The best teams get scored on a lot, allow offensive rebounds, and get crossed up on both ends of the floor.

That and more describes a Carolina team that averages forcing only 8.7 turnovers a game, and has allowed an average of 16 points off turnovers so far while scoring just 10.8 points off opponents’ miscues. That’s a difference of 5.2 points per contest.

Even on the backboards, Carolina hasn’t been its usual self in four of the six contests. It did out-board massive Purdue, which might be the best in-game statistical line of the season. But the Heels followed that by ending up on the short end of a 38-30 margin on the glass against smaller Tennessee. More inside stuff: Purdue and Tennessee combined to outscore UNC 96-40 in the paint.

And to add one more layer to the equation: Carolina led for just 90 seconds at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off. It trailed Brown more than it led it, it trailed College of Charleston for 22:53, and it led Asheville by just seven points with 13 minutes remaining.

"A mixture of everything,” forward Brady Manek replied, when asked Tuesday night what is his source of frustration. “We played super hard on defense today. You know, everybody's going to give up a play. Everybody's going to get a drive-by. Everybody is going to miss a block out. I mean, it happens. It's basketball.

“We played our butts off on the defensive end. And now our offense wasn't moving. And I mean, it's just one thing after another, but we've got to fix it. We've got to play a whole 40 minutes.”

Manek didn’t stop there. The Tar Heels aren’t isolated from the outside world. The Twitterverse is always there, and the media has simply articulated what everyone has seen.

The Tar Heels held Asheville to just 25.7 percent shooting from the field Tuesday night.
The Tar Heels held Asheville to just 25.7 percent shooting from the field Tuesday night. (Kevin Roy/THI)

“The last few weeks, everybody's been on us for our defense and we're giving up so many points,” Manek said. “And all I hear is, 'so many points in the paint, giving up this many points, people are outscoring us by this much and teams are in the 90s, this and that.'

“Well, we played defense tonight and we didn't really play offense. We've got to play both. We can't just pick one. We've got to play both."

Carolina limited Asheville to 25.7 percent from the floor, as there was a more concerted effort on defense. It was priority number one, and Davis’ hard practice Monday clearly resonated with the team.

So, when asked about his team allowing 19 points off turnovers for the fourth consecutive game Tuesday, Davis acknowledged it but then opted to go in a more palatable direction. His team was better defensively, and he wanted to tell them through the media while letting the world know they have identified their biggest wart and have launched into the process of fixing it.

The next step was put into gear Tuesday, but step one – the program’s mission – remains intact, Davis says.

“I don’t care what anyone says, I’m convinced that this is a team that has a chance to win a national championship, I just believe that,” the first-year Carolina head man said. “They’re great kids, unbelievable kids to be around every day. They’re talented out there on the floor, and I’m excited this week to get better as a team, and to spend time together as a team.

“It’s hard to during the season with school and recruiting. I can’t wait to get back to spending time together with the team away from the court. I’m really excited about these next eight days.”

His legion of fans are, too.