As North Carolina has worked through a roller coaster of a season so far in 2012-2013, head coach Roy Williams admits that he and his coaching staff have spent more time teaching in the classroom this year than perhaps ever before.
UNC's players have gotten used to more hours in film study as this young team attempts to figure out more of what's going on during games, and how to correct mistakes.
"We've probably done more film work in a classroom setting with this team than any other team since I came back (to North Carolina)," said Williams earlier this week during his radio show.
"I know it's not going to hurt them (watching lots of film). That's the way I look at it. We're going to do everything we can," he added. "It helps a little bit to watch the game that they play in. They're going to watch themselves on tape."
Williams says the players have responded to the film study, despite the fact that many of them needed time to know what they were watching.
"You can start watching tape the first day of practice on October 15. It becomes December before you even know what they're talking about," Williams said. "We get some kids from high school whose high school coach watched a lot of tape with them. And then we get guys like Marvin Williams who said he had never watched tape in his life."
While Williams readily admits that its important to take time to teach fundamentals through film study, one thing he doesn't wish he had to teach as much is effort.
After all, effort should come from within.
But at certain times this season, surely maddening times for their coach, the Tar Heels have seemed to play without passion or energy.
Keeping in mind the youth of this Tar Heel squad, Williams is embracing the fact that with this particular group of ball players, teaching effort is a requirement.
"You just keep harping on it, keep emphasizing it. I shouldn't have to coach effort, but you do," Williams said. "I never had to say to Tyler Hansbrough, come on son, you have to play harder. I never did that. I never had to say to Jacque (Vaughn), son, you need to dive on the floor.'"
"You shouldn't have to coach effort, but you do have to."
Rebounding---and specifically slowing other teams' ability to grab offensive rebounds---is paramount to Williams' blueprint for winning, and much of that has to do with effort.
"I can limit your opportunities if you don't get offensive rebounds. So to me it's the most important factor in the game," Williams said. "We emphasize that (rebounding) more than running. We emphasize that more than anything else on the team."
One player that has seemingly given a lot of effort for the Tar Heels is sophomore P.J. Hairston, and there's been an outcry from many fans and even some reporters that Hairston needs to play more, and perhaps even enter Carolina's starting lineup.
Williams resisted the notion---for now---that he's thinking about starting Hairston, but it seems he's keenly aware of how teams have to adjust when No. 15 enters the game.
"Right now I think he's more valuable coming off the bench," Williams said of Hairston. "P.J. has really given us a lift. When he comes into the game, other team's defense must change."
It's a unique time for UNC to be in a bye week, but the Tar Heels are taking advantage of the time to get multiple players healed up.
Leslie McDonald is getting valuable time to rehabilitate and rest up his strained right knee, while others, such as Luke Davis and Desmond Hubert, also get time to heal varying ailments, although Davis is very unlikely to play Saturday against Maryland.
After a light workout on Tuesday, the Tar Heels had a full day off on Wednesday. They'll return to action on Thursday and Friday as they get ready for the Terrapins.
"Wednesday we'll give them the day off completely. And we'll hopefully come back and have great practices on Thursday and Friday," Williams said.
Williams admitted that this time of year, he takes the foot off the gas a little during practices to keep his players as fresh as possible for games.
Given the time the Tar Heels are currently spending in film session, it would seem this year's team is getting every bit as much mental game preparation as physical preparation.
"Now we'll get to the point where we'll cut back on the physical time on the court. You've got to be fresh, too," he said.
While Williams would have preferred this particular ACC regular season bye to come on a weekend so he can go out recruiting, he did make his way to Charlotte Tuesday night to see a couple of former Tar Heels, including Hansbrough and Brendon Haywood, face off in an NBA game between the Indiana Pacers and Charlotte Bobcats.
"I like having the bye on the weekend because I can go recruiting and see more games, but we're trying to use this to rest up," Williams said.
Williams expects a fierce challenge Saturday afternoon from Maryland, who lost back-to-back games to teams Carolina has also played (Florida State and Miami), before returning to action Wednesday night and getting an emotional last-second win over No. 14 N.C. State.
With Terrapin head coach Mark Turgeon uniquely familiar with Williams and his philosophies from his time as an assistant under Williams at Kansas, the Tar Heels can expect a tough game against a postseason-bound team.
"Mark was my assistant for four years. He was fantastic for us. 'Turg just does a great job," Williams said. "He has a tremendous passion for coaching."
"Maryland lost a close game to Kentucky in the beginning of the year and then won 13 in a row (before losing to FSU). It wasn't the prettiest game (a 65-62 loss to the Seminoles), but it was a very competitive game that went right down to the end."
Fascinatingly enough, this could very well be the last time that Maryland comes to the Smith Center as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Some may remember that the Terps were the first ACC school to beat UNC in the Dean Dome (the late Len Bias lead UM to an overtime victory in the new building in the winter of 1986), and naturally Williams and the Tar Heels are hoping that they don't bookend this historical chapter by winning its last ACC game in Chapel Hill.
"Wow," said Williams when reminded about this possibly being UM's last ACC game in Chapel Hill.
"If they're good, I don't want them to come back. That is surprising. They've been an important part of our league for a long time, and I wish them the best."