North Carolina Shows A Perimeter Focused Approach in Victory Over UABPosted by KCarpenter on December 1st, 2012
Kellen Carpenter (@kellenlc) is an RTC correspondent and ACC microsite writer. He filed this report after Saturday’s game between North Carolina and UAB in Chapel Hill.
In North Carolina’s Saturday win over UAB, the difference between this team and Roy Williams’ teams of the past became readily apparent. Gone are the days of dominant interior scoring powered by Sean May, Tyler Hansbrough, Tyler Zeller, and John Henson. For nearly 10 years, North Carolina has followed a simple blueprint for success: an up-tempo, forward-centric offense that draws fouls and scores from the free-throw line. Hansbrough, naturally, was the epitome of this approach, a bruising big man who set the NCAA record for the most made free throws over the course of his collegiate career.
This year’s incarnation of the Tar Heels is distinct from those of the recent past. In the second half of Saturday’s game, North Carolina fueled its separation from UAB with a barrage of threes launched by a small lineup that featured 6’5” P.J. Hairston at the power forward position. The team shot 10-of-23 from the arc, and 18-of-21 from the free throw line. However, of the 18 made free throws, only two of them came from North Carolina’s post players. This team is simply different. By going small and spreading the floor, North Carolina opens up space in the lane for attacks off the dribble while also maintaining the threat of a potentially deadly perimeter game.
After the game, Roy Williams expressed concern with Joel James, Brice Johnson, and Desmond Hubert’s ability to effectively guard players who “popped” to the perimeter, and mentioned that the smaller lineup was mostly a reaction to the team’s vulnerability on the defensive end. The offensive improvement was a natural consequence of this decision and it makes sense. UNC has a nice bevy of experienced guards in Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald, Reggie Bullock, and Hairston, while the entirety of the frontcourt rotation is made up of sophomores and freshmen with James Michael McAdoo the only player with any sort of significant in-game experience. By going small when the team can afford to, North Carolina plays to its strengths, a somewhat unexpected approach for a team that has mostly played the same way for the better part of a decade.
No UNC team has shot a higher proportion of threes since 2006 than the 2012 incarnation, and even then, this team still only ranks 280th out of 345 Division I teams, a testament to how little North Carolina has relied on the perimeter game in recent years. Even more unusually, currently the team has a free throws attempted per field goal attempted (FTA/FGA) rate that ranks 343rd in the nation. The low-water mark of the Roy Williams era was during the miserable 2010 season when the team ranked 179th. North Carolina is getting to the line less than ever while shooting more threes than ever. Sure it’s a change driven by personnel, but it’s a major stylistic change for a team that has played virtually the same way year in and year out.
The season is early and Williams’ current willingness to play with small lineups may diminish as the young big men become more experienced, but right now North Carolina is playing very differently from how the team has played in the past. So far the results of this experiment have been mixed, but time will tell how effective this new-look Carolina can be.