UNC’s Struggle Go Beyond Bad Defense

Roy Williams didn’t beat around the bush when talking about his basketball team. After an 0-2 week, the UNC head coach ripped into his team’s defensive efforts. “We’re just sorry,” Williams said. He would go on to call this team one of, if not the worst, defensive team he’s ever coached. Williams is fair to criticize. Over the last two games, UNC has given up 80 and then 95 points. But UNC’s average season, at least to their standards, extends beyond the poor defense. This North Carolina team just isn’t that good.

Think back to pre-season, when everyone in the media was making their predictions. All anyone talked about was the loss of Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Tony Bradley and Nate Britt. That’s 65% of their scoring and 60% of their rebounding. Unless you’re Kentucky or Duke, bringing in one-and-done class year after year, that’s tough to replace. UNC didn’t need just one person to have extreme year over year improvements, they needed multiple.

UNC hit the lottery with Luke Maye. No one thought he would be the 18 and 10 player he has been so far this season. It’s a major reason why North Carolina is still a top 35 offense. That said, he’s a major liability defensively. Take the NC State game for example, when he gave up a straight drive to the rim late in the game during crucial possessions. While Maye may be great for the Tar Heels offensively, he is not a defensive player that lifts UNC to a championship caliber team.

Aside from Maye, UNC has not gotten any other production from their young post players. We knew it would be a transition. Guys like Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley were key pieces to a National Championship run a year ago. They were getting replaced with four freshman. In the beginning of the year, Roy Williams thought one of his young bigs would step up. In terms of minutes it has been Garrison Brooks, but he still just averages 5 points and 4 rebounds in 17 minutes. UNC is one of the best rebounding teams in the country because they gang rebound, but they lack the size and rim protection to compete with some of the best teams in the ACC.

Lastly, on the other side of the ball, North Carolina needs the perfect concoction on offense to be competitive. To beat high level teams, UNC needs Berry, Maye and a third option to have good scoring games. They have not had that combination a ton this year. Theo Pinson is the Swiss Army knife of the team, but offense is not his forte. Cam Johnson missed a couple of games and has struggled to get a consistent flow. Kenny Williams is the third player who has provided scoring, but has struggled in ACC play. Inconsistent offense, and poor defense is not a recipe for success at any level.

Here’s the thing about all this: it’s okay. We often give teams too much credit to teams for the name on the front of their jersey. We assume that blue blood programs have to be national contenders every season. That’s not the case. North Carolina won a National Championship last year. They graduated a TON of production from that team. It’s okay to have a down year. Not every recruit comes onto campus and is Marvin Bagley or Trae Young. That is what UNC has this year, a group of freshman who are taking longer than expected to pick up the college game.

I agree with Roy in that North Carolina isn’t the best defensive team, but we have to also accept the fact that they may not be that good overall. We’ll look at them lose to Virginia Tech and NC State and scratch our heads because their jerseys say North Carolina. But not all teams are created equal. This is not the team of last year, this is not one of Roy’s best teams period. He knows that, but he will continue to rip into them in an attempt to get them to play with chip on their shoulder. But in a strong ACC, and in a season defined by parity, don’t expect this North Carolina team to do things other Carolina teams have. They’re simply not as good.

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