After a quick 11-2 start on the road, things were looking good early on for Roy Williams’ Tar Heels. But following a Jim Larranaga timeout at the 16:37 mark of the first half (after Justin Jackson’s transition finish extended UNC’s lead to nine), and Miami’s subsequent switch to a 2-3 zone, Saturday’s game turned quickly and dramatically.
Let’s take a look at the first several possessions after that timeout, and see how Hurricanes were able to completely take the game over.
UM1 (11-5): Miami’s first post-timeout possession began with a cheap hand-check foul on Joel Berry, who was applying good ball pressure on Ja’Quan Newton. I’m not sure if this played a factor in dissuading the Heels’ defensive aggression, but it certainly didn’t help. The bigger issue, though, was the complete lack of made shots after which UNC could set its defense/apply three-quarter-court ball pressure. As Williams is prone to do after a timeout, Carolina came out and applied a half-court trap. It didn’t lead to either a turnover or a Miami attack, simply an offensive reset. The ‘Canes then had Kamari Murphy set a ball screen for Bruce Brown, with Kenny Williams and Kennedy Meeks defending it for the Heels. Isaiah Hicks was (correctly) helping in the paint against the rolling Murphy, opening up Anthony Lawrence on the left wing for a 3-pointer over a late-recovering Hicks. This was simply good pick-and-roll offense/shot-making by Miami. UNC shut down the main options (Brown drive, Murphy roll), but took its chances with a Lawrence 3-pointer (he’s hit 20 in 20 games, and went 1-4 behind the arc on Saturday).
UNC1 (11-5): After allowing 11 points in six man-to-man trips, Miami’s first possession of zone ended with a missed Berry 3 from the left wing. This shot was well-defended, and occurred after a routine perimeter pass from Williams in the secondary break. There were no paint touches (either via the pass or the dribble) prior to this shot and, although Berry can hit tough ones, this qualified as poor shot selection. As they’d do on all five misses during this run, the ‘Canes controlled the defensive rebound.
SUBSTITUTION: Nate Britt in for Kenny Williams
UM2 (11-8): Davon Reed received a down screen from Netwon, then curled to accept a dribble hand-off from Murphy. Jackson, who was knocked off course by the Newton screen, was a step behind the entire time on the curl. Meeks flat-hedged the dribble hand-off, preventing Reed from turning the corner but allowing him a clean look from behind the arc (as Jackson was too late to recover). Reed knocked down the right-wing 3, as Jackson’s poor navigation of the Reed curl put Meeks in a no-win spot as the help defender.
UNC2 (13-8): With Miami showing a bit of confusion about whether it was in man or zone, Hicks rifled a high-low secondary-break entry into Meeks, who had established deep position in the middle of the paint. He immediately turned over his left shoulder to connect on a little 5-foot leaning hook.
UM3 (13-11): Miami ran big-big ball screen action with its 5 (Murphy) setting a screen for its 4 (Lawrence). Hicks and Meeks correctly switched this exchange, with Hicks blanketing the rolling Murphy. Britt, however, was caught over-helping in the paint against the (covered) roller, then bumped into Hicks a bit when starting his closeout to the wing. All of that resulted in a clean right-wing 3 for Brown. Britt was in the right (initial) spot as a pick-and-roll help defender (just like Hicks’ help in UM1 above), but lacked the situational awareness to realize that the bigs had switched the screen and snuffed out the roller. He also took a bad route on the closeout.
UNC3 (13-11): On this zone possession, UNC got a high-post touch for Meeks near the left elbow, and he immediately kicked out to Jackson near the top of the key. This type of inside-out ball movement worked great on several occasions against Virginia Tech’s zone, but Jackson’s 3-pointer was blocked by a recovering Brown. At 6’8″, Jackson’s not used to having his jumpers affected (much less blocked), and this was just a testament to Brown’s tremendous length and athleticism on the wing.
UM4 (13-13): The blocked Jackson 3 served as a type of live-ball turnover, with Newton able to get the whole way to the rim in transition for an athletic finish against a scrambled defense.
UNC4 (13-13): With Miami’s zone really over-shading to prevent perimeter looks for Berry and Jackson, the Heels overloaded the left side with both their shooters. This opened up Meeks in the left short corner for a lightly contested 10-foot catch-and-shoot jumper (Serge Zwikker would have been licking his chops!). Though Meeks can hit this shot, he missed this one. This was good zone offense by the Heels, but also probably a case of them taking what Miami was giving rather than taking what they wanted.
SUBSTITUTION: Luke Maye in for Isaiah Hicks
UM5 (13-15): Miami ran a staggered ball screen for Newton with its two bigs. Berry got over the top of the initial screen (by Maye’s man), but went underneath the second one (by Meeks’ man). By going underneath, Berry created a bad recovery angle (impeded by the flat-hedging Meeks), which allowed Newton to turn the corner and get into the paint. Once there, he ran into Maye, who had made an excellent help rotation and was setting a pretty textbook defensive wall. Newton, however, simply jumped right into Maye’s body, hanging in the air to finish at the rim. This is simply a case where a positional paint defender got scored over by a more athletic guard—a good example of where UNC’s lack of a rim protector/shot-blocker can hurt it in some lineup combos.
UNC5 (16-15): Maye’s first offensive possession worked out much better than his initial defensive one, though. After Jackson found him in the left short corner, Maye immediately attacked a gap in the Hurricanes’ zone. By taking a single dribble towards the middle of the paint, Maye was able to collapse the zone and free up a kick-out opportunity to Jackson on the left wing. Jackson knocked down the 3, and this was one of UNC’s better zone possessions of the game.
UM6 (16-18): Miami ran the identical staggered screen for Newton that it used on the previous possession. This time, Berry and Meeks did a much better job of the hedge-and-recovery choreography (although Berry again went over the first and under the second screen) which resulted in an offensive reset. Late in the clock, the ‘Canes ran a ball screen for Reed with Jackson defending the ball and Meeks hedging. Britt, again, was helping in the paint against the roller. This time, Britt did a much better job with his recovery timing/route, closing out to Brown in good position. With five seconds left on the shot clock, however, and Brown launching a deep 23-footer from the left wing, Britt made a silly foul to give Miami three foul shots (Brown made them all). This was actually one of UNC’s better defensive possessions of the half, and it resulted in a deep, contested 3 against an expiring clock. It was only a freshman mistake by one of Carolina’s seniors that turned an empty trip into a(nother) 3-point one.
SUBSTITUTIONS: Brandon Robinson and Tony Bradley in for Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks
UNC6 (16-18): In another possession against the Miami zone, the Heels were unable to get any paint, high post, or short corner touches. They did lightly probe gaps with the dribble a bit, including Berry’s drive-and-kick to set up a right-wing 3 for Britt. With five seconds left on the shot clock, Britt missed his 3 (he’s now 2-of-13 this year in seconds 25-30 of the clock—though most of those are contested mid-rangers off the dribble rather than clean catch-and-shoots behind the arc) and the ‘Canes again forced a one-and-done by corralling the defensive board.
UM7 (16-20): Berry played pretty good transition defense to stop Newton’s advance with the ball, leading to a dribble hand-off exchange with Brown. Robinson was bumped slightly off course by Newton following the hand-off, allowing Brown to get into the heart of the paint. When Maye stepped up to help against the drive, it set up a drive-and-dish opening with Murphy receiving the pass. Tony Bradley actually made a strong help-the-helper rotation to contest Murphy’s layup at the rim; the 5th-year senior just overpowered the Carolina freshman in the air to finish through contact.
UNC7 (16-20): Robinson threw a nifty little bounce pass against the zone to locate Maye in the high post. Maye immediately faced up and launched a 17-footer from the left elbow, which missed short. The front-rim miss resulted in a long rebound, which Britt casually pursued from the right wing. Britt’s lackadaisical effort allowed Newton to win a 50-50 ball, and immediately trigger Miami’s transition game (since Britt was out of position after unsuccessfully crashing for the offensive board). Berry, who had retreated as a safety in transition, was forced to pick up Dewan Huell to prevent a hit-ahead dunk. This led to a Newton vs. Maye mismatch on the ball, one in which Newton was easily able to exploit by getting all the way to the rim for a left-hand finish. Berry immediately pushed the ball back the other way after the make, but his layup attempt was altered at the rim. It would be knocked out of bounds to the Heels, setting up the under-12 timeout with 11:49 left in the first half.
As documented above, Miami scored on eight consecutive possessions as part of its 20-5 run. Moreover, half of those scores were worth three points (three 3s and a 3-shot foul), as the ‘Canes put up a gaudy PPP of 2.50 over their run. Defense wasn’t the only issue (or even the biggest issue) for the Heels, though. The two empty trips to end this run (UNC6 and UNC7) began a 19-possession span in which UNC would score only two points (allowing Miami to open up a 35-18 lead). After scoring 16 points in its first 11 possessions (PPP of 1.45), Carolina would score just six over the final 23 of the opening half (PPP of 0.26).
This is game in which UNC missed Pinson’s presence on both ends, but most notably as a taller wing defender. Williams did a solid job on the athletic, 6’5″ Brown, but UNC really struggled defensively in its 2-PG lineups in the first half (i.e., with Britt at the 2). I’m still wrapping up the defensive charting, so might have more (or revised) thoughts on that once I’m finished.