UNC Basketball: Keys for Carolina Entering Tournament Time


I wish the month of March could last forever.  I love this time of year, I get to fill out 15 brackets and frustrate myself figuring out if I have a chance of coming out on top.  I can fill my days watching teams that I haven’t watched all season long.  An entire month to obsess over everything college basketball, what more could you ask for?  This season looks to be even more exciting as our North Carolina Tar Heels are peeking at the right time.

As we head into conference tournament play and look ahead to the big dance.  Let’s take a look at some of the keys for Carolina in their hopes to cut down the nets in New Orleans.

Never stop improving: Saturday night’s knockout performance against Duke may have looked like the Heels peek.  But this team still has a lot of improving to do and can get a whole heck of a lot better.  Players like PJ Hairston and James Michael McAdoo still have a long ways to go individually and their continued improvement will be vital during the tourney.  If I had to name one theme for this team it would the struggle to play a complete 40 minute game.  The regular season finale against Duke was close, but still, it was a “complete” 40 minutes, something UNC must have in a game against a team like Kentucky or Syracuse.

Better half court offensive efficiency: The Tar Heels bread and butter is their transition game.  No team runs the floor like Carolina and no team has a point guard who can run the break quite like Kendall Marshall can.  In the tourney, good teams will be able to slow the pace for at least parts of games against UNC.  The Heels must be more effective in these situations.  Over the course of the last month or so, UNC has done a better job of playing an inside out game and must build on that in the tournament.  Taking quick shots before the defense gets set is the way they operate when the tempo favors them.  When it doesn’t, the Heels need to transition into a patient team and swing the ball around the perimeter and take high percentage shots.

Continued improvement at the free throw line: Mid way through the season FT shooting was the teams biggest weakness.  Recently the team has turned it around and even John Henson is starting to knock them down from the charity stripe.  Coming into the season only Tyler Zeller, PJ Hairston, Stillman White, Harrison Barnes and Reggie Bullock were known as good FT shooters.  Players like Kendall Marshall, Henson and Barnes will be counted on to shoot a high percentage that could mean the difference in any postseason game.

Feed the bigs: As I stated above discussing the teams half court efficiency, playing an inside out game in the half court is vital.  The Tar Heels have the nations best 1-2 combination inside in Zeller and Henson.  When the tempo slows, they need to be the first option in the half court offense.  No team in the nation, not even Kentucky can contend with both of these guys.  No big man in the nation has been as efficient as Zeller and no one player has improved as much offensively as Henson has this season.  Carolina has shown a tendency to panic and put up rushed, ill advised shots in the half court on the perimeter.  Showing patience and getting the ball inside to their bigs who can get their own high percentage shots and put pressure on the opposing teams interior defense is key.

Kendall Marshall-the scoring machine: Marshall’s recent explosions offensively against NC State and Duke will force teams to at least think about him as an offensive weapon.  For most of the season, Marshall was almost ignored as a perimeter shooter and left wide open, almost dared by the defense to shoot the basketball.  Recently, Marshall has shown a willingness to take the shot and the ability to put it in the basket when challenged.  If Marshall can continue to at least be a threat to score himself on the offensive end it opens up all kinds of possibilities for the Tar Heels.

Perimeter Defense: UNC has gone through a major adjustment period since the season ending injury to Dexter Strickland.  Reggie Bullock has done a nice job with his individual defense but often the team defense has suffered as a unit.  They did an outstanding job of closing out on Duke’s many three point shooters and forcing them inside the arch.  Teams have a lot of trouble penetrating the lane and scoring in the paint against the Heels twin towers inside.  UNC needs to keep its focus defensively on closing out on shooters and fighting through screens just like they did against Duke.

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