UNC Basketball: Breaking down the Tar Heels defense

CHAPEL HILL, NC - DECEMBER 03: Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts during their game against the Tulane Green Wave at the Dean Smith Center on December 3, 2017 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
CHAPEL HILL, NC - DECEMBER 03: Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts during their game against the Tulane Green Wave at the Dean Smith Center on December 3, 2017 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /

It comes as no surprise to anyone that the UNC Basketball team is struggling defensively, but this may be one of Roy Williams’ worst at North Carolina.

Through eight games, the North Carolina Tar Heels are ranked in the top 10 in many offensive categories, points per game (6th), total assists (1st), assists per game (10th), and rebounding (4th).

But yet somehow they already have two losses; so what is the issue?

Defense. Defense. Defense. It sounds like a broken record when it comes to Carolina basketball, and yet again this is what is holding the Tar Heels back from being an elite team.

So what exactly is wrong on the defensive side of things? Frankly, almost everything.

Back in 2015, the Tar Heels were faced with some of the same issues, and it all stemmed from the same root; ball screen and pick & roll defense.

The first problem that the Tar Heels’ have is a starting backcourt which ranks in the bottom three of the roster with a defensive rating of 100+. For your reference, nobody on Michigan’s roster tops 90 and Virginia’s highest rating is 93.2, two of the top defensive teams in the nation.

The wings of Carolina have been burned over and over all season when it comes to ball screens. Now, it’s not all their fault as the big men guarding the roller haven’t done their part either, but the wings need to make a much more aggressive push when trying to get around ball screens.

It’s a simple fix but an important one, as shown below.

A lot is wrong with this play.

First, there seems to be a lack of communication between Manley and Robinson because Robinson first takes a step to the sideline instead of towards Jordan Poole. Second, Manley is a good 3-4 feet away from Poole, allowing him to take his time and dissect the defense because there is no ball pressure.

Third, Manley flattens out opening up his stance and lets Poole go in the direction he wants instead of forcing him back to Robinson’s side.

Lastly, because of the lack of misdirection, Poole is allowed to keep his eyes up and create a good passing lane to both the big man rolling, Jon Teske, and also Ignas Brazdeikis. Nassir Little is already in poor weak-side position so he is forced to sprint to the paint to stop the Teske roll, allowing for an easy open three from Brazdeikis.

Here is another example with two different different defenders, but the same result.

Coby White actually does a good job fighting over the screen and getting back to a good guarding position relatively quickly, but it is a terrible hedge by Garrison Brooks that makes this an easy alley-oop for Teske.

Like Sterling Manley in the clip before, Brooks is again about 4 feet from Xavier Simpson, allowing for him to see the entire court without having his vision clouded or space clogged up.

With that much space ahead of Simpson, like the great point guard that he is, he attacks Brooks, making Brooks stay with Simpson and creating an easy and open dunk for Teske.

If Brooks’ has a harder and more aggressive hedge, it allows for a trap or at least a change of direction that takes place outside of the three-point line, instead of at the free throw line, in the middle of the defense.

In this last example, the duo of Garrison Brooks and Coby White struggle to contain the ball screen again.

This time Brooks is in a much better position, up in Matt Coleman’s face, but once again he doesn’t make him change direction and allows for the quick guard to run downhill instead of pushing him either, back towards White or force him farther away from the three-point line.

Because White is slow getting through the screen and Brooks lets Coleman in the middle of the floor, not only does he have the roller, Jericho Sims, wide open who he misses, but he has Dylan Osetkowski open for three in the corner, who he finds for the made bucket.

Below are two examples of how the Carolina ball screen defense succeeds in forcing the opponent away from the basket and creates chaos.

This shows you what should happen if both the guard and big man are in communication and play the ball screen correctly.

Because Woods fights over the screen with good quickness and Luke Maye forces Simpson to turn his back on him and take just one step away from the three-point line, closer to half court, this makes for a perfect trap opportunity.

Also, look at how high Luke Maye jumps out. Simpson is now 3-4 feet behind the three point line, instead of right on or inside the the three point line, like in all of the other clips you have seen.

Obviously Simpson is somehow able to break the trap which leads to a wide open three, but in the next clip you will see just how affective it is when they are unable to break the trap.

Now with Seventh Woods and Sterling Manley, they play the perfect ball screen defense.

Manley realizes that they have an extra defender with the sideline, so he makes himself perpendicular to Coleman and forces him to dribble back to Woods. After realizing he has nowhere to go and everyone is covered, he just throws the ball in the air hoping to connect with one of his teammates. This results in a steal from Cam Johnson and an easy two the other way.

The Tar Heels have the ability to be a good defensive team, but it is the mental mistakes that keep them from getting there. With no real shot-blocking presence, it is even more vital that Carolina is able to defend and contain the ball screen.

You saw by the last two clips that they are able to be in the right spot, but because they don’t do it every time, makes for a very inconsistent and a defense that ranks near the bottom of the country.

That inconsistency has the Tar Heels ranked 254 in the country in scoring defense and just 156 in turnovers forced.

Next. 5 Takeaways from UNC in the month of November. dark

Obviously it is still a long way to go before March, but the Tar Heels need to start checking into each possession mentally in order to see the changes they need.