Great defense is the spark to the UNC basketball program's strong start

The UNC basketball program has used a string of strong defensive performances to spark their best start since the 2015-2016 season.
Louisville v North Carolina
Louisville v North Carolina / Grant Halverson/GettyImages

The UNC basketball program has struggled on the defensive end ever since Hubert Davis took over.

North Carolina ranked No. 35 in defensive efficiency in 2021-2022 and No. 46 in 2022-2023, finishing in the bottom third of the ACC in points allowed per game in both seasons. After a disappointing season last year, Davis and company have made a conscious effort to improve on the defensive end.

The UNC basketball program is currently the fourth-best defense in the country, according to KenPom. The significant improvement on the defensive end has allowed the Tar Heels to grind out many difficult wins that they would not have won in previous years.

All of the players are bought in, and they do a tremendous job of switching one through five. They allow 69.3 points per game this season largely inflated due to a strong non-conference schedule. North Carolina allowed 92, 87, and 87 points to Tennessee, UConn, and Kentucky earlier in the season. Since then, no team has scored above 70 points, and the Tar Heels are allowing just 62 points per game, which would rank second in the ACC behind Virginia.

Taking the ball away has been one of the key factors in their defensive success. The Tar Heels force the fifth-most turnovers in the ACC at 12 per game including five steals per game which is fourth in conference. North Carolina has also been able to defend the perimeter without fouling, as they foul the fifth fewest in the ACC.

The UNC basketball program has traditionally had a strong offense under Hubert Davis, but their defense was known for giving away games down the stretch. This year, every player on the roster takes pride in getting stops and doesn't shy away from the best scorers in the country. Strong defensive play has allowed their offense to catch up and hit timely baskets late in games, and the team will be a force when their offense reaches its full potential.

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