But in North Carolina’s 88-77 victory over Valparaiso on Sunday at the Smith Center, a weakness that must be addressed surfaced more than in Carolina’s first two games.
The Tar Heels struggled defending Valpo’s dribble drives, which resulted in layups or kick outs for open 3-point attempts much more than is acceptable. The Crusaders didn’t always convert (they shot 43.3 percent from the field) but they got enough quality looks to make this an unavoidable issue of relevance for the home team.
If Valpo, which plays in the Horizon League, can break down the Heels as much as it did, how much more success will significantly more athletic and skilled teams have, beginning later this week when UNC takes on Ohio State in New York?
“We need to get things straightened out,” said Marcus Ginyard, who also said he felt a lack of effort was the root cause of Carolina’s ills on both ends of the floor, especially on defense. “We can’t allow that to happen.”
In half court sets, Valpo converted five driving layups, two backdoor slams, one backdoor layup, and three runners in the lane. It also netted 12 3-pointers, many of which were courtesy of kick outs following drives.
For one long particularly ugly stretch in the second half, a 24-point cushion became just a nine-point lead. It seemed like almost every possession began the same with a Crusader taking his man off the dribble leading to an assortment of buckets. Many started around the top of the key.
“You can’t get beat down the middle of the court,” a ticked-off Williams said. “We know everybody is going to play like that, so our big guys have to decide they’re going to get out and slide their feet.
“But it wasn’t just the big guys. Their point guard drove right down the lane on the next-to-last play of the game.”
And if you consider the missed shots at the rim following drives, the final score could have been even more interesting. Valpo coach Homer Drew felt as though his team left a lot of points on the floor.
“We thought we had a couple of really good looks and did not make (them),” he said. “We do have to almost play a near-perfect game to come in here to their arena. We played well, but to beat this team on the road you have to have everything go your way.”
Williams wasn’t a happy camper. His postgame press conference began just minutes after the final second ticked off the clock and he appeared anxious to get the heck out.
Who can blame him? He has gone out of his way pumping up this club’s defensive potential, and in the first two games it appeared he was on to something. But Sunday’s performance, which included forcing only nine turnovers, should have UNC fans (and its perfectionist coach) more than concerned, unless the problem is easily correctable.
“We didn’t have the intensity I thought we would have today,” Williams said, noting issues both ends of the floor.
By accepting the lack-of-intensity angle, you can certainly sell that a more focused group of Tar Heels would have been stingier and the final margin greater. That makes sense. After all, Ginyard said he felt the team just wasn’t “excited to be there” during warm-ups, which was backed up by Will Graves, and that translated to the team’s play.
A repeat performance shouldn’t occur if this is more about readiness and willingness. But if it has more to do with being too long on the perimeter (see degree of difficulty guarding smaller ball handlers away from the basket), this issue will creep up again, and that won’t be good for the Tar Heels.