Roy Williams says young Tar Heels need early games to gain confidence

acarter@newsobserver.comDecember 14, 2012 

— Twenty years have passed but Roy Williams still remembers how a difficult pair of opening games cost two of his Kansas players their confidence. The memory came to Williams on Thursday, when asked how difficult it has been to evaluate North Carolina’s performances against less challenging opposition.

“There is something to that, there’s no question about it,” Williams said.

The Tar Heels’ nine games have offered little between two extremes. Against Butler and No. 1 Indiana, the two best teams UNC has faced, the Heels played poorly and lost after facing second-half deficits of at least 29 points.

UNC has won its other seven games, meanwhile, by an average of 26.4 points. While the margin of victory has been impressive, the competition has not. Those seven games – which include a 46-point victory against Mississippi State and a 42-point victory against Chaminade – have come with few defining moments for an inexperienced team.

Even so, Williams on Thursday defended the Tar Heels’ schedule while insisting his team had drawn more than just confidence from lopsided victories. Against ETSU, for instance, the Heels successfully executed their offense against a zone defense.

“You do need to have some games where you get a little confidence,” Williams said. “You do need some games where you challenge them. You do need some games where they’re going to play one style.”

Finding the right scheduling balance can be difficult, as Williams has learned. He thought back 20 years to his tenure at Kansas, and the beginning of the 1992-93 season. The Jayhawks opened with victories against Georgia and Indiana but suffered a couple of losses in the process.

“I lost two players for two months before I could get them to play worth a [darn],” Williams said. “And it’s just because they lost so much confidence in those two games. They were borderline shooters and Hugh Durham’s team and Bobby Knight’s team backed off of them.

“We’d be on one end shooting and the guys defending them would be at the concession stand. And so one guy shot an air ball, another guy missed three in a row. And we couldn’t get them to shoot the dadgum ball again until January.”

If anything, UNC’s recent victories against UAB and ETSU have likely helped repair the confidence the Heels might have lost during a humbling 83-59 loss at Indiana on Nov. 27. The Tar Heels trailed by 32 points during the second half.

A week before that defeat, against Butler in the Maui Invitational, UNC fell behind by 29 before cutting the Bulldogs’ lead to six with about one minute to play. The Heels played with resolve during that comeback, but their seven victories have rarely forced them to play with a similar sense of determination.

Williams suggested that building confidence could be more important for the Heels, who are relying on four freshmen, than playing more difficult opposition. A season ago, with a veteran team, UNC wouldn’t have benefited much from an easier schedule, Williams said. But now it’s differnet.

“Everybody wants you to play the Oklahoma City Thunder and then the Celtics and then the Lakers,” Williams said. “… But you can’t because you’ve got to have your kids get some confidence.”

Williams said he wasn’t “ashamed” of the Tar Heels’ schedule which, according to realtimerpi.com, ranks as the fifth-most difficult to date in the ACC.

Williams noted, too, that due to a variety of variables – coaching changes, attrition, suspensions, injuries – Mississippi State and East Tennessee State weren’t as strong as UNC believed they might be when it scheduled those teams.

“When we scheduled them it was a different look that we thought we were going to get,” Williams said. “I’m sure people that scheduled us a year ago didn’t think that Kendall Marshall would be in the NBA, either.”

Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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