Commentary

Tudor: Williams, Heels getting turned inside out

Without reliable big scorers inside, no one is comfortable

ctudor@newsobserver.comDecember 22, 2012 

For a basketball program that has historically produced as many standout perimeter shooters as any at the college level, North Carolina has never been able to exclusively rely on that strategy to win big.

Seems strange – sounds strange – but there’s something in the Dean Smith coaching DNA that runs counter to the concept of having an outside comfort zone.

A steadfast mathematician, Smith’s first coaching commandment went something like, “Thou shalt not shoot from afar without first and frequently attempting to get the ball inside.”

That thought repeatedly came to mind as the Tar Heels missed 16 of 19 shots from behind the 3-point arc in Tuesday’s 85-67 loss at Texas.

The performance was in step with a 7-for-22 struggle on 3-pointers in an 82-71 loss to Butler on Nov. 20 and the 1-for-8 showing in an 83-59 loss at Indiana a week later.

Watching Roy Williams pace the sidelines, you can almost hear him praying for a Tyler Zeller or John Henson or Tyler Hansbrough or Sean May to appear at the scorer’s table to restore a reliable offense.

The Tar Heels were supposed to have any number of capable outside shooters – Reggie Bullock, Leslie McDonald, P.J. Hairston, Dexter Strickland and Marcus Paige.

Even with extensive inexperience inside, there was a general assumption in preseason that the outside shooters could distract opposing defenses enough to create scoring opportunities in the lane.

Just the opposite has developed against quality opponents thus far. No one has converted enough long shots to confound defenders.

Even from 15 feet away against no defense, the Tar Heels are shooting a modest 65 percent on free throws. Unless the short-range attack improves, UNC is going to need to shoot at least 75 percent at the line to offset the inconsistent interior output.

Smith was more important than any coach in history in bringing about the 3-point shot.

Although he had no intention of ever constructing an offense around long-range shooting, Smith was convinced the 3-pointer was needed to give prohibitive underdogs at least a fighting chance once the shot clock was introduced at the college level.

The good news for Williams and his team is that much could change before March.

For now, neither the coach nor his players seems comfortable with the style of offense they’re more or less forced to play. But it’s reasonable to assume the perimeter game will improve and in time, the bigs will mature enough to create scoring options.

Long term, however, this is not the way Williams wants a North Carolina offense to operate. With three more big men on the way to join Joel James, Desmond Hubert, Brice Johnson and perhaps James Michael McAdoo, the Tar Heels will resume living on the block next season at the latest.

Tudor: 919-829-8946

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