March 19, 2014

UNC attempts to rediscover mojo, and other things, entering NCAA tournament: a checklist

UNC focusing on improving urgency and rebounding before it plays against Providence on Friday.

North Carolina will leave later today for the NCAA tournament, and for San Antonio. The Tar Heels will play Providence there on Friday night, and they’ll hope to play better than they have been in the past few weeks.

These are precarious times for UNC. After a 1-4 start in ACC play, the Tar Heels saved their season with a 12-game winning streak. But they enter the NCAA tournament with two consecutive losses – their first losing streak since that poor start at the beginning of the conference schedule.

So what to make of UNC? Are the Tar Heels more the team we saw during the middle part of that 12-game streak, when they were playing so well? Or are they more the team that hasn’t played well – or with much intensity or passion – during their past four games?

UNC coach Roy Williams during the past few days has tried, once again, to raise the level of urgency. That’s nothing new for him this season. Williams has been talking about urgency since November. Also high on the must-fix list for the Tar Heels’ rebounding.

I wrote about those two things – urgency and rebounding – right here. Colleague and columnist Luke DeCock, meanwhile, touched on another area of equal importance: the Tar Heels need more out of their role players.

Here’s a run-down of things UNC has to fix headed into the NCAA tournament, with some words about each:

1. The urgency.

Did the 12-game winning streak make the Tar Heels complacent? Did they become too comfortable? It’s possible. Another question: Did UNC simply wear down toward the end of the regular season? Also possible. Regardless of the cause, the Tar Heels haven’t had their edge in a while. Didn’t have it in that sloppy victory at Virginia Tech. Or in that other sloppy victory against Notre Dame. Or in the loss at Duke. Or in the loss in the ACC tournament against Pitt. This isn’t a team that’s good enough to coast.

2. The rebounding.

Statistically, the Tar Heels remain one of the best rebounding teams in the country. Their offensive rebounding percentage of 37.8 percent ranks 18th nationally. Lately, though, UNC has been an abysmal rebounding team. Here are UNC’s offensive rebounding percentages in its past four games: 28.9 percent against Virginia Tech; 31.4 percent against Notre Dame; 25 percent against Duke; 26.2 percent against Pitt. UNC hasn’t created a lot of second-chance opportunities lately, and that decreases the Tar Heels’ already-thin margin of error on offense.

3. The lack of contributions from role players.

UNC’s winning streak wouldn’t have been possible without significant contributions from its role players. There was Kennedy Meeks’ 23 points at Florida State. Leslie McDonald’s 21 points in the home victory against Duke. There was J.P. Tokoto, doing a little bit of everything and, at times, a lot of it. In UNC’s past four games, though, Meeks, Tokoto and McDonald haven’t provided much. Meeks has scored a combined eight points in UNC’s past four games. McDonald has been erratic, and went scoreless against Pitt. And Tokoto has scored a combined 11 points in the past two games before fouling out in both of them.

The Tar Heels have to rediscover the intangibles that made them so successful in February, but a lack of urgency hasn’t been their only problem. They’re at their best when they’re rebounding well and receiving significant contributions from role players.

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UNC beat writer Andrew Carter


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