North Carolina coach Roy Williams walked into his post game press conference on Monday night with a disgusted look.
Williams was not happy with his team’s effort in the second half of UNC’s 90-72 home win against Stanford (2-1), and he insisted — without looking at any stats — the Tar Heels are currently among the worst defensive teams in the country.
“How many Division I teams are there?” Williams asked. “There used to be 351.” When a reporter responded “close to that,” Williams said, “Then we’re close to 351.”
On paper, UNC’s wins look good. The Tar Heels have beaten Wofford 78-67 and Elon 116-67 on the road, and Stanford at home. Each of UNC’s opponents shot below 41 percent in its game.
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According to Ken Pomeroy’s advanced statistics, the Tar Heels rank fourth in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, or points per 100 possessions. Opponents average 90.4 points per 100 possessions against the Tar Heels.
But coach Williams says UNC’s defensive numbers are skewed.
“I mean if you think about it, Elon the other night did miss a bunch of shots,” coach Williams said. “They had some wide open shots too. I am not very happy right now, but I thought in that Wofford game we were really attentive on the defensive end. We had some enthusiasm on the defensive end, and today was like the matador.
“Just run out there and let them drive right by you.”
Last season, Elon finished 14-18 and dead last in the Colonial conference. Stanford finished 19-16 and fifth in the Pac-12. Wofford, which beat UNC last year and has an experienced team this season, finished 21-13 last year, fourth-best in the Southern conference.
None of those teams made the NCAA tournament.
The Tar Heels have showed potential to be a good defensive team this season. For instance, against Wofford, they held star guard Fletcher Magee without a point until about four minutes left in the first half.
Against Stanford on Monday night, the Tar Heels built a 26-point lead at halftime, and led 52-26. They created seven turnovers in the first half, and the Cardinal shot 35 percent from the floor.
But in the second half, the Cardinal made a run, and cut the Tar Heels’ lead to as little as 15 points. The Tar Heels never really worried about their lead, but the defense, or lack there of, was a cause for concern with tougher competition coming up.
UNC will face Texas on Nov. 22 in the Las Vegas Invitational. And based on that game’s result, it will play either No. 11 Michigan State or No. 20 UCLA on Nov. 23.
On Nov. 28, UNC will play at No. 18 Michigan in Ann Arbor.
“We gotta get better defensively,” coach Williams said. “You can’t give someone 15 free throws in the second half, and the second thing is too, points off of rebounds. We gotta do better there too.”
Stanford had 11 second chance points.
When asked what went wrong in the second half, coach Williams said, “having a brain.”
“Attention to detail,” he continued. “Effort sometimes, because we didn’t push the ball very hard. Getting up the court, getting back on defense. So it was a lot of negative stuff out there.”
Guarding the ball
UNC senior guard Kenny Williams, the Tar Heels’ best perimeter defender, said they have to be better guarding the ball. He said in the second half, Stanford did anything it wanted to do. After shooting 35 percent in the first half, Stanford shot 44 percent in the second. It outscored UNC 46-38.
Williams, who is 6-4, 185 pounds, said there was no excuse for how the team played. UNC plays three freshmen often. But Williams said just because the team has young players, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be sound defensively.
“You guys know me, defense is all heart and effort,” Williams, who had 12 points and two steals Monday, said. “So it doesn’t matter if you’re 14 or if this is your first basketball game ever. You should be able to guard the basketball if you want to.”
If UNC wants to go back to the Final Four, as it did in 2016 and 2017, defense will have to be a priority, Roy Williams said.
UNC will play Tennessee Tech (0-2) on Friday.
“It’s not good to make mistakes but for him to chew us all out, I mean it shows that even when we win by about 20 he can still get frustrated and mad at us for (not) playing a lot better,” senior forward Luke Maye, who had 16 points on Monday, said. “I myself need to play a lot better defensively, but we’ll look at it and we’ll improve Friday.”
Still upset by his team’s play on Monday night, coach Williams could not help but talk about it. Perhaps wanting to run his players as punishment for their defensive lapses, Williams said, “The best thing that ever happened to my team is that we do not have practice tomorrow.”