Searching for Offensive Execution

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The 18th-ranked Tar Heels will be tasked with elevating their offensive production against one of the nation’s elite defenses on Saturday.

No. 5 Louisville ranks second nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency (85.4), seventh in effective field goal percentage (40.5) and fourth in turnover percentage (26.1), according to

UNC head coach Roy Williams offered a sobering description of the primary staple of a Rick Pitino defense on Friday.

“Constant harassment, constant pressure,” Williams said. “I think harassment is probably the best word because you have to be looking around because his guys are running from behind you. If you did get past them, they’re trying to deflect it from behind. They’re trying to cut you off and take a charge. They’re trying to pick your pocket if you’re not paying attention. If you turn your back and dribble away from them, they may come after you.”

UNC, on the other hand, ranks 156th in effective field goal percentage (49.0) and 76th in turnover percentage (76). The Tar Heels do rank 19th in adjusted offensive efficiency, due to their 44.9 offensive rebounding percentage (2nd nationally).

UNC’s rebounding success on the offensive glass has prompted Pitino to reinsert Chinanu Onuaku (6-foot-10, 230 pounds) into the starting lineup alongside forward Montrezl Harrell to add an extra rebounder and shot blocker, as well as an added dose of physicality, which has been lacking at times for the Tar Heels this season.

Prior to Monday’s 71-70 loss to Notre Dame, in which the Tar Heels shot 36.9 percent and missed their final eight shots, Williams’s squad had shown improvement over the past month, shooting 49.4 percent in its previous seven games. Included in that stretch was a 45.0 percent effort against the nation’s top defense in Kentucky, although UNC’s 18 turnovers resulted in 24 Wildcat points.

ACC Preseason Player of the Year Marcus Paige has played a role in UNC’s offensive woes to date, averaging 13.5 points per game on 36.8 percent shooting (63-of-171).

Sophomore forward Kennedy Meeks, who is averaging 12.7 points on 58.6 percent shooting, described Louisville as “a great defensive team” and highlighted aggressiveness as the key against the Cardinals’ defense.

“I would say attacking the basket,” Meeks said. “Drawing up plays and kicking, because Justin and Marcus and those guys can hit those shots. They just weren’t falling last game. We can’t look back on that. We have to focus on tomorrow. I would say driving and drawing fouls and getting those easy plays. It all starts with the bigs, as Coach would say, and the rest will take care of itself.”

UNC’s 93-84 win over Louisville in last season’s Hall of Fame Tipoff championship game provided a blue print for success against the Cardinals’ defensive approach. The Tar Heels shot 56.7 percent and followed Marcus Paige’s lead (32 points) in pushing the tempo and scoring in transition as opposed to a steady string of halfcourt sets.

UNC’s aggressive play – Paige played a role in fouling out Harrell by drawing a pair of fouls on drives to the basket – countered Louisville’s tenacity on the perimeter.

Louisville head coach Rick Pitino talked on Friday about learning the lessons of last season’s defeat, pointing to a need to contain UNC’s runouts on missed shots and for better defensive rotation on the perimeter to prevent UNC guards from slipping up the court unchecked.

When the Cardinals made shots, Kennedy Meeks’s utilized his lethal outlet passes over the top of Louisville’s fullcourt press to notch a career-high seven assists.

Last season’s Louisville squad posted similar defensive statistics – fourth in adjusted defensive efficiency (90.0), sixth in effective field goal percentage defense (43.9) – so quality of defense is not so much the issue as the Tar Heels capitalizing on their offensive opportunities.

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