CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – No. 9 North Carolina entered the 2015-16 season with championship aspirations.
The team still has plenty of time to live up to those expectations, but, according to Roy Williams, there is still plenty of work to do on the defensive end.
“I really felt like, and I still think, we can be a really good defensive team, and we haven’t done it yet,” Williams said during his weekly radio show on Monday.
Carolina is ranked 89th in the country in field goal percentage defense (39.7), and has struggled to defend the 3-point line, ranking 287th in the country (37.8 percent).
The team has the talent to stop opposing offenses; so far, it’s just been the execution, or maybe even the will of the team, that prevents it from meeting its potential.
“It boils down to you’ve got to do it,” Williams said. “I think that Joel Berry is a good defender. Marcus can be a good defender, Marcus is a good defender. Nate Britt can do some good things. Theo (Pinson), if he could put his mind to it and focus on that, could be as good a defender as Jackie Manuel. Kennedy (Meeks) and Brice (Johnson) have the ability to make some plays.
“Joel James talks better than anybody on our team on the defensive end. Isaiah (Hicks) is a defensive award winner a lot.”
Williams believes that the defensive lapses come at the fault of both the coaching staff and the players.
“That’s me, because I’ve got to make them do it,” Williams said. “And then the other thing is you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. They’ve got to by golly invest in it more, and they’ve got to play better.”
How have you felt like your team has progressed over the past few weeks?
“I think we’ve gotten better. I think we’ve done some things individually that’s better. We’ve been able to grab tapes from the Northern Iowa game and the Kansas State game to show them some things that we’ve been doing and some things that they’re not doing, and we showed it to them on tape. You’ve heard me say before that old line, ‘This guy don’t lie,’ kind of thing, so those guys understand the effort and intensity level they’ve got to play at, and they’ve got to keep it up there, and I think that we did for three minutes and 38 seconds at the end of the Kansas State game, but we didn’t have it before then.
“I was really proud of the way they believed what I said in the huddles, and you know, we practice all the time, we’re down 86-80 with three minutes to play, you have to get a great shot and you have to do things defensively. They make a free throw that can take it to five, and then I’m pretty straightforward with the guys, I told Joel Berry, I said ‘You played like crap, so it’s time you made a shot,’ so we called his play to make the shot, and he did, and then we go down and get a stop. Then Justin Jackson makes a tough drive, and then we get another stop, and Kennedy gets a steal and all of a sudden he’s guarding somebody 45 feet from the basket instead of being 45 feet away from them, that kind of thing, but it was a big-time win, 23-8, I think, the last three minutes and 38 seconds, so that gave everybody a good feeling. Then we got home Wednesday morning at about 4:30 or 5 o’clock in the morning, and then we gave them Wednesday and Thursday off, and we met Friday and practiced Friday, Saturday and Sunday.”
Have you been able to get in enough practice time given so many games this early in the season?
“We had six games in 11 days, and as I said, we gave them Wednesday and Thursday off, so we came back and practiced Friday and Saturday. Marcus (Paige) had his first practice on Saturday. We brought them in yesterday and did some tape work, and did some dummy offense, and just did some things we needed to do and didn’t even tape the ankle, so we didn’t go full speed. We had a good practice today, but we’re going need to have good practice, because this is a big-time club we’re getting ready to play tomorrow night.”
Was there any setbacks for Marcus Paige in Monday’s practice?
“None at all. He didn’t make every shot, he didn’t guard everybody like I wanted him to, but again, Saturday was his first full practice back. He’s been doing a lot of shooting, but we hadn’t had him in any full-contact work, any five-on-five until Saturday. He had a good practice Saturday, and yesterday we just did, as I said, the walk-through and the tape session. Today, he got involved a lot more, and unless he wakes up tomorrow morning and something’s wrong, he’ll start tomorrow night.”
When did you make the decision that it was time for him to come back?
“He was X-rayed before we even went to Northern Iowa, and they said he needed a little bit more time. I think I said at the press conference at Northern Iowa game and for sure the Kansas State and Northwestern games that if those had been NCAA Tournament games, we could have let him play. And in fact, I told him that if the doctors had released him before the Northern Iowa game that we weren’t going to play him anyway, because I wanted to give him a little more time, but he feels good, and knock on wood, we hope he’ll play great.”
What are your thoughts on the 9:30 tip against Maryland?
“I think it’s ridiculous, that’s what it is, but TV pays a lot of bills, you’ve got to do what they say. But it’s not what’s good for college basketball.”
What is the best team that you’ve had since you returned to Chapel Hill in 2004?
“It’s so close. There’s no question ’05 and ’09, they won national championships, so they’re in the mix for sure. In 2007, we were really good, also. Really good, and we lost to Georgetown in the Elite Eight. In 2008, I thought, at times, we were the best team in the country, but Kansas kicked us in San Antonio. But 2012 needs to be in that mix too. If Kendall Marshall doesn’t break his wrist, and if John (Henson) doesn’t get hurt in the ACC Tournament, that team had a chance to win a national championship. Kentucky won the national championship, and we lost to them in their building by one. Anthony Davis blocked John’s shot right at the end of the game, but that was a big-time team. I can’t give you one answer, except that 2005 and 2009, the greatest spot to be in as a head coach is when you’re up there on the stage watching ‘One Shining Moment,’ and a lot of the plays are from your team.”
This is a really good Maryland team coming to Chapel Hill. Your thoughts?
“Really good team. Undefeated, played a good schedule, the coach is one of my best friends in the world, like a little brother to me. He was my assistant for four years at Kansas, I love him. He’s one of the top coaches in college basketball, or really any place in basketball. Big-time club. Melo Trimble, their point guard, Mark (Turgeon) has a great deal of confidence in him. Lets him do a lot of things because he trusts him. Robert Carter, the transfer from Georgia Tech, Diamond Stone, the freshman, they’ve got three or four big guys that are quality players. Jake Layman is like Marcus. I feel like he’s been at Maryland forever. They’ve just got a good, good basketball team, and then you add Rasheed Sulaimon to the club. They’ve got all five starters who can get them 20 any night. That’s a difficult team to guard, and they play extremely hard and get after you.”