CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – No. 3 North Carolina will likely encounter an elementary version of Shaka Smart’s pressure defense in Saturday’s road matchup with Texas.
Smart’s pressure defense – known as “Havoc” during his days at VCU - is intent on creating chaos for opposing offenses, thereby forcing turnovers and poor shot selection. Smart wants to make opposing players uncomfortable on the court by disrupting rhythm, pressuring the ball and driving fatigue.
Smart utilizes a variety of defensive looks, ranging from a 2-2-1 to a 1-2-2 to a 1-2-1-1 in fullcourt, ¾ court and halfcourt presses.
In order to achieve that level of defensive disorder, Smart needs a roster thoroughly educated in his system, which is a lengthy process that takes more time than Texas has had available since the start of preseason practice.
“We are so far away from where we want to be with that,” Smart told reporters following his team’s win over Samford last week. “We are trying to get these guys an understanding of the way we want to do things. When we do decide to press, we aren't going to press for the whole game, but we use the press to extend the floor and want to get something out of it…
“You wish you could go out two hours a day and work on the press.”
Even so, Smart has the Longhorns on their way to a full conversion to his man-to-man full court trapping press. Texas ranks 34th in defensive turnover percentage (22.5), a stat in which VCU ranked No. 1 nationally from 2012-2014, according to kenpom.com.
The potency of the press was on display in the Longhorn’s loss to Michigan in the Bahamas two weeks ago. Texas cut a double-digit deficit to one in the final minutes by frustrating the Wolverines into five late turnovers, courtesy of its fullcourt defense.
Roy Williams acknowledge on Friday that while Smart’s system may be in its infancy at Texas, it’s still effective and demands preparation.
“I would think it’s a change in what they’ve been doing, and it’s hard to get them to where Shaka wants them to be, I’m sure,” Williams said. “But I still think it’s good enough to where we worked the press offense yesterday, and we’ll work press offense again today.”
That emphasis highlights the difficulty involved with the confusion that Smart’s multiple looks create.
“I know that they’re going to be intense and they’re going to have a lot of pressure,” junior center Kennedy Meeks said. “The blue squad tried to execute that as best as they could (on Thursday). We know they can’t resemble Texas, but tried to get as close as they can to it. Today that will be one of the things we work on the most, because we know it’s coming our way.”
Benefitting the Tar Heels is a rotation that includes three point guards in Marcus Paige, Joel Berry and Nate Britt, two of which, if not all three, will be in the lineup at the same time.
The other aspect, of course, is that Williams invites chaos and confusion in a hectic style of play. UNC ranks ninth in average possession length (14.3) and 34th in adjusted tempo (74.0), according to kenpom.com, highlighting a pace far superior to what Texas is currently forcing (263rd in adjusted tempo).