KAANAPALI, Hawaii – No. 5 North Carolina begins play in the 2016 Maui Invitational with its focus not on the loaded field, but rather on elevating its inconsistent play through the first 10 days of the season.
“We’ve started off 4-0 and we haven’t played that well except for a couple of moments in certain games,” Roy Williams said during the event’s opening press conference at the Sheraton Maui Resort on Sunday.
The Tar Heels are winning by an average margin of 25.2 points per game, while shooting 49.6 percent to their opponents’ 37.2. Those stats are a bit deceiving given the level of competition and the fact that UNC has allowed too many offensive rebounds (51), struggled with spacing on offense and given up too many open looks on defense.
While Williams has harped on effort, or lack thereof, in recent years, that’s not been the issue thus far.
“I don’t think it’s effort,” the 14th-year UNC head coach said. “I want them to play harder, every coach always wants that, but we didn’t execute very well.”
When the Tar Heels are rolling, they look like a Final Four contender. Chattanooga had a 26-23 lead midway through the first half a week ago before UNC locked in, and then the Mocs had no answer. The Tar Heels needed less than 10 minutes to turn their deficit into a 20-point lead.
On Friday in Honolulu, however, UNC was unable to put away Hawaii’s rebuilt roster until late, prompting Williams to tell reporters afterwards it was one of the ugliest games he had ever coached.
“I was so discouraged after Friday night’s game because there’s not a lot of things that we did well, except we were more gifted,” Williams said on Sunday. “The Chattanooga game, for about the last eight minutes of the first half and the first 10 minutes of the second half, we were really good. But other than that, we’ve just played in spurts.”
Following what Williams described as a “very bad” defensive outing at Hawaii, UNC returned to the fundamentals during Saturday’s practice with a bevy of basic defensive drills. He dismissed jet lag as a reason for his team’s play postgame on Friday, although he softened that stance in Maui.
“That was a hard trip,” Williams said. “I’ve never coached a team that did it like that. I mean, thirteen-and-a-half hours and less than 48 hours later we’re playing. That’s an excuse, but our practice was terrible on Thursday. There just wasn’t anything good about the first part of the trip. Hopefully we’ll turn it around and play better here.”
The primary benefit of a week-long road trip is the team bonding opportunity, as well as watching the players react to the adversity that comes along with three games in three days. Williams has not only learned a lot about his players during his five previous trips to the Maui Invitational, but the tournament has also served to provide a realistic view of his team’s potential.