CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – No. 9 North Carolina not only leads the nation in rebound margin, but also is on pace to set the single-season school record by more than three boards. Don’t expect glowing praise from Roy Williams on his team’s efforts on the glass quite yet, though.
The Tar Heels are outrebounding their opponents by a differential of 14.2 boards per game, nearly two more than second-place Central Florida (12.3). UNC is rebounding 43 percent of its misses (1st nationally) and 75 percent of its opponents’ misses, both marks topping the Williams era.
Historically, UNC’s rebound margin is currently the highest in school history, surpassing the 2007-08 team’s plus-11.0 margin, and the second-highest in college basketball since 1980, trailing only Michigan State’s plus-15.4 margin in 2001.
Even so, Williams told his radio show listeners on Monday night that his team’s rebounding statistics make him sick. The 14th-year UNC head coach expounded on that belief Wednesday, saying there was a significant gap between where his squad’s rebounding prowess currently stands and where it needs to be.
“You’ve heard me say that a prospect came in one time and he said, ‘I didn’t realize there was an 11th commandment, thou shalt box out,’ but that’s the way I treat the game,” Williams said. “So I think we can get significantly better than we are right now. Hopefully, if we do that, then it might be something I’d really be pleased with.”
Boxing out, as it turns out, is the primary culprit that’s holding UNC back on the glass.
“That we can do better,” senior forward Isaiah Hicks said. “Watching film, there’s a lot of missed box-outs. There’s a lot of stuff that we can do so much better. Coach always wants us to do everything the best we can. He sees all of these mistakes that we have that can easily be fixed just by, of course, a little bit more effort and paying attention to details. Why not just box the man out that’s close to you?”
Hicks is one of five Tar Heels averaging five or more rebounds, which is the most to average that many since the 1956-57 season. The coaching staff consistently tells the Oxford, N.C. native he should be averaging closer to 10 rebounds per game. And while Hicks said he’s rarely dinged for missed box-outs in film review, bad box-out grades are more common.
“You’ve got to go make some contact,” Williams said. “You can’t wave at the guy and put a wrist into him or a little finger into him and think he’s going to stop if he’s a good rebounder.”
Senior forward Kennedy Meeks has served as UNC’s cornerstone on the boards, leading the team with 9.6 rebounds per game and ranking sixth nationally in offensive rebounding percentage (17.0). Williams has pointed out on several occasions, however, that Meeks’s offensive rebounding numbers are inflated due to an abundance of missed layups underneath.
After harping on rebounding during the preseason with Brice Johnson playing in the NBA, UNC’s bigs have largely responded to Williams’s pleads. Freshman forward Tony Bradley is grabbing 22.1 percent of the offensive rebounds when he’s on the court, while sophomore forward Luke Maye pulled down a career-high 15 rebounds in the win over No. 6 Florida State.
Williams has spent the better part of three years asking for more production on the glass from his wings, and that aspect remains a work in progress. When asked how close junior wing Justin Jackson is to being the rebounder he wants him to be, Williams replied, “Depends on what game it is.”
“There will be one game where he has 10 rebounds,” he continued. “That’s good. And what did he have last game? Two. I would sort of like six and six, but I’d really like 10 and 10.”
Jackson is averaging 5.0 rebounds per game, while junior wing Theo Pinson is pulling down 5.6 per game in his five outings since returning from a broken foot. Junior Joel Berry and sophomore Kenny Williams, UNC’s starting backcourt, are each averaging 3.4 rebounds per game.
“Kenny has bought into it more, Justin has bought into it the second-most, and yet Theo had the two biggest offensive rebounds in the game against Boston College,” Williams said. “We can’t expect Isaiah and Kennedy to get every rebound. We have to get some rebounding from the other guys, too.”
Williams did praise his team’s efforts, citing its play on the glass as deciding factors in UNC’s last three wins. The Tar Heels are on the proper trajectory, if nothing else.
“It’s one of the things I’m proud of, but not nearly satisfied,” Williams said.