CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The depth of the ACC will be on display this week at the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn, where top-seeded North Carolina will play a likely NCAA Tournament team in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
The Tar Heels, who won the ACC regular season title by two games, will play the winner of Wednesday’s 8-9 matchup between Syracuse and Miami. Regardless of the opponent, Roy Williams’s team will likely encounter a zone defense.
UNC topped Syracuse and Jim Boeheim’s patented matchup zone, 85-68, on Jan. 16. The Tar Heels shot 51.5 percent against the Orange.
“We have not played as well this year against some zones as we have in the past,” Williams said on his radio show on Monday. “Syracuse’s zone is a little unusual, they’re long and they can close on you quicker than anybody else because that’s all they play.”
The Tar Heels had far worse results two weeks later in Coral Gables. UNC lost, 77-62, and shot 35 percent from the field. Miami switched to a zone defense after the Tar Heels jumped out to an 11-2 lead.
“Miami played a zone down there after the first four or five minutes and we really struggled against them,” Williams said.
Regardless of the opponent, UNC knows that in what’s being hailed as the most competitive season in ACC history, there is no easy road to the championship.
What does it mean to win the ACC by two full games?
“It was a big time thing. 15 teams, and 15 really good teams. It’s the deepest league there is and the deepest conference there is in college basketball. I told the guys that I was really, really proud of them… It’s a long season, 18 games is a lot of games.”
What did you think of Isaiah Hicks performance on his senior night?
“If he could have made a dunk he would have had a career high. If you can’t dunk, don’t try. No, but he was really good. In fact, his two easiest shots were the two he missed. 7-9 from the floor, 7-8 from the free throw line… that was good for us.”
Duke made 13 threes in the first game, but only made seven on Saturday night. What did your team do better?
“Well we emphasized it all week. We played on Monday and then didn’t play until Saturday and talked about doing a better job of getting out and guarding the three point line. Duke does a great job of that and I felt we needed to do that as well… The bottom line is the kids did a much better job of it in this game and Duke missed a couple when they were open.”
What does it mean to go 16-0 at home this season? That was the first time since 2011.
“Our crowd was just off the charts and it was fantastic for us and a great help for us. I’d like to play the ACC Tournament here, I’d like to play the NCAA Tournament here, see how many times we can play and see what happens.”
Michael Jordan was in the building on Saturday. It seemed to amp up an already intense environment.
“He’s always been great to me. He and his whole family have been extremely important to me, our family and everything. He was sitting up there in the first half, comes down and talks to the people and then they make the announcement about the football team… then after the game I finished shaking hands with everybody on the bench and he stepped over and hugged me and said ‘I’m getting out of here, but man did you make my day.’ He’s special… Michael has always been very gracious and very personable with Roy Williams.”
What are your thoughts on Justin Jackson winning ACC Player of the Year?
“He’s had a great, great year for us. At times he’s carried our team when we’re struggling and he’d shoot the ball. It’s strange that the ball didn’t go in for him in the last two games but he still made plays. He’s had a great great year and is very deserving. The thing I love is it comes from one thing: sweat. The kid worked his tail off and got more shots up than anybody else. It’s really helped him.”
Also, Joel Berry was named a finalist for the Cousy Award, which is awarded to the nation’s top point guard.
“Joel’s had a great year for us and battled a few injuries here and there, but man wasn’t he something in the first half (against Duke). Oh my goodness. I’d like to bottle that up and have that every game. He’s been exceptional for us all year long and I’m very pleased that he’s being recognized, too.”
Did you think the Grayson Allen "elbow" play was handled correctly?
“The play was handled correctly under the rules that we have. I was really surprised that Brandon (Robinson) was called for a foul, because his face did a lot of damage to the elbow, you know, that kind of thing. The play was administered properly. Just because I don’t agree with it doesn’t mean it’s right or wrong. I didn’t think that Brandon fouled him at all, but there was the collision and the referees made the right decision with that.”
Do you have an update on Kenny Williams?
“Kenny is on crutches, but we think there’s a chance that he could be able to get off crutches by the end of the week. He’s still wearing a brace. Everybody says he’s doing well and he feels like he’s getting better.”