Run, Baby, Run

SAN ANTONIO – There are plenty of national programs that want to employ an up-tempo transition offense. There are just not many that want to try to run with North Carolina. Nobody does it better, faster or more efficiently than the boys in Carolina blue, and the Tar Heels plan to prove that fact on Saturday.

Kansas runs as well as almost anybody in the country. The Jayhawks hold down the nation's No. 2 spot in's adjusted offensive efficiency rankings (125.4 points per 100 possessions), while also ranking first in scoring margin (plus-19.3), third in field goal percentage (50.7), and 12th in scoring (80.6).

But when Kansas head coach Bill Self has talked about the Tar Heels this week, his concern speaks volumes.

"You have to slow them down, first and foremost," Self said.

Mount St. Mary's and Arkansas both attempted to participate in the Tar Heel track meet during NCAA opening round action in Raleigh, N.C., but ended up spending much of those nights with their hands clinging to the bottom of their shorts. North Carolina rolled into the Sweet Sixteen with a combined 70-point scoring margin.

Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals thought they wanted to match North Carolina's tempo before escaping the first half of Saturday's Elite Eight contest only down 12 points.

Roy Williams' philosophy is rather simple.

"I want to be able to score on people and I want to be able to do it really quickly," the fifth-year UNC head coach said during Friday's NCAA press conference.

The Tar Heels score plenty of points – 89.2 per game, to be exact. But North Carolina also holds the top spot in's adjusted offensive efficiency rankings (127.2 points per 100 possessions), while shooting at a 49.1 percent clip. Seven of the Tar Heels' top-eight scorers shoot better than 47 percent from the floor, with four topping out at 52.3 percent or higher.

"Their philosophy in running is not, ‘We just run,'" Self said. "There's definitely a lot of thought that's gone into it and a method behind the madness. So we have to do a real good job I would say defending the first five to ten seconds of the possession. That may sound very simple, but that's very accurate because they'll get shots up in that time frame."

North Carolina has perfected Dean Smith's secondary break, and the hordes of superior athletes that Williams puts on the floor with near-flawless spacing makes it difficult for other teams to account for the vast array of offensive weapons.

But it's more than that – the Tar Heels refuse to give their opponents a chance to breathe. Connect on an alley-oop or drill a 3-pointer from the corner? Look over to your bench or your girlfriend if you want to, but understand that the breeze you just felt was Ty Lawson going the other way for a lay-up.

"There's no secret – just run as fast as you can and get the ball close to the basket," junior wing Danny Green said. "The closer you get the ball to the basket, the easier it is to score… When we're running and we get layups, it's pretty easy to [shoot] high percentages."

The term "swagger" is tossed around sports columns far too often these days, and this bunch of Tar Heels almost always refrain from any comments that could serve as motivation for their opponents. Almost, that is, except when their break-neck relentless style of play is challenged, and that's when that swagger begins to seep through their words.

"For a team to try to run us, it's good for us," Lawson said when asked about Kansas' high-scoring nature. "That plays into our style of play. No contrasting style. We're looking forward to this game."

He was not alone in that opinion during the various interview sessions at the Alamodome on Friday.

"When teams feel like they can run with us, we feel great about it," sophomore guard Wayne Ellington said. "We feel like we're the best running team in the country. For a team to come out and run with us, somebody's going to give in, and we're pretty sure it's not going to be us."

And while Self admitted to trying to slow down North Carolina's blur of an attack, there was no such thought prevailing from the other locker room.

Junior wing Marcus Ginyard may have summed up the Tar Heels' strategy best when he was asked if North Carolina would try to contain Kansas' pace of play or if they would just kick their tempo into that vertigo-inducing fourth dimension.

"I think we just try to beat them up and down the court," Ginyard said. "There's a lot of schools out there that we've gone up against that said they play that fast-tempo game and that they were going to run with us, and we always just try to put it to the test, to see if they can run with us for 40 minutes."

Nobody's been successful with that approach in a long, long time.

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