New Look Heels

Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE
The fact that last night's 78-point outing against East Tennessee State felt much more satisfying than last week's 102-point effort against UAB (despite significantly less scoring, significantly worse percentages, and significantly fewer trips to the foul line) might be attributable to the Smith Center record 12 points allowed in the first half, the 30 assists on 31 made field goals, or the series of highlight reel dunks by J. P. Tokoto.

But I think it has more to do with the fact that we're seeing a team become more comfortable with who they are going to be this year--an identity that will showcase some stark differences from recent and traditional Tar Heel squads.

Roy probably won't stray too much from his inside-first philosophy, but the strength of this team is undoubtedly on the wing, which is going to result in a more perimeter-oriented style of play. This reality seems to be shaping up in three distinct ways that we can expect to continue throughout the year.

First, this team will shoot a lot of threes, finding great success when they make them and struggling when they don't. It won't necessarily be a Duke-style offense geared to create threes through ball screens and penetration-and-kick, but there will likely be two or three guys on the court at any given time with the green light to fire. Not only is Roy outspoken about his team's ability to shoot, but limited offensive options on the block combined with excellent perimeter rebounding will lower inhibitions beyond the arc.

Second, we'll see a lot more "going small" with four perimeter players in at once. It's what brought us back against Butler, it's what we couldn't do against Indiana with Hairston out, and it's a lineup that will facilitate the shooting mentioned above, the defensive pressure mentioned below, and will allow us to have our most valuable players on the floor for the maximum amount of time.

Third, we'll see a variety of defensive sets. Not only has Roy mentioned turning to zone to protect the smaller lineups, but last night's first half featured the hyper-aggressive trapping defense that was responsible for a 34-4 start and 12 total first-half Buccaneer points. The Louisville-style defense has the added benefit of forcing players to be aggressive defensively, fending off the lapses in intensity that have hurt this greener unit so far. I'd expect to see our man defense interspersed with more pressing and trapping sets. (If we can't figure out how to guard ball screens, we might as well jump them before the screener gets there.)

Another difference the ETSU game showcased, in contrast to last year's injury-shortened roster, was 11 players seeing double-digit minutes. Not only did we see liberal individual substitutions, but wholesale five-for-five line changes as well. The fresh legs will certainly complement the refocused defensive intensity and steady diet of jumpshooters.

For those looking for a break from a 2011-12 team that remained anemic from three, was static defensively, packed it into the post, and played only seven players more than 10 minutes per game from the middle of January, this season should be more refreshing, even if it ends up being less successful.

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