UNC Basketball: 5 Things on Tar Heels' Offseason To-Do List
Following a 25-11 season, there is plenty for Roy Williams and the North Carolina Tar Heels to build on for 2013-14. This year, the Hall of Famer is getting a couple extra weeks of practice to do just that.
Twenty-five wins may make a lot of coaches around the country happy, but not this guy. He's used to winning 30-plus, and this team has the potential to do just that.
In order to get there, he'll have to check off at least five things on UNC's offseason to-do list.
Develop the Freshmen
Newcomers Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Nate Britt have been on campus for some time now and have been participating in pick-up games with the rest of the squad. The returning Tar Heels have raved over the freshmen during summer interviews and at media day.
That should be expected. This is a smart, talented trio Coach Williams lured to Chapel Hill. They have great character, too, and there is no doubt they've been listening to the Tar Heels that have "been there, done that."
Now, with the extended practice schedule, the Carolina coaches will have more time to develop these future studs before the season begins. Pick-up games help, but freshmen can always use extra time to be coached up.
Nothing can truly prepare these kids for the bright lights and raucous crowds they will be tormented by at places like Michigan State, Syracuse, NC State and Duke. I'm sure the 2012 class at least had an Indiana story to share.
But the extra two weeks will help the freshmen get acclimated to Coach Williams' system on both sides of the floor. Going from zone defense in high school to his hedge-and-recover scheme tends to be a tough transition for the newbies. Hopefully, we'll see fewer miscues at the start of the season.
Build Team Chemistry
Team chemistry is a huge part of a team's success. That was something that was missing with the 2012-13 squad for a large portion of the season.
That is to be expected, considering the turnover. The Tar Heels lost four premier starters to the NBA, had two guys returning from ACL tears and four freshmen—one of whom was forced to be the starting point guard.
Chemistry is critical when it comes to point guard play. Miscommunications lead to poorly executed half-court offense and, usually, turnovers. The more players are on the court together, the more chemistry continues to build.
You could see that in their play down the stretch last season, especially in the ACC tournament. Paige had a better grip on the offense and a better understanding of what the players around him were doing.
It isn't just the point guard that needs a "feel" for the guys around him. Looking back to last season, there were many instances when J.P. Tokoto was trying to hit someone with a slick pass, but they weren't ready for it as it went sailing by.
There was some genius in what he was trying to do at times, but his teammates just weren't expecting it. Having played a full season together, pick-up over the summer and extra practices before this season, those plays should go for points instead of turnovers.
Decide on a Starting Center
We have covered this topic numerous times throughout the summer, and it will continue to be revisited until one of six candidates locks down the starting job at center. Joel James, Desmond Hubert, Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson, Isaiah Hicks and Jackson Simmons have all found their names in the pot this offseason.
Though the list is long, James seems to have separated himself from the crowd if there is any value to Paige's opinion. “I think we want it to be Joel,” Paige told ESPN (subscription required). “Physically, he’s a monster—a beast. His potential is through the roof. He’s starting to get the mental aspect."
If he is getting the mental aspect, as Paige says, the competition is over. That's the only thing that really held James back last season as a freshman. The stage was simply too big for a guy that started playing organized basketball in 10th grade.
Also on his side is the fact that he obviously found a special place in Coach Williams' heart. "He's a joy," Williams said on media day, courtesy of Tar Heel Times. "Oh my gosh. You can't be any nicer and want someone to do any better more so than Joel."
The odds are definitely in the 6'10", 280-pounder's favor.
Fill Holes on Defense
Most of the pub last season went to Carolina's unusually shaky offense. But I would argue the defense was just as big a problem for the 2012-13 squad.
There was little resistance in the interior without a true center guarding the paint. To make matters worse, James Michael McAdoo rarely challenged shooters. Instead, he was perpetually trying to draw charges.
The result was an average of 3.3 blocks per game for the team—the Tar Heels' lowest mark under Roy Williams. The lack of interior presence also dropped their rebounding average below 40 (39.2) for the first time under the Hall of Famer's tutelage.
But that wasn't the defense's biggest hole. That ugly cavity resided beyond the arc.
According to teamrankings.com, the Tar Heels allowed their opponents to jack up 19.5 threes per game. They also buried 34.4 percent of those attempts.
As previously stated, the hedge-and-recover scheme is very difficult to get a grip on. Recover too late, and someone is making it rain from downtown.
Instincts, communication and chemistry are keys to making this defensive strategy work. That all comes with time, repetition and familiarity with teammates. With all the game experience from last season and a large group of returners, the Tar Heels should be able to fill those holes in 2013-14.
Figure out Roles for Brice Johnson and J.P. Tokoto
When looking at the roster, two players in particular stand out with undefined roles: Brice Johnson and J.P. Tokoto. That's something that will have to be figured out over the next month or so.
Brice Johnson offered a huge pop offensively when he came into the game last season. Only P.J. Hairston put up more points per minute than the lanky freshman. His turnaround jumper seemed to drop with the efficiency of a Tyler Zeller hook.
It was borderline ridiculous.
After putting on 20 pounds in the offseason, Johnson should be more prepared to bang with the big boys. He has also put focus on his defensive efforts, telling Inside Carolina at media day that he didn't do as much as he could have last year.
If he improves on both ends of the court, this should be a great season for Easy B. And Roy Williams will have to find a way to get him in the game regularly. Look for him to earn the sixth-man status.
If Johnson is the sixth man, you have to figure Tokoto as the prime candidate for the seventh spot—which is nothing to be ashamed of on this squad, for sure.
Tokoto showed potential to be a defensive juggernaut at this level as a freshman, which is truly rare to see. His length, hops, lateral quickness and dedication to the defensive end is what makes him special.
Tokoto was an excellent on-ball defender because of that. The only area in which he seemed to fall short was team defense, which just goes back to the lack of familiarity with his teammates and the scheme. He should be much better as a sophomore.
He's also a big-time activity guy, constantly making hustle plays and flying in from out of nowhere for rebounds and put-back jams. Even if his offensive game still isn't up to par, Tokoto will be a very valuable player to have on the floor.
But he has been working with Hubert Davis this summer, attempting to refine his jumper and become more of an offensive weapon for the Tar Heels. He could be a scary kind of good if he ever becomes a shooter.
Johnson and Tokoto are two guys Roy Williams can't just wing it with. He needs to find a way to get these future studs in the game as much as possible.