The North Carolina Tar Heels have dominated the transition game, dating back to legendary Hall of Famer Dean Smith. But UNC's latest Hall of Fame coach, Roy Williams, has taken the fast break to a whole new level at Chapel Hill.
In the words of Coach Williams during ESPNU's ACC Media Day Special, "They've never run as fast as I've wanted them to go."
They certainly didn't last season. The Tar Heels were mere mortals in the transition game, and never really blew the roof off the Dean Dome the way they have in the past.
The speed. The intensity. It just wasn't there.
They will be much better in 2013-14.
It all starts with the front man, Marcus Paige. He was a little slow getting the ball to his outlet early on during his freshman season. It seemed as though he was scared to push it. As the season progressed, you could see the young point guard becoming more comfortable in the system and more willing to thread the needle on the break.
The experience he gained starting all but one game should pay off tremendously in Year Two. He'll have a better idea of when to push it, when to pull it back and where his teammates will be at all times.
And when he has his new partner Nate Britt on the floor, the transition game could easily go into "blow the roof off" mode. The freshman point guard is blazing fast and can run by the transition defense like former Tar Heel speedster Ty Lawson.
Roy Williams has used dual point guards in the past, so don't be surprised when he slides Paige to the 2 to make room for Britt. There will be size mismatches on the defensive end, but both points get after the ball with quick, sneaky hands.
Size doesn't matter when you're picking pockets.
Speaking of picking pockets, the Tar Heels also return superstars James Michael McAdoo and P.J. Hairston to provide more fast-break opportunities. Paige, McAdoo and Hairston combined for 145 of the team's 303 steals last year.
The scariest part is that all three of them should put up even better numbers this season. McAdoo wasn't jumping the lane as much without a quality center to back him up, Paige didn't really come on until the end of the season and Hairston only averaged 23.6 minutes.
Someone else that is likely to join this group of thieves is sophomore J.P. Tokoto, who should get some serious playing time during P.J. Hairston's suspension. He proved to be one of the better on-ball defenders with his long arms and lateral quickness.
Tokoto struggled at times with his team defense, but a better understanding of the hedge-and-recover scheme should open up some steal-and-slam opportunities a la James Michael McAdoo. He still averaged one steal per 17.76 minutes of action as a freshman, which was the highest rate on the team.
McAdoo, Hairston and Tokoto will be constant coast-to-coast threats, and open-court jams from those three will really bring down the house. Coming off the bench, Brice Johnson and newcomer Isaiah Hicks know how to throw it down with flair, too.
Those are some seriously lethal weapons at Paige and Britt's disposal.
Even freshman big man Kennedy Meeks could provide a spark for the Tar Heels in the transition game. He may still need some work on his speed, stamina and explosiveness, but that won't stop him from chucking a wicked outlet pass down the court.
Meeks was heralded during his prep days for his rare ability to dish the rock. Now his new teammates are seeing just how good he really is.
“Sometimes with our fast break, [Meeks will] just take it out and baseball pass it 75 feet down the court on the money," Paige told Inside Carolina. "You’ll probably see a couple of those this year.”
Meeks has impressed everyone with the way he has played in practice thus far. Even if he can't steal the starting spot from sophomore Joel James, he may be earning a good chunk of playing time with his rebounding and passing.
No matter how it pans out at center, the Tar Heels will be much more effective on the block this season. That means they should be back to Coach Williams' standard of 40-plus boards a game. And when it comes to North Carolina, boards can be just as deadly as steals.
Especially when you have a center that can wing it like Meeks.
You would think losing defensive gurus like Reggie Bullock and Dexter Strickland would only hurt the Tar Heels, but I just don't see that being the case. The 2013-14 team will be more experienced, more athletic and more complete than the previous squad.
Roy Williams recruits players that can get out in transition and step on the throats of the opposition. The 2013 class is no exception—right down to the big man. Match those guys up with the proven talent in Chapel Hill and we have something special brewing.
Don't sleep on these Tar Heels.
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