UNC Basketball

North Carolina Tar Heels' Blueprint to Have a Deep Run in 2014 NCAA Tournament

Doug BrodessCorrespondent IMarch 16, 2014

North Carolina Tar Heels' Blueprint to Have a Deep Run in 2014 NCAA Tournament

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    The North Carolina Tar Heels have been the epitome of a "Jekyl and Hyde" college basketball team this season.

    They have posted plenty of impressive wins (against Louisville, Michigan State, Kentucky and Duke) and confusing losses (Belmont, UAB, Wake Forest and Miami).

    After stringing together 12 straight ACC victories, the Heels have slipped backwards.

    By dropping their last regular-season game to Duke and their first contest in the conference tourney (to Pitt), they need to rediscover their Carolina confidence as they prepare for their 45th NCAA tournament appearance. 

    As a No. 6 seed, the Tar Heels will need to fight from the middle of the East Region.

    If Roy Williams' unpredictable unit can consistently play to their strengths, UNC can cap off a crazy, hit-and-miss season by making a deep run in this year's March Madness and make its way toward the Final Four at Cowboys Stadium.

    Here's how:

     

    Unless otherwise noted all advanced stats via Teamrankings.com

     

Crash the Glass on Both Ends of the Court

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Winning the battle of the boards is always important.

    Limiting your opponents' second chances and creating your own putback opportunities leads to victories. Every possession is important during the "win-or-go-home" contests of March Madness.

    North Carolina is a good rebounding team. The Heels are No. 8 in the nation in total rebounds per game (39.9). They are fierce on the offensive glass, pulling down 12.4 ORPG.

    On the year, UNC was plus-4.6 (close to Florida's 4.8) in rebound margin.

    Going forward in the tournament, Carolina needs to give its full attention to owning the glass on both ends of the court.

    It has the players to be dominant. Now it just needs to get hungry and make rebounding everyone's focus every time down court.

     

Turn Up the Defensive Pressure Inside the Arc

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    Nick Lisi/Associated Press

    With all of the size that North Carolina has on the court, you would think that it would be a brutal defensive team inside the arc.

    Truth be told, the Tar Heels are a slightly above-average team in defending against two-point field-goal attempts.

    On the year, UNC's opponents are shooting 46.2 percent on its two-pointers. To compare, Arizona is allowing its challengers to only connect on 40.5 percent of their twos.

    To improve in this area, Carolina must first limit whoever it is playing from getting out into transition. Forcing its opponents to set up and run their offense is a must.

    In their half-court defense, the Heels need to limit perimeter penetration and not allow offensive rebounding. 

    The best defensive teams take it personally when someone scores in the lane or grabs their own missed shots.

    To be a success during this year's March Madness, the Heels need to bring a "not going to happen in here" mentality about interior defense.

Consistently Work the Ball Inside to McAdoo, Meeks and Johnson

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    North Carolina is a team that does a high majority of their scoring inside the arc.

    Per TeamRankings.com, they are the No. 2 team in the country in two-point rate (79.1 percent) and No. 3 team in points from two-pointers (47.1 PPG) and percentage of points from two-pointers (61.7 percent).

    As a group, the Tar Heels power forwards and centers have only put up 12 shots from beyond the arc, and freshman Isaiah Hicks is the only UNC big man to connect on one.

    In a time when so many teams have loaded up on perimeter players and relied on three-point shooting, this year's Carolina crew is old school. Few teams have as many low-post scorers than the Tar Heels.

    Since they have so many frontcourt scorers, Roy Williams should leverage this during his team's upcoming tournament games.

    Dump it down to James Michael McAdoo. Post up Kennedy Meeks until they stop him. Let Brice Johnson do his thing at the rim.

    Very few teams have the interior manpower to keep track of all of North Carolina's big men. Why not be relentless in going inside and getting points in the paint.

Enable Paige as a Scorer First

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    As a freshman, Marcus Paige functioned as a conventional point guard, focusing first on setting up his teammates to score.

    This season, the 6'1" Marion, Iowa native is the Tar Heels' most potent and reliable scorer.

    Paige has tallied double figures in 27 of UNC's 32 games, compared to 11 out of 36 games in 2012-13. He is averaging 17.4 points per game, more than twice what he averaged (8.2 PPG) a year ago.

    The ACC's 2014 Most Improved Player's increased point production has not come at the expense of his playmaking contribution. He is virtually handing out the same number of assists per game (4.3) while improving his assist-to-turnover ratio (from 1.84 to 2.0).

    Good things happen when Paige gets rolling. In the 11 games that he has scored at least 20 points, the Tar Heels went 8-3.

    In the upcoming NCAA tournament games, Paige will face a number of defensive strategies to shut him down. Opposing coaches will attempt to force other Tar Heels to beat them. They will employ a variety of zones, double-teams and custom defenses (box-and-one's).

    To free up Paige and spark the Heels attack, UNC needs to keep setting ball-screens and staggers as they have through most of the season. By doing so, he can pull up, drive to the basket or distribute.

    If Carolina is successful at supporting Paige's offensive effectiveness, he will put up big scoring and playmaking numbers during March Madness.

Looking Ahead

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    TED RICHARDSON/Associated Press

    The Selection Committee did not do North Carolina any favors by putting them into the bottom half of the bracket of the East Region.

    To start their deep run, the Tar Heels must face Providence, who just pulled off an upset in beating Creighton on its way at Madison Square Garden to win the Big East tournament.

    The Friars are big and talented, and they will not back down when they face the Tar Heels. Carolina should be able to take care of Providence in a close, physical battle.

    In the round of 32, the it will go up against a gritty Iowa State team that knocked off Kansas and then Baylor on its way to winning the Big 12 tournament.

    If Roy Williams' squad gets to the Sweet 16, it will be go against No. 2 seed Villanova, the Big East regular-season champs. 'Nova is a talented group that plays disciplined ball at both ends of the court.

    Even though the Wildcats are a team that could have been a No. 1 seed if they had won the Big East tournament, the Tar Heels can win this game and get to the Elite Eight.

    But if they get that far, UNC will most likely face Virginia or Michigan State.

     

    All advanced stats courtesy of TeamRankings.com unless otherwise noted. 

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