Despite win, UNC still needs inside game

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Early season blowouts against undermanned teams aren’t always throw-away games in college basketball.

You can actually learn a lot about a team, especially things it doesn’t do so well. It stands to reason that if a club struggles in a certain area against a patsy, it’s an area of concern. If it happens in a few such games, it’s worth discussing.

North Carolina’s 78-55 demolition of East Tennessee State on Saturday night at the Smith Center was at times a thing of beauty for the Tar Heels. They ran the floor well, often finishing with a variety of flushes from guards, wings and their athletic bigs.

The Heels showed once again they aren’t shy attempting shots from the perimeter and are pretty good at making them. They hit only 11 f 31 on the night, but entered the contest converting 46.6 percent on the season. So, 3-point shooting isn’t an issue for this Carolina team like it has been at times in recent seasons.

Neither was ball movement. Carolina has mostly been unselfish thus far, and on Saturday handed out 30 assists on 31 made field goals. Many dishes came in the open court, but quite a few came swinging the ball around the perimeter looking for open threes.

The only field goal not accompanied by an assist was put-back after Leslie McDonald missed an alley-oop dunk. Even still, UNC coach Roy Williams wasn’t entirely pleased.

“It shows that when we move the ball we’re very successful, when we share the ball we’re very successful,” the Hall of Fame coach said. “But most of the time when you have 30 points you’re going to score 110, 120 points. But we didn’t a very good of all those other times.”

Carolina (7-2) held the visitors to 12 first-half points in part because it did defended well, which included a stretch executing its scramble trapping defense. It worked pretty well, as the Tar Heels scored 17 points off of 13 first-half turnovers and finished with 28 points on 22 giveaways.

Other than a couple of periods in the second half, the Tar Heels also played hard. But some of that is human nature and young kids learning how to maintain focus.

But No. 20 UNC’s struggles getting offense in the post in a mismatch game is potentially troubling. ¬East Tennessee (2-5) played zone most of night, which had something to do with it. But this was an opportunity to make going through the post a point of emphasis, even against a zone. If it’s a struggle getting decent looks inside against the Bucs, what will happen in ACC play?

Carolina post players of James Michael McAdoo, who is more comfortable shooting jumpers and floating from the lane, Joel James, a raw freshman, Desmond Hubert and Jackson Simmons combined to score 18 points in 58 minutes. Facing a zone or not, Williams wants more touches, which means more points, from the interior.

“Yes, I think I’ve always talked about balance, we need to get it in side more,” Williams said. “I didn’t like the first part of the game, we were 0-for-4 and all of them outside shots. Just because the other team plays zone does not mean we have to shoot the outside shot.”

Shots at the rim don’t always have to come from traditional entry passes to the blocks or a rolling big man. The Heels can find driving seams for runners, dump-downs and shots right at the rim.

“In the first half and the second half we were settling a little bit with the 3-ball, trying to get outside shots,” junior wing Reggie Bullock said. “I still like we could have run our plays to get the ball inside. I had a turnover when trying to pass it in from the perimeter… I feel like we have to do a better job when playing against a zone of getting the ball inside.”

Nine games into the season, North Carolina knows it will shoot – and probably make – a lot of 3-pointers this season. It is also a united team that has off-court chemistry and a willingness to find it on the floor.

The Tar Heels are athletic enough, long on the perimeter, which is why they should develop into a terrific trapping team, and they are generally going to play hard.

But UNC’s concerns inside are too great to ignore.