Defending pick and rolls better will be crucial for UNC at Miami

By R.L. Bynum

Watching video of Miami repeatedly scoring on pick and rolls and getting numerous easy baskets on back-door plays in the Hurricanes’ road upset of Duke no doubt got the attention of UNC coach Hubert Davis.

Heading into the Tar Heels’ 7 p.m. Tuesday visit to Coral Gables, Fla., the memory of their well-documented issues dealing with ball screens this season is hard to shake. Davis just hopes that his team’s progress after the nightmare games against Tennessee and Kentucky will be enough to neutralize the Hurricanes.

UNC (12–4, 4–1 ACC) and Miami (13–4, 5–1), along with No. 6 Duke (14–2, 4–1), are the only ACC teams with only one league loss. Carolina has won its last five meetings with the Hurricanes, including the last two at the Watsco Center.

Davis said that he doesn’t think that his team was making tactical mistakes when the ball-screen defense has gone awry this season. As he sees it, it’s all about attitude.

“I just don’t think we had a clear understanding of how important it is for us to be the best defensive team that we can be,” Davis said at Monday’s ACC press availability. “I think sometimes being comfortable and confident in our ability to score is taking us away from what I think is the determining factor of what kind of team we’re going to become, and that’s how good we can become on the defensive end. Since the Michigan game, I think we have a clear understanding. I think it’s getting better every day, of [knowing] how important it is for us to be locked in defensively.”

Five players playing intense defense at all times is what it will take to get stops against the Hurricanes.

“We’ve talked about is how important it is to be able to guard your guy, taking pride in being able to defend your guy without help, but also putting ourselves in positions where we can help to protect the paint,” Davis said.

Guard Kameron McGusty, who played two seasons with Brady Manek at Oklahoma before transferring to Miami, has been unstoppable some nights, averaging 18 points and shooting 36.8% from 3-point range.

“They’ve got some guys that are dynamic and talented enough to be able to create offense anytime that they want to, whether it’s for themselves or for their teammates and just their ability one-on-one off the bounce to attack and get to the basket is really good,” Davis said.

Miami used a balanced attack with its four-guard lineup to win 76–74 at No. 6 Duke on Jan. 8, with point guard Charlie Moore collecting 18 points, two assists and seven steals. Guard Jordan Miller scored 17 points, guard Isaiah Wong 15 and McGusty 14.

Some dynamic guards have been able to pretty much get whatever they wanted offensively against the Tar Heels.

Quick players who have enjoyed layup lines at times have included Purdue’s Jaden Ivey (22 points, six assists); Tennessee’s Santiago Vescovi (17 points) and Kennedy Chandler (14 points, eight assists); Kentucky’s Sahvir Wheeler (26 points, eight assists); and Notre Dame’s Blake Wesley (18 points) and Dane Goodwin (17 points).

Those guards also created plenty of opportunities for big men, the latest when the Irish’s Nate Laszewski scored 20 points.

“That’s something that we’ve talked about,” Davis said. “That’ll be an emphasis against Miami, that we’ve got to do a good job of keeping them away from attacking the basket consistently — whether it’s in transition or the half court — and also keeping them off the free-throw line. From a defensive standpoint, we know what we have to do. We just have to be able to do it against a really good, quality team.”

With the lockdown defense of Leaky Black on Georgia Tech star Michael Devoe in two wins, UNC showed what it can do when it defends with passion. Devoe is averaging 8.5 points a game against the Tar Heels and 20.9 against other teams.

“He does a great job defensively and he did a great job on Michael Devoe both games,” Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner said. “He’s tall, he’s long, he guards and when you have the scoring power that North Carolina has, which is good enough to go to Final Four, and you have that defender, you’re really good.”

The big difference is that Miami has more offensive weapons than the Jackets (7–9, 1–5) and that creates more challenges when screens open up driving and shooting space for players.

Davis hasn’t used zone all season. He said “it might happen,” but added that the Tar Heels intend to change defenses a lot to make it more difficult for the Hurricanes’ offense to be productive.

“You just cannot give them a steady diet throughout the entire game because they get comfortable,” Davis said of the result if UNC sticks with the same defensive strategy. “They understand where the spots are to attack. So, you have to give them different looks throughout the game to be able to even have a chance from a defensive standpoint to be successful. It’s very difficult to defend anybody if you allow them to run their offense like they do in shoot-around. And that’s something that we’re going to try to not let my Miami do.”

Davis’ only explanation Saturday about why Anthony Harris didn’t play in UNC’s 88–65 victory over Georgia Tech was that he was “unavailable.” He didn’t elaborate Monday and said he wasn’t sure what his status would be for the Miami game.

UNC again is unranked in the AP Top 25. The only AP voter who included the Tar Heels on their ballot was ESPN’s Dick Vitale, who voted them No. 24.

UNC-Miami series

No. 4 UNC 16, Sacred Heart 5

DateScore, record/
day, time, TV
(current ranking)
November (4–2)
583–55 exhibition winHomeElizabeth City State
983–67 win, 1–0HomeLoyola Maryland
1294–87 win, 2–0HomeBrown
1694–83 win, 3–0RoadCollege of Charleston
2093–84 loss, 3–1Uncasville, Conn.Y — No. 4 Purdue
2189–72 loss, 3–2Uncasville, Conn.Y — No. 24 Tennessee
2372–53 win, 4–2HomeUNC Asheville
December (5–1, 1-0 ACC)
172–51 win, 5–2HomeX — Michigan
579–62 win, 6–2, 1-0 ACCRoadGeorgia Tech
1180–63 win, 7–2HomeElon
1474–61 win, 8–2HomeFurman
1898–69 loss, 8–3Las VegasZ — No. 12 Kentucky
2170–50 win, 9–3HomeAppalachian State
January (3–1, 3–1 ACC)
291–65 win, 10–3, 2-0 ACCRoadBoston College
578–73 loss, 10–4, 2-1 ACCRoadNotre Dame
874–58 win, 11–4, 3–1 ACCHomeVirginia
1588–65 win, 12–4, 4–1 ACCHomeGeorgia Tech
18Tuesday, 7, ESPNRoadMiami
22Saturday, 8, ACCNRoadWake Forest
24Monday, 8, ACCNHomeVirginia Tech
26Wednesday, 7, RSNHomeBoston College
29Saturday, 2, ACCNHomeN.C. State
1Tuesday, 8, ACC NetworkRoadLouisville
5Saturday, 6, ESPNHomeNo. 6 Duke
8Tuesday, 9, ESPN or ESPN2RoadClemson
12Saturday, 2, ESPN or ESPN2HomeFlorida State
16Wednesday, 8, ACCNHomePittsburgh
19Saturday, 4, ESPN or ESPN2RoadVirginia Tech
21Monday, 7, ESPNHomeLouisville
26Saturday, 2 or 4, ESPN or ESPN2RoadN.C. State
28Monday, 7, ESPNHomeSyracuse
5Saturday, 6, ESPNRoadNo. 6 Duke
ACC TournamentBrooklyn
RSN — regional sports networks; ACCN — ACC Network; X — ACC/Big Ten Challenge;
Y — Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off; Z — CBS Sports Classic

Photo via @UNC_Basketball


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