Davis’ nimble coaching, making changes on fly, comes from his approach as player

By R.L. Bynum

Hubert Davis has never hesitated to make changes on the fly when his initial game plan hasn’t worked or he has a gut feeling that a change would work better, and that’s made a difference during No. 25 North Carolina’s four-game win streak.

That philosophy started when he was a player trying to figure out how to be successful on the floor, and that’s carried over since he became head coach and began making decisions instead of suggestions.

As a player, he changed his approach depending on who was guarding him, who he was guarding, their tendencies, and their approach. Had they been hot shooting in the last couple of games?

“I do the same thing as a coach,” said Davis, whose Tar Heels (9–4, 1–1 ACC) resume ACC play at noon Friday (ACC Network) at Pittsburgh (9–4, 2–0). “Going into any game, I’ve got different looks on both ends of the floor of things that we can do. I just like being prepared. If we feel like that we need to make a tweak or pivot or change. I like to feel prepared that we can make it during the games.”

Davis’ ability to adjust to the opponent’s approach was never more apparent than in Carolina’s big 89–84 overtime victory over Ohio State in New York.

His team hadn’t practiced the press before he decided to apply it in a move that ignited a comeback at Virginia Tech. The comeback fell short, but seeing it work so well has changed Davis’ overall approach since then.

“It ended up really working out for us, and it’s something that has helped us throughout the remainder of the season,” Davis said. “Sometimes, those are things that we have practiced. Sometimes, there are things that have been prepared for. Some of those are things that I’ve already thought about, and some of those things are just on the fly, and sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t work.”

Davis has a lot more levers to push and decisions to make now as head coach than when he was playing. Some coaches, particularly early in their head-coaching tenures, might hesitate to divert from a game plan the players have prepared for, but that’s not the way Davis sees it.

He would be fearful if he didn’t try another approach.

“I don’t see any fear in trying something. I think success lies in your ability to try,” Davis said. “I just always felt that way.”

Davis said that he always wants to check boxes: preparation, hard work and then tweaking, pivoting or altering his approach. That was his mindset as a player, and it’s his mindset as a coach.

“I don’t think it’s scary to try,” he said. “If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, but at least I can check the box and say I tried.”

During UNC’s four-game win streak, Davis likes how his team has pushed the ball in transition and shared the ball offensively. He’s happy that the players have embraced the philosophy of going from a good to a great shot.

“They’re having fun doing it, too,” Davis said, remembering when Michigan fouled Caleb Love as he was shooting a 3-pointer. “Everybody ran over to him to pick them up.”

He saw the same dynamic when good passes led to easy buckets for Pete Nance and Armando Bacot.

“What I’m seeing is celebrations for the pass more so or, at worst, equal to the celebration of the shot,” Davis said. “It’s growing, it’s getting better and it’s fun to watch. I love it, and I really do.”

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He’s been happy with his team’s play defensively but is far from satisfied.

“We’ve got to get better defensively. We just do,” Davis said. “I think we’ve done a better job in spurts and getting stops when we need to the last four games, but in terms of overall defense, we’ve just got to do a better job of protecting the paint.”

A significant deficiency so far this season, Davis said, is defensive rebounding and defense around the basket. UNC has recently been No. 1 in the nation on defensive rebounding percentage, but Davis says the Tar Heels are around 100th in the country now.

“That’s an area that just has to improve — our overall defense and our rebounding,” Davis said.

There was good news for D’Marco Dunn, who broke a bone in his left hand in practice on Dec. 3. A key player off the bench before the injury, he’s practiced the last two days. Even though he hasn’t gone through the full practices, Davis said he’s getting more reps and could play Friday against Pittsburgh.

NOTES — UNC has one common opponent with Pittsburgh, which has road ACC wins over N.C. State and Syracuse, in Michigan. Carolina beat the Wolverines 80–76 last week and the Panthers lost to Michigan 91–60 on Nov. 16 in Brooklyn. … UNC is 15–6 against Pittsburgh, but the Panthers have won three of the last four meetings, including a 76–67 Panthers victory in Chapel Hill last season on Feb. 16. … Only two players on that Pittsburgh roster are on this season’s team (John Hugley, who scored 18 points, and Jamarius Burton, who had 14 points and seven rebounds). … The Tar Heels are 6–2 at Pittsburgh and 3–2 at the Peterson Center.

UNC statistics


DateMonth/dayTime/scoreOpponent/event
(current ranking)
LocationTV/record
October
28FridayW, 101–40Johnson C. Smith HomeExhibition
November
7MondayW, 69–56UNCWHome1–0
11FridayW, 102–86College of CharlestonHome2–0
15TuesdayW, 72–66Gardner-WebbHome3–0
20SundayW, 80–64James MadisonHome4–0
Phil Knight Invitational
24ThursdayW, 89–81First round: PortlandPortland5–0
25FridayL, 70–65Semifinals:
No. 11
Iowa State
Portland5–1
27SundayL, 103–101,
4 OTs
Consolation:
No. 3 Alabama
Portland5–2
ACC/Big Ten Challenge
30WednesdayL, 77–65 No. 18 IndianaBloomington, Ind.5–3
December
4SundayL, 80–72 Virginia TechBlacksburg, Va.5–4,
0–1 ACC
10SaturdayW, 75–59Georgia TechHome6–4,
1–1 ACC
13TuesdayW, 100–67The CitadelHome7–4
CBS Sports Classic
17SaturdayW, 89–84, OTOhio StateNew York8–4
Jumpman Invitational
21WednesdayW, 80–76MichiganCharlotte9–4
30 Friday L, 76–74PittsburghPittsburgh9–5,
1–2 ACC
January
4WednesdayW, 88–79Wake ForestHome10–5,
2–2 ACC
7SaturdayW, 81–64Notre DameHome11–5,
3–2 ACC
10TuesdayL, 65–58No. 8 VirginiaCharlottesville11–6,
3–3 ACC
14SaturdayW, 80–59LouisvilleLouisville, Ky.12–6,
4–3 ACC
17TuesdayW, 72–64Boston CollegeHome13–6,
5–3 ACC
21SaturdayW, 80–69No. 22 N.C. StateHome14–6,
6–3 ACC
24TuesdayW, 72–68SyracuseSyracuse, N.Y.15–6,
7–3 ACC
February
1WednesdayL, 65–64PittsburghHome15–7,
7–4 ACC
4SaturdayL, 63–57 DukeDurham15–8,
7–5 ACC
7Tuesday7 p.m.Wake ForestWinston-SalemESPN
11Saturday2 p.m.ClemsonHome ESPN2
13Monday7 p.m.No. 19 MiamiHomeESPN
19Sunday1 p.m.No. 22 N.C. StateRaleighESPN
22Wednesday9 p.m.Notre DameSouth Bend, Ind.ESPN or ESPN2
25Saturday6 or 8No. 8 VirginiaHomeESPN
27Monday7 p.m.Florida StateTallahassee, Fla.ESPN
March
4Saturday6:30DukeHomeESPN
ACC Tournament
7–11Tuesday-SaturdayTBATBAGreensboroTBA
If tickets for home games are available, you can purchase them here.
ACCN means the game airs on ACC Network.

Photo courtesy of the ACC

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