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Talking UNC With Tar Heel Blog

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Did you hear there is a big game happening tomorrow?

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Championship Game-Gonzaga vs North Carolina Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

So, the Gonzaga Bulldogs and the North Carolina Tar Heels are getting back into it tomorrow afternoon/evening. For North Carolina, it is the opportunity for a statement game on the season prior to heading into conference play. For the Zags, it represents a chance at payback for the 2017 championship game.

Two big teams, one big game. College basketball is the best and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. In preparation for the game, we spoke with Jake Lawrence over on Tar Heel Blog for some more insight on UNC.

TSSF: The Zags don’t have the defense of either Texas or Michigan. What does Gonzaga need to accomplish defensively to pull off the win?

JL: There is no secret recipe or special stat. North Carolina can be punked. In their two losses, they were straight up manhandled. Physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It was maddening to watch, and mystifying considering they start 3 seniors in Luke Maye, Cam Johnson, and Kenny Williams.

Texas and Michigan were like the bully that walks up to your girl at the school dance, and says “Yo. I’m dancing with your girl. Do something about it.”

North Carolina was the awkward teenager that sees a girl, says “You’re really pretty”, and then just giggles and stares awkwardly at their shoes, hoping the girl will respond.

If Gonzaga steals their girl, UNC hasn’t shown any reason to think they will fight for her. Sometimes the game is that simple.

TSSF: Which Tar Heel do you think presents the biggest matchup issue for Gonzaga?

JL: You can argue two people.

Cam Johnson, if he is hitting from deep. He’s played both the “3” and “4” this season, and after hip surgery in the offseason is more healthy than he’s ever been. That’s led to more aggression on offense, better movement on defense, and is the third leading rebounder on the team. He’s shooting 44% from three, is third in rebounding, and leads the team in scoring and steals. I’m really curious if he and Hachimura see time matched up against each other.

The other one SHOULD be Nassir Little. Everything about his usage rates, percentages, per 40, and every other advanced metric have shown him to be borderline dominating when on the court. Averaging 12 and 5 in just under 20 minutes is no small feat. He has the ability to be a great-to-dominant college “4”, but at 6’6” projects more to the wing in the NBA.

Thus, in UNC’s system, he hasn’t been cut loose . I’m think you guys see it at Gonzaga, but Roy is taking a “teaching him the game” approach, opposed to “go out there and do whatever you want to do because you’re so athletically gifted LOL thanks for stopping in for a year”. If he gets the green light at the power forward spot, though, it could be entertaining.

TSSF: North Carolina enjoys pushing the pace, is there any way the Zags can slow it down?

JL: The obvious answer is hit the offensive glass, and deny UNC the chance to get out in transition off of missed shots. That’s been true since the game was invented. Nothing surprising. Gonzaga’s currently grabs 34.4% of offensive rebound opportunities, good for 46th in the country. Not bad. Not great. More importantly, the lack of depth thanks to injuries, will be difficult to keep fresh bodies on the floor.

The sexier answer is get Coby White in foul trouble. UNC has two PGs in White and Seventh Woods. Both play at very different speeds.

White, a freshman, has a 27.2 USG%. He pushes hard, fast, and often. That leads to plenty of mistakes, but they are usually the kinds of mistakes a coach can live with. The team is unquestionably faster, and more productive on offense, with him in the game.

The offense, arguably, runs more smoothly with Woods at the point, but it’s a little slower and more methodical. Woods runs the offense, pitches the ball ahead, and gets his teammates more involved – especially the post players. If that’s what Gonzaga wants, then you need to attack Coby on defense, and try to get him in early foul trouble.

TSSF: These two teams are very evenly matched. What are some aspects of Gonzaga’s squad that bring worry as a North Carolina fan?

JL: Ball screen defense for UNC. It’s atrocious. Gonzaga likes to use those, as well as scissor action, off-the-ball screens, slips, fades, *insert any buzzword you want* . That spells trouble for UNC, who has really struggled with communication, rotating, tagging, *insert any buzzword you want*. But I digress.

UNC, for the most part, has not been aggressive at the point of attack on ball screens. Coby White is your typical freshman on defense in that he doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s been inconsistent and struggles to get over the top of the screener. That’s left UNC’s big men exposed for longer periods of time in ball screen situations. The Heels have regularly been beaten on pick-n-rolls, drives to the basket, and kick outs after overhelping.

Without a true rim protector, opposing guards can get into the lane if UNC’s big men flatten out or sag on ball screens. That’s what happened against Michigan. But, if UNC aggressively hedges, the screener will have a free path to the basket on the roll. If another perimeter player overhelps on the roller, Gonzaga will have a sniper wide open on the wing. You folks have four guys shooting over 35% from 3.

It all comes back to aggression for UNC. Check out this breakdown I did after the Michigan game, to see what UNC did so poorly.

TSSF: Final score prediction. I’m going 140-138, no defense at all.

JL: I won’t go that high, but I think 99-94 is in the ballpark.