Tar Heels eye return to classic '80s

North Carolina averaged just 76.7 points per game last season, which marked the second lowest scoring output during coach Roy Williams’ tenure. The lowest average ppg season came in the 2009-10 campaign that ended in the NIT. The Tar Heels averaged just 74.5 points per game that season.

Needless to say, the emphasis is on increasing the pace and scoring more points in 2013-14.

“That’s what we’re trying to do,” Williams said. “If you’d ask all 16 guys on the team the No. 1 emphasis is pace. We want to go fast, we want to go fast, we want to go fast.”

Williams didn’t mention a scoring goal, but the Heels’ magic number appears to be 80. In five of the six seasons his teams have averaged 80 or more points per game, they’ve reached at least the NCAA tournament's Elite Eight. The only exception came in Williams’ first season back at UNC when they averaged 82.1 but were eliminated in the second round.

If there's a number that indicates whether or not the Heels have Final Four potential it could be 88. In Williams’ three Final Four appearances with Carolina, each of his teams averaged at least 88 points per game, and the 2009 national champions hit a high of 89.6 ppg.

(That also means the 2012 team that lost Kendall Marshall to injury before losing to Kansas in the Elite Eight would have had to be an exception to break that rule. That team averaged just 81.3 points.)

Sophomore point guard Marcus Paige is looking forward to increasing the tempo and scoring. He accepts some of the blame too, for not pushing the pace more last season.

As sophomore forward Brice Johnson put it, Paige was tentative due to his inexperience at the position.

“In the beginning he was like, ‘I don’t know if I can pass it, he might turn it over’ or ‘I might turn it over,’” Johnson said. “At the end of the year you could tell he was more comfortable.”

Paige said he’s no longer playing “robotic” at the point and is more instinctive now. Freshman point guard Nate Britt could add to Paige’s comfort level when the two are in the game at the same time. Britt can operate just as fast so all the responsibility wouldn’t fall on Paige to advance the ball. That lineup will easily allow Carolina get back to the tempo Williams wants.

“Overall you’ll see a team that’s back to playing fast,” Paige said. “Last year, we had stretches when we weren’t playing fast at all. We had stretches when we went to the big lineups, we didn’t really get out and run like we want to. This year will be a different story.”

Williams said he’s trying to get everyone used to playing fast, especially centers Joel James and Kennedy Meeks, who were both question marks due to their conditioning.

“They don’t have to outrun the other team’s point guard,” Williams said. “But they have to outrun the other team’s big guys. That’s something they’re understanding better.”

Meeks, who has dropped nearly 40 pounds since arriving on campus, does have an added weapon that Williams has raved about all preseason. His ability to accurately make long-range outlet passes can lead to easy baskets. In that case, Williams said he’s trying to get the rest of the players to catch up to Meeks.

“Kennedy can rebound it and outlet pass it to the top of the key or the foul line on the other end,” Williams said. “But it doesn’t do him any good to be able to do that if guys don’t run with him. So it’s been a challenge to get everybody else to understand that as well.”