Watching clips of Pittsburgh’s Talib Zanna grabbing 21 rebounds against the Tar Heels – a week after the Tar Heels collected just 20 total rebounds against Duke – has North Carolina coach Roy Williams emphasizing the boards in the lead-up to Friday’s NCAA tournament second-round game against Providence.
Williams said he was sending that message before Sunday’s selection show revealed the Friars as an opponent.
“I told our guys we had not done a very good job of rebounding down the stretch -- 41 points off offensive rebounds against us the last two games,” Williams said. “We can’t do that again, so even if we were playing Providence or someone else, it would be probably the No. 1 thing we’ve got to work on.”
Carolina is close to having the second-worst rebounding average of Williams’ 11-year tenure in Chapel Hill. (His first season in 2003-04, the Heels averaged 39.7 boards.) This year's Tar Heels average 39.8 rebounds per game, which is an improvement after last season’s 38.5 average ranked last in the Williams era.
James Michael McAdoo, who leads the team with 6.7 rebounds per game, has totaled just 26 rebounds in the last five games. That included his foul-plagued game against Duke, when he failed to get one rebound before fouling out. Brice Johnson, second on the team at 6.2 rebounds, has grabbed 27 boards in the last five games. After Kennedy Meeks grabbed 10 boards against NC State on Feb. 26, he’s only had four total the past two games.
It’s not just the post players that have to improve. Williams wants his guards rebounding, too.
“Big guys have a better opportunity to box somebody out because usually their guy is going to the offensive board themselves,” Williams said. “So little guys should get back inside and try to help box out a big guy because their guy is usually going back for defensive balance. But it’s the whole team.”
Williams said the Heels have had all kinds of breakdowns from simply not boxing out to giving up inside position to simply not matching their opponents’ desire. And that’s unacceptable.
“Basically it’s what we consider the foundation of our whole program,” Williams said. “I’ve talked about that as being the most important thing there is in basketball.
Fortunately for the Heels, the Friars are not an especially great rebounding team. LaDontae Henton (7.8) and Kadeem Batts (7.6) lead the team, but the Friars only outrebound opponents by an average of 3.8 per game. (No. 3 seed Iowa State, a potential third-round opponent, only holds a 1.3 average advantage in rebounding margin.)