WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Of the head-scratching losses North Carolina had leading into its ACC opener at Wake Forest, Sunday night's 73-67 loss is the most disconcerting.
There's no poor free-throw shooting to laugh off at the absurdity of the amount of misses. This was not Chris Paul working wonders in the lane. Or Randolph Childress drilling from parts far and farther behind the 3-point line.
This was the Tar Heels forgetting the scouting report. This was too many lapses defending pick and rolls. And this was a virtual open-door policy allowing dribble penetration regardless of who was doing the ball handling. This was as easy as it gets for analysis -- the Tar Heels can't stay in front of the ball.
"We've got to do a better job guarding the basketball," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "Whether it's play zone or do more traps or all of the above -- we definitely have to do a better job guarding the basketball."
Williams tried going zone for a few possessions, but abandoned it when the Heels failed to rebound out of it. Previous games when he used what he terms a "3-2 drop" zone, it has been effective. And judging by their man-to-man against Wake maybe he may be forced to use it more.
It's no exaggeration to say Carolina gave up too many easy baskets. Wake Forest opened the second half by scoring layups on its first six baskets. It wasn't until Arnaud William Adala-Moto made a jumper with 12:29 left that they had to take a higher percentage shot.
"We have to better execute how we talk about defending certain players and defending certain teams," UNC freshman guard Nate Britt said. "They got a lot of dribble drives to the basket that got them easy buckets in the paint that they shouldn't have got especially knowing the players’ capabilities offensively."
The Deacons shot 48 percent from the field, which was the highest percentage Carolina allowed this season. By comparison Michigan State shot 35.9 percent, Louisville shot 38.8 percent and Kentucky managed 40.7 percent. Due respect to the Deacs, but they don't possess more offensive talent than those ranked teams the Heels defeated.
For all of its flaws as a conference, the ACC has plenty of guys who can get to the rim. If this is how Carolina defends, imagine what Syracuse's Tyler Ennis, Duke's Quinn Cook or Notre Dame's Eric Atkins will do. My guess is they'll all study game clips of how the Deacons picked UNC apart.
Then again, it won't matter much if the Heels take the same approach they did against Wake. Senior Leslie McDonald said Carolina they tried to guard everyone the same way instead of knowing the nuances from the scouting report.
"We have to buy in and focus on that, the scouting report is the key of things," McDonald said. "If a player likes to go left, you should know that, you should know everything about the person you are guarding."
Carolina is only good defensively when everyone operates together. The Heels don't have a shot blocker lurking to erase mistakes. The Heels' 15 blocks against Northern Kentucky were in part due to a huge size advantage they won't have over league foes.
Sophomore guard Marcus Paige said Carolina probably practices more screen-on-ball defense than anybody in the country. But it hasn't translated very well to games.
"There's no way people work on that more than we do," Paige said. "In the games we just have lapses and we're not as disciplined so we need to figure out a way to translate what we do in practice over to the game."
Wake is second only to Carolina in free throw attempts in the ACC. The Deacs attack the rim. But James Michael McAdoo hinted that the Heels may be suffering from a lack of maturity. He blamed a lack of effort for their continued defensive breakdowns.
"We've got to change, that's the biggest thing," McAdoo said. "We can't keep letting coach Will[iams] down."