Tar Heels adjust to new rotations

Feb. 27, 2013 @ 07:01 PM

When Roy Williams met with his staff after North Carolina’s 27-point loss to Miami earlier this month, he didn’t just decide to make P.J. Hairston a starter. He also decided to shorten his rotation.
As a result, UNC primarily has depended on six players during its recent three-game winning streak — five wing players and 6-9 forward James Michael McAdoo. That trend should continue today at Clemson (7 p.m., ESPN).
While 10 Tar Heels saw double-digit minutes in the loss at N.C. State on Jan. 26, guard Leslie McDonald was the only reserve to play more than seven minutes in Saturday’s rematch, which UNC won 76-65.
Forwards Brice Johnson (7.3 minutes), J.P. Tokoto (3.8) and especially one-time starter Desmond Hubert (2.5) have seen their court time drastically reduced since the lineup change.
Williams said he limited the reserves’ minutes for the same reason he changed the starting lineup after the Miami game.
“I didn’t like what we were doing,” Williams said. “I don’t know that there’s one single thing, but we were sitting there making decisions and I said, ‘I’m thinking about doing this also.’
“There was no light bulb going on. I just didn’t like what they were doing.”
Long gone are the games when 11 Tar Heels played double-digit minutes, as they did against Wake Forest on Feb. 5.
When UNC revealed its revamped lineup for the first time against Duke, reserves other than McDonald played a total of 12 minutes. In the next game against Virginia, Jackson Simmons was the only other Tar Heel to play more than four minutes off the bench.
Williams still worries about rebounding and field-goal percentage defense, saying the Tar Heels have to do a better job of protecting the basket. But the Tar Heels are making up for those deficiencies by creating more turnovers and getting more points in transition.
That was never more glaring than when the 6-5 Hairston was guarding 6-9 power forward C.J. Leslie from N.C. State on Saturday. Both players wound up with four rebounds, and Leslie committed six turnovers.
“We’re more active; we have a greater sense of urgency,” Williams said. “And if you have a 6-5 guy guarding a 6-9 guy, you better get a better sense of urgency out of it from a quickness standpoint and a harassing standpoint.”
The Tar Heels have a 77-38 edge in points off turnovers since the Miami game. After losing to Duke, they beat Virginia, won at Georgia Tech and knocked off N.C. State with the smaller rotation.
Clemson coach Brad Brownell said that UNC’s new lineup has helped the Tar Heels with spacing, scoring and ballhandling on offense, without hurting them on the other end.
“They maybe don’t offensive rebound quite as well without another big guy in the lineup,” Brownell said. “But to be honest, I think defensively they’ve been good. They’ve found ways to scratch down in the post when they’ve needed the help on a smaller guy or when Hairston is guarding a bigger guy.”
UNC’s win over N.C. State at the Smith Center avenged an embarrassing defeat to a rival while boosting its standing in the ACC and solidifying its NCAA Tournament credentials. Now the Tar Heels must keep the momentum going on the road, where they are just 4-6.
“We can’t feel fat and happy because we won a home game on Saturday,” Williams said. “We’ve got to try and keep playing. Down the stretch, the teams that emphasize and focus on each game as it comes, they’re the teams that generally do well.
“If your play is up and down, up and down, you’re not going to be very successful.”
NOTES — Williams said that center Joel James will play tonight. The freshman missed the past four games with a concussion and is averaging 2.0 points and 1.8 rebounds in 8.2 minutes during conference play. ... UNC has won 14 of the past 15 meetings with Clemson. The only loss during that stretch was at Clemson in 2010. ... The Basketball Hall of Fame has announced the dates and matchups for the 2013 Tip-Off Tournament. UNC will host Holy Cross on Nov. 15 and Belmont on Nov. 17. The Tar Heels will then play a four-team tournament at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. UNC will face Richmond on Nov. 23 and then play either Louisville or Fairfield on Nov. 24.