North Carolina

More ‘small ball’ in UNC’s future? That’s up to Roy Williams

North Carolinas Theo Pinson (1) reacts after a dunk over Florida State's Dwayne Bacon Jr. (4) to give the Tar Heels an 82-76 lead over Florida State with 5:36 to play in the second half on January 14, 2017 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill.
North Carolinas Theo Pinson (1) reacts after a dunk over Florida State's Dwayne Bacon Jr. (4) to give the Tar Heels an 82-76 lead over Florida State with 5:36 to play in the second half on January 14, 2017 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill. rwillett@newsobserver.com

If North Carolina goes with a “small-ball” lineup this season, Theo Pinson will be ready.

The senior wing also knows it will be on coach Roy Williams’ terms. Williams has traditionally gone with two bigs on the floor at the same time. The inside-out approach has netted Williams 816 wins and three national titles.

So strategy suggestions from the players to the hall-of-fame coach don’t usually gain much traction.

“Yeah, we don’t talk to Coach about playing somebody a little bit more,” Pinson said. “That usually doesn’t go that well. He understands the type of players that he has.”

And Williams admits he’s fairly stubborn with how he wants his teams to play and what he feels is the best way to win.

“I had three NBA coaches this summer, three, tell me I hope you keep playing the same way you’re playing because about everybody has gone to an open offense (with) nobody in the post,” Williams said.

“They say, ‘Why are you doing that?’ I said, ‘Because I’m stubborn, but it’s what I believe in.”

With Pinson, Joel Berry, Cameron Johnson, Kenny Williams, Seventh Woods and freshman Jalek Felton, Williams has a lot of options at guard.

Without Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks or Tony Bradley, forwards from last year’s national championship team, the options inside are unproven.

That could lead to Williams to use more of four-guard lineup with 6-8 junior forward Luke Maye as the lone big.

“He’s talked a little bit about maybe going small a little bit and being able to spread the floor,” Maye said.

Maye also understands it would be a change-up for Williams.

“Coach wants to play two bigs,” Maye said. “He has always done it. It’s going to be interesting to see how the season unfolds, but I’m excited about it.”

Pinson, a wiry 6-6 and with a long reach, can defend bigger players. Williams said last week at media day his biggest concern with going small is rebounding.

UNC led the country in rebounding margin (plus-12.3 per game) last season. Pinson said that Williams trusts Pinson on defense against power forwards.

“I’m pretty sure we’ll play quite a bit of that this year,” Pinson said of the four-guard lineup.

The lineup will depend on how well the team rebounds, Williams said. In a so-called “secret scrimmage” with Memphis last week, Williams said he used 13 different players in the first half. He will give a lot of players, and lineup combinations, a chance, he said.

But there will be one underlying factor.

“We’re going to emphasize rebounding as much as we ever have,” Williams said. “Some way, somehow, we’ve got figure out a way to be a good rebounding team.”

Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio

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