“We didn't get what we wanted out of the tournament, because we wanted to win the championship,” he said. “We didn't get what we wanted because we wanted to get better every day, and we didn't do that.”
Blowouts of a depleted Mississippi State team and a Division II squad in Chaminade are to be expected. They joined the list of UNC’s five wins on this young season against lesser competition. Butler was the first quality opponent and the Tar Heels didn’t rise to that challenge.
Unsurprisingly, a key cause of the team’s shortcomings can be found in the post. That was a major question mark entering the season and remains as much – if not more so - after six games.
Butler proved that the Tar Heel frontline is susceptible to a physical opponent - James Michael McAdoo was frustrated into seven turnovers, Brice Johnson was pushed around and Desmond Hubert exited the game after five ineffective minutes and didn’t return. Meanwhile, UNC’s only physical post player - Joel James - was a defensive liability.
Emblematic of the overall problem, consider that North Carolina surrendered 44 offensive rebounds over three games in Maui. That’s not a schematic problem. “That is aggressiveness,” Williams said.
Getting his players to play more aggressively is obviously part of the solution for UNC’s head coach, but accepting the post’s shortcomings will be an integral component as well.
That began on Wednesday by starting the 187-pound Brice Johnson at center. While acknowledging that the lanky freshman has a ways to go when it comes to his intensity level, Williams praised his first career start (18 points) and spoke to his potential.
“You look down (at the box score), 7-for-8 from the floor, two blocked shots – everybody should be pleased with that,” Williams said. “He is going to get better and better.”
And if a frontcourt spot is going to be potentially outplayed on one end of the floor anyway, why not try to make up for it on the other end? That’s the benefit of the smaller lineup that UNC used for 16 minutes of Wednesday’s game and assuredly will utilize again.
The offensive strength of this team is on the wing and a small lineup maximizes that strength. With Hairston, Reggie Bullock and Leslie McDonald combining to shoot 44 percent from beyond the arc this season, getting them on the floor as much as possible is a priority.
“I think we found out that going small sometimes might be one of our better lineups, particularly on the offensive end of the court,” Williams said. “We played P.J. (Hairston) as a four, we played J.P (Tokoto) as a four - only had one post player in there. So I think that might help us down the line as well.”
The team didn’t meet its coach’s expectations of winning the tournament title and showing consistent improvement, but it learned more about itself and that can be an important element of progress. North Carolina departs Maui with a greater realization of its post limitations and the options to overcome them. That knowledge should help the team’s development moving forward, including in preparing for next week’s monumental task: a matchup at No. 1 Indiana.
“We have so much room for improvement,” McAdoo said. “And that will just come with putting the time in. … These practices coming up are where we can hit the drawing board, learn from our mistakes and get better as a team.”
UNC will enjoy a basketball-free Thanksgiving on the island and then fly home, leaving three days of preparation before heading to Bloomington.