Coming into this season, the North Carolina Tar Heels are probably the most talented team in college basketball. In addition to pure talent, North Carolina has one of the best college coaches in Roy Williams. One thing that coach Williams does well is tailor his playcalling to his roster and players. This was very evident last season, and with much of the team coming back, North Carolina could be running a lot of the same stuff this upcoming season.

Halfcourt Sets

Pick And Roll – Roll Man Lob

North Carolina has a number of athletic wing players on their team and one of the way they like to take advantage of their athleticism is by putting their athletic bigs in pick and roll situations.  However, North Carolina doesn’t rely on just a roll to the rim, instead they use some backside action that really opens things up:

The play starts with Kendall Marshall bringing the basketball up along the sideline and as that happens, John Henson comes over and sets a ballscreen for Marshall.  Marshall uses the ballscreen and takes the basketball to the middle of the court.

As Henson rolls to the rim, Harrison Barnes steps up and sets a backscreen off of the basketball for Henson as he continues his roll to the rim.

There isn’t a set area where Barnes sets the screen, instead he is head-hunting and  looking for Henson’s man.  In addition to that, Barnes’ defender is afraid to leave him, because if he does, that means Barnes can flash out and get an open three.  That means there is no help for Henson’s defender as he is met by the screen.  As this is happening, Tyler Zeller is cutting across the paint, stepping out, and clearing out the backside.  The result is a wide open area in the paint right in front of the rim.

Marshall lobs the pass up there and Henson has room to go up, grab the basketball, and slam home the lob pass.  Here is the play in real time:

This play works for a number of reasons.  First, with the pick and roll action, you have the defense focusing on the basketball and that means they are taking their eyes away from the roll man and the screen that is freeing him up.  Also, with North Carolina using Harrison Barnes, probably their best offensive player, they are taking away any switching or help that there would be if someone else was setting the screen.

While the lob is North Carolina’s primary look on this play, if the backscreen does enough to free up Henson (or whoever the roll man may be) for a split second, it has done it’s job.  Here is a few more looks at this set:

As you can see, the design of the screen is for Barnes to chip the roll man’s defender and free the roll man up.  Now, the only time that this play seems to fail is when Marshall tries to throw the lob when it isn’t there:

Screen For Post

Although North Carolina has excellent size, it doesn’t have a single bruising big whom you can throw the ball to and watch back his defender down.  They have players who can make a post move or two, but they have to help their bigs establish post position.  A nice set involving a cross screen for the big man does exactly that:

The play starts with Tyler Zeller at the at the high post getting a brush screen from North Carolina’s second big, in this case Henson, as they exchange.  Henson winds up on one wing while Zeller winds up on the other.

Once Zeller makes the catch, Henson exchanges again, this time with Marshall, the point guard who entered the ball to Zeller on the wing.  Once Henson gets in position, Zeller gets the pass out to him.

Henson quickly gets the ball back to Marshall, and as that happens, Zeller comes off of a cross screen, set by Harrison Barnes in this case.

Marshall enters the basketball into Zeller and with that movement, he is able to get there without the defender on his back.  Here is the play in real time with an additional look at this set:

What putting a big that you want to post up on the move does is keep the defense from leaning on him and pushing him out of strong post position.  Mixing a screen in there does an even better job of keeping the defense off of Zeller’s (or whoever they are trying to post up) back, allowing him to get fantastic position and get to work deep in the post.

Baseline Out Of Bounds

On North Carolina’s baseline sets, the Heels generally look for one of two things.  First, they have a set that they like to run to get the basketball in the post.  Second, they have a set that they like to run to get Harrison Barnes a wide open shot in the corner.

BLOB For Post

As the ball goes to the trigger man, Harrison Barnes, North Carolina is in a box formation offset to the strong side, with two players along the sideline and two players in the middle of the paint.  Once Barnes gets the basketball, Dexter Strickland goes through the middle of a double screen set for him.

As Dexter Strickland uses the screen and Barnes enters the ball to him in the cormer, the bottom screener flashes up to the top of the key.

That bottom screener receives the basketball and as that happens, Marshall sets nasty a cross screen for Tyler Zeller, allowing him to come free off the screen and set up on the block.

After Marshall sets the screen, he flashes behind the three point line, looking for the basketball.  It is swung to him and his first look is to Zeller on the block.  Here is the play in real time:

What North Carolina is able to establish here is a low post opportunity with Zeller cleared out on the block.  Again, UNC takes a mobile, athletic big and puts him on the move, allowing him to establish fantastic position on the block.

BLOB For Three

Once again, this play starts with Harrison Barnes taking the basketball out for North Carolina.  As he receives the ball from the referee, Justin Watts comes down to set a screen for Tyler Zeller, who flashes to the corner.  After Watts sets the screen, he backs out and fills Zeller’s original position.  With all this going on, Marshall walks his man down all the way to the front of the rim.

After receiving the inbounds pass, Zeller quickly kicks it out to Watts and gets into position to be the second man in a staggered pindown screen for Barnes.

Barnes comes off of the staggered pindown and gets the basketball from Watts.  With Zeller setting a solid screen, Barnes has enough time and space to rise up and get the three point shot up.  Here is the play in real time:

This set is incredibly simple, but it is also very effective, because it accomplishes the goal of getting their best offensive player, Harrison Barnes, a wide open jump shot.

North Carolina does a lot of stuff that does an amazing job of complimenting their great personnel. Whether it is harnessing the athletic ability of Henson by getting him in position to catch fat lobs in pick and roll situations or helping Zeller establish strong post position, Williams’s sets successfully use relatively basic actions to put his talented players to succeed.


11 thoughts on “Offensive Scout: North Carolina Tar Heels

  1. Great stuff here. Awesome breakdowns of some beautiful sets. Carolina’s taking it all this year..

  2. Great breakdown. Might I request that in the future you include a brief suggestion as to how opponents go about stopping these plays. Given that UK won that tournament game, they had to stop UNC sometimes. How did they do it?

  3. Carolina only runs halfcourt sets about 10% of the time (and uses its free-lance passing game the other ~90% in the halfcourt).

    When Roy calls a set, it’s often one of the ones profiled in this piece (specifically something out of the box formation).

    Free-lance incorporates a lot of big-to-big screens and post exchanges, too, but it’s not as structured as any of UNC’s sets.

    Great stuff, Sebastian.

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