In almost every conversation on North Carolina's hopes for a prolonged NCAA Tournament run the topic eventually settles on one issue — defense.
Do the Tar Heels have what it takes to shut down a high-octane offense? Or will their propensity to let opposing guards score in bunches come back to bite them in the end?
The solution to UNC's defensive riddle is clouded. Sure" there are glaring holes in the No. 4 Tar Heels' defense — particularly on the perimeter — but there are times when their guarding wins games.
""Nowhere near where I'd like to see them" Roy Williams said of his team's defense Feb. 17.
We're getting better and we have moments when we're pretty doggone good. I've been pleased that there's been a couple of big games" big moments that defensive plays have been the biggest part of the game.""
He then cited forward Danny Green's block at Florida State and Tyler Hansbrough's drawn charge at Miami as examples of when UNC came through defensively. The defense also saved the day Feb. 11 at Duke" holding the Blue Devils to just 36.1 percent shooting in the second half.
But for each of those scenarios there have been just as many where the Tar Heels have looked lost.
Based on shooting percentage their three worst defensive halves of the season have come in the past four games" and they've given up at least 10 3-pointers in four of the past five.
Their failed attempts at a full-court press against N.C. State even prompted a rare expletive from an irritated Williams.
""We stink at it"" he then said.
The problems came to a head Saturday at Maryland as UNC allowed the Terrapins to connect on 61.5 percent of their shots and hit seven 3's in the second half.
Those stats largely can be chalked up to UNC's defensive shortcomings at the perimeter.
Without forward Marcus Ginyard, UNC doesn't have a player with the needed size or ability to lock down outside shooters.
Many times, confusions on defensive rotations have resulted in opponents left wide-open on the wings. UNC's guards have a tendency to leave shooters open in order to help defend action in the post.
But as bad as UNC has at times looked on defense, teams with 24-3 records aren't atrocious defenders.
UNC is ranked No. 21 in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. And in the six games an opponent has shot better than 50 percent for the first half, North Carolina adjusted and improved its play in the second stanza.
So while the Tar Heels likely won't morph into the league's stingiest team come March, they've shown that potential is there.
I've had teams that were great defensively" and we didn't win a championship Williams said. I talk in terms of being the best that we can possibly be" and we haven't reached that yet.""
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