This is our sixth men's basketball installment of Film Review, where we break down a particular aspect of the action to help you better understand what's happening on the court. Here's where to find our previous pieces from the football and men's basketball season.
Last Friday at the North Carolina men’s basketball press conference, junior wing Justin Jackson outlined one of the biggest challenges UNC’s offense would face playing against Virginia’s defense.
“They double the post with the other big,” he said. “And that comes down to our bigs making the right decision, not panicking and making a smart play. And if they can do that, I think we'll be alright.”
Virginia employs a "pack-line" defense that cuts off passing lanes and packs the paint, making it tough for opposing offenses to drive and score against it. The Cavaliers try to limit clean post-up opportunities by arm-barring the opposing team's bigs out of the paint. Also, Virginia likes to double the big who does get the ball in the post, as Jackson alluded to.
At times this season, double teams have confounded North Carolina’s two starting big men. Isaiah Hicks sometimes just dribbles out of the paint instead of attempting to attack or pass out of the double team. Kennedy Meeks has some of the same struggles. The result is thwarted post-up opportunities. If UNC does successfully pass out of the double team, the execution usually isn’t quite strong enough to generate clean 3-point looks.
Before the Virginia game, Jackson was asked if Hicks and Meeks had shown growth in beating double teams this season.
“Maybe a little bit,” he said.
His answer was an honest assessment of their struggles with the concept this season.
Coming into the game against the Cavaliers, doubling teaming the Tar Heels' two big men seemed like a great decision. The strategy paid off early, but eventually, Meeks figured out the defense and picked it apart from the inside out. Here’s how UNC's senior center improved just over the course of 40 minutes when Virginia tried to double team him in the post.
Here's the first play from Saturday's game. Isaiah Hicks is throwing the entry pass because he had just backed out of a double team in the post — a classic pitfall for the UNC big man.
He makes a good entry pass into Meeks, though.
Meeks immediately draws a double team. Hicks' man leaves to go double, leaving Hicks open and with a wide open lane to the basket.
The easy play here, and the smart play, is just a dump off to Hicks in all that open real estate for an easy dunk.
Meeks doesn’t make the easiest play, though. He ropes a pass out to Berry, who shoots and misses a long 3-pointer.
Meeks makes a pass and gives his offense a clean look, but it’s not the best outcome when faced with the double team. The Cavaliers won this possession by forcing this shot.
Virginia kept doubling throughout the night, and Meeks tried something different later on in the game.
Later in the first half, Seventh Woods enters the ball into the post to Meeks.
It's another clean post-up look, with the other four Tar Heels spaced cleanly around the arc.
As soon as Meeks gets the ball, the double team comes from Hicks' man again.
Meeks is ready for the double team this time, though. He makes a quick move and takes a contested, but ultimately clean, hook shot.
It’s another miss, but he doesn’t get scared off by the double team. Instead, he attacks it.
There are more open players on the wing in this play, but Meeks' decisiveness against the double is a huge improvement from dribbling out and slinging a cross-court pass to Berry. Just 14 minutes into the game, Meeks has learned and taken a step forward playing against this defensive scheme.
Let’s take a look at the final example from Meeks, where he conquers the double team.
In the second half, Woods enters the ball back to Meeks early on in a possession. Meeks does well to hustle down the court and generate this open post-up look.
Woods makes a clean pass. Meanwhile, the defense and Hicks take a second to come down the floor, but the double team still comes.
Hicks made a couple of smart rim runs during the Virginia game, including this one. He knows what to do — attack the basket and fill the open space in the paint.
This time, Meeks doesn’t panic or doesn’t try to take a rushed shot. He reads the floor, makes the easy play and dumps the ball down to Hicks, who does the rest.
Hicks' massive dunk nearly brought the house down and extended UNC's big lead.
In these three plays, you can see how Meeks conquers the double team. He learned or remembered not to panic, as Jackson said earlier, and just made the smart play. North Carolina benefited from these kinds of smart plays all night long.
At Friday's presser, Jackson outlined what his big men needed to do to beat Virginia’s pack-line defense.
“(Virginia’s defense) is different because they double from the other big," he said. "So we had one play in practice yesterday where (North Carolina's blue practice squad) was trying to do what they do, and we went high low. And it's hard if you go high low, it's hard for that big to go from the high spot and go down and double all the way."
"So little things like that, we have to be able to see and kind of read those in the game.”