Posted by: Matt Compton | December 6, 2007

The myth of poor defense

I think the Carolina basketball program gets a bad rap for its defense. Statistically, we are very, very good — even last year.

The most important defensive statistic to me is opponent points per possession. For the last three years, Carolina has led the ACC in this category. In 2006-2007, that number for us was 0.96 — the next best team (dook) was three-tenths of a percent behind us. You keep your opponents below 1 point per possession, you rebound extremely well, and you’re going to win a lot of games. Read more here.

Our defense looks bad because we want to encourage the kind of game where each team has a lot of possessions. Occasionally, that means we’re going to run into a team that is shooting the lights out, which means they can run with us, and we’ll catch a loss. Occasionally, we’ll play a team who is so good at some facet of the game, we won’t be able to force the tempo at all, and we’ll catch a loss. But on any given night, there are only a handful of teams that can run with us at all. Our defense and our offense are why we win basketball games.

Our style of play is entirely by design. We overplay on defense, constantly trying to disrupt the passing lanes. The point is to create turnovers and changes of possession because they’re the fuel for the offense we run. Even if we’re playing this kind of defense perfectly, we’re going to give up some back door cuts and some jump shots.

We also like to trap, a lot. Against an elite ball handler or an exceptional passer, that means we will give up the occasional open look or lay up. But again, it also forces turnovers and changes of possession — often right at half court, which generally means buckets for the Tar Heels.

People who don’t really understand what they’re watching complain that our guards (particularly Bobby and QT) get beaten off the dribble, when in actuality, they are forcing their man to the baseline, where one of our big guys will slide over in support. Alex and Tyler have done a particularly good job with this kind of help side defense this year. We also haven’t had a seven foot shot blocker since Brendan Haywood, and we play with a true power forward, which means we don’t make some of the splashy defensive stops that show up on SportsCenter. But this has been a Carolina strategy under Roy, under Matt Doherty, and Bill Guthridge. They all learned it from Coach Smith, who obviously knew what he was doing.

I’m not saying there isn’t room for improvement week to week, month to month, and season to season. And fundamentally, there are things we could certainly do better. But I am saying that we play the best kind of defense for our team, and that is in fact some of the best defense in the country.

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