Small ball gets North Carolina their third-straight win

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When you think of this North Carolina program under Roy Williams, the first thing that is going to come to mind is the point guard.

Ray Felton. Ty Lawson. Kendall Marshall.

Perhaps the single biggest reason for Roy’s success with the Tar Heels has been his ability to find floor generals that are capable of running the show in his uptempo, fast-breaking offense. But what all of those teams had in common was a bully on the block, a first round draft pick in the post to dump the ball into.

Sean May. Tyler Hansbrough. Tyler Zeller.

North Carolina doesn’t have that presence this season. James Michael McAdoo is an athlete and a prospect, but he’s much better in the open floor and facing up than he is with his back to the basket. Brice Johnson and Desmond Hubert aren’t ready to shoulder that much responsibility. Joel James is out with a concussion, but it’s obvious he’s a freshman when he plays.

And that’s why, four games ago, Roy Williams made a change to his starting lineup. Instead of playing an overwhelmed underclassman in the middle, Williams has gone to a small lineup. McAdoo is their center. PJ Hairston plays power forward. They spread the floor, they get up and down the court, they shoot a lot of threes and they don’t play all that much defense.

But they’re winning.

On Saturday afternoon, the Tar Heels knocked off in-state rival NC State 76-65, revenge for a tail-whipping the Heels took in Raleigh last month. That came after UNC won at Georgia Tech and put up 93 points in a win over fellow bubble-dweller Virginia. And while UNC lost at Duke in their first game playing small ball, they hung with the Blue Devils, losing by five in a game they led for most of the first half.

The latest win may be the most important, however. It’s just the second win that the Heels have over a tournament team, and it also puts the Heels a game in front of the Wolfpack for third in the ACC standings.

North Carolina still doesn’t have the kind of quality wins that would make it a lock for the NCAA tournament at this point, but they are slowly creeping closer. They’re at Clemson and Florida State and host Maryland before getting a return game with Duke at the Dean Dome. It will be interesting to see whether this smaller lineup will have continued success now that there are four games worth of tape for coaches to scout, but at the very least this change, for the time being, as got the Heels going in the right direction.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.