GREENSBORO -- Florida State was tearing a hole through the soft middle of North Carolina’s defense when P.J. Hairston got hot, making the final score a poor indication of how much danger the Tar Heels were in during the first half.
That’s the yin and the yang of North Carolina at this point, the price paid to get the Tar Heels’ best players on the floor. It cost them in last Saturday’s loss to Duke when they couldn’t handle Mason Plumlee. It nearly cost them in Friday’s ACC quarterfinal against the Seminoles, but they escaped and put Florida State away, 83-62.
The change to the small lineup worked for North Carolina, there’s no doubt about that, but the past two games have thoroughly exposed its weaknesses. Roy Williams is committed to going down this path now, as well as Hairston and James Michael McAdoo have played since the switch, but clearly adjustments are needed, if not in time for Saturday’s ACC semifinal against Maryland then before the NCAA tournament begins.
Unfortunately, there’s a lack of obvious answers, which is how Williams ended up in this fix in the first place. For a coach who likes to have two workhorse big men, he has a dearth of them. There’s McAdoo, who had 12 points Friday, and … the list ends there.
Counting on your outside shooters to get hot is a dangerous thing. It’s far better to find some answers on defense, where Hairston has done a solid job defending opposing forwards but the Tar Heels have work to do as a unit, collectively.
Maryland has some muscle inside, and the Tar Heels will have to figure out how to deal with it.
If not Maryland, then someone else. If not Saturday, then soon.