Jim Boeheim arrived late for the ACC Coaches Teleconference in what became an abbreviated interview with reporters. He and North Carolina head coach Roy Williams spoke consecutively about their teams entering Tuesday’s North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Syracuse Orange game, which tips off at 9 p.m. EST.
Boeheim credited his walk-on roster for their role in Syracuse’s game prep. He said they regularly serve as a scout team, previewing what the Orange’s next opponent will throw at the regular rotation.
Adrian Autry, Antonio Balandi, Brendan Paul, Shaun Belbey, Ray Featherston and Ky Feldman round out that group — which occasionally takes the floor for the Orange when a game is out of reach in the final moments. All except Paul have been with the program for three or four years, Boeheim noted.
Point guard: Frank Howard or Tyus Battle?
“Tyus is still at the two, he can handle the ball from the two, but that’s just part of our offense really,” Boeheim said. Howard and Battle have shifted point guard responsibilities within games this season, something they did last year, but it’s allowed Battle to run his own lineups alongside shooters like Buddy Boeheim, Elijah Hughes and Marek Dolezaj.
Battle takes over point guard, with a “direct responsibility,” when Howard leaves the floor, Boeheim said. The two can share the role when they’re on the court together, they both said. It’s allowed Syracuse to mitigate Howard’s lows and take advantage of his highs through his inconsistent senior season.
Battle and Howard play 36 and 26 minutes per game respectively this season, as opposed to 39 and 38 last year. Howard dished out nearly double the assists per game that Battle did in 2017-18, now they’re roughly the same at 2.5 and 2.8 per game respectively.
The 2-3 zone
Boeheim and Williams both commented on the factor that Syracuse’s zone will play in Tuesday’s matchup. Williams and UNC have stood as the most consistently effective team against Boeheim’s unit since Syracuse joined the ACC in 2013-14. The Tar Heels are 7-1 over that stretch with seven straight victories going back to Jan. 11, 2014.
They’ve defeated the Orange by double digits in five of those seven games.
Williams said the Tar Heels prepare for the zone all year, because you never know when opponents will switch into a zone look. As for Syracuse, the specific opponent preparation begins for them the day before the game, as each typically lends two practices toward a single game in the midst of the ACC schedule.
“Syracuse plays the zone a little bit differently than anybody, Williams said. He added that the press can’t be ignored in the Orange’s arsenal either.
Boeheim, asked who the most important player in his zone is, said that the entire unit matters equally. That’s juxtaposed against what he’s seen college basketball shift to, more two-on-two matchups in pick-and-roll sets.
“In zone if one guy breaks down the whole thing breaks down.”
NET and late starts
Tuesday is Syracuse’s first and only 9 p.m. tip-off of the season. The Tar Heels enter their sixth and final tip at that time or later, considering they had a 9:30 p.m. tip at Michigan.
Williams understood that the start times stem from TV, which is the central revenue source of the sport, but does not enjoy it. He said the late starts, especially on the road, interfere with player’s ability to make 8 a.m.s (welp) and his staff’s film analysis.
“If I were the head honcho of the NCAA we’d do away with them,” Williams said.
As for the NET, the NCAA’s new rating system, Williams doesn’t know anything about it. He said people try explaining it to him, but he focuses on winning the games.
Williams’ UNC program is known for its veterans, rather than rotating in one-and-done, top-end talent as Duke has done in recent years.
The NBA submitted a proposal to change the one-and-done rule this week, which mandates US players be 19 years old to enter the NBA Draft, back to 18. The old rule allowed players, notably LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett, to enter the league out of high school, bypassing the essentially mandated season of college or overseas competition.
Williams said he’s pursued these one-and-done prospects, not landing many of them, but he said he would gladly take them. He said there’s no perfect rule for everybody, but that many have made mistakes coming straight out of high school. It’s a NBA rule, he added, so they just adjust to it.