Michigan State University Student Radio

Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM

Michigan State University Student Radio

Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM

Michigan State University Student Radio

Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM


FILM BREAKDOWN: Dissecting North Carolina’s top 20 offense

Jack Moreland
MSU Head Coach Tom Izzo coaches his Spartans during a win over Alcorn State on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2023 at the Breslin Center. (Jack Moreland)

CHARLOTTE, N.C.- After a double-digit victory vs No. 8 Mississippi State in the round of 64, No. 9 Michigan State will match up with No. 1 North Carolina on Thursday, as tip-off is set for 5:30 p.m. EST. 

The Tar Heels have put together one of the most dominant offenses in the country, en route to a 28-7 season record heading into the NCAA tournament. 

There are many ways North Carolina can have teams down by double digits before you blink. The Tar Heels rank 19th in offensive efficiency according to KenPom.

A huge part of UNC’s offense is 6-11 240-pound senior, Armando Bacot. The Virginia native averages 10.3 rebounds per game, which is tied for 13th in the nation. 

Bacot not only controls the glass, but scores at a superb rate averaging 14.3 points per game on 54.7 % shooting. 

“We started at the beginning of practice, always working on our post feeds, and since then it has helped me a lot with my patience and finding my spots on the floor,” Bacot said after UNC’s dominant 90-62 victory in the round of 64 vs Wagner. 

Diving into the Tar Heel offense, two major sets stick out when looking at this group as a whole.

UNC likes to run a “4 wide” or “4-1” set, very similar to San Antonio Spurs head coach Greg Poppovich early 2010’s offense. The set starts with the point guard moving to the strong side of the floor, which would then generate a ball reversal to the trail forward. 

As the ball is reversed, the rim cutter will dart from one side of the block to the other, looking to establish a post position. 

This is where Bacot thrives. Against Wagner, the Tar Heels would run this exact “four wide” set with Bacot on the right block, immediately generating a one-on-one opportunity. 

This is where the Michigan State weak side defense comes in. The Spartans have forced nearly 13 turnovers in their past three matchups. Through that series, MSU forced a game-high 15 turnovers against Purdue in the Big Ten quarterfinals. 

A similar defense for the Spartans used against Zach Edey in that matchup will be in store for Bacot. 

“We have been working hard on our weakside defense all year,” junior guard Jaden Akins said on Friday. “Us guards have a big responsibility on the weak side to make sure we help our bigs, but also not lose track of the three-point shooters.”

The weak-side defense for MSU starts at the entry pass to the block, as the opposite guard will slowly hedge the double team onto the ball.

From there, it all depends on the decision of the forward on the block. The forward, if MSU doesn’t force a trap steal, has the choice to kick it out to the open wing shooter, or step through to his opposite shoulder and attack the rim. 

North Carolina’s “4 wide” offense combats this weak side trap tremendously. The Tar Heels’ constant movement and “pass and cut” offense create a lot more stress on Spartan guards when the weak side hedge arrives. 

But what if MSU does recover off the hedge and rotates to deny the shooter? The Tar Heels’ second offensive set comes into play. 

An athletic, fast-paced Michigan State team has shown that they can match up with anyone this year. 

With wins against Baylor, Illinois, and now, Mississippi State, MSU and its guards have shown they can rotate and move with some of the best offenses in the nation.

This Tar Heels offense is different. Head coach Hubert Davis will utilize both Bacot and Harrison Ingram to put teams on their backs.

Ingram, the 6-7 235 pound Texas native is also in the top 50 in the nation in rebounding. The junior averages 8.9 boards per game on 32 minutes each matchup. 

Coach Davis will utilize a “high-low” post offense, running a combination of Ingram and Bacot interchanging at the elbow and block. 

The offense starts in UNC’s basic “4 wide,” however, between Ingram and Bacot, whoever is not inside the paint on the “4-1” will rotate to the elbow after a ball screen to the ball handler.

This motion generates three shooters across the perimeter, with Bacot and Ingram on the strong side. The set is a constant rotation of the forward on the elbow sending an up screen to the ball handler. 

Guards like R.J. Davis and Elliot Cadeau will now have the opportunity to take the screen and drive to the rim, or use the pick and roll to feed the roller. If the roller receives the ball, the “high-low” offense is in prime effect.

The consequence of the forward receiving the ball in the pick-in roll now generates a two-on-one, as the forward with the ball can either go straight at the rim or dump it off to the assisting forward who was the initial option from the “4-1” set. 

Spartan freshman Xavier Booker knows how important communication is when it comes to the “high-low” defense.

“The main thing with that (high-low) is making sure you’re aware of where you are on the court,” Booker said.

Michigan State’s defense has allowed 65.9 points per game this season (1st in Big Ten Conference), as MSU has held its opponents under 75 points in six of the last eight games. When the Spartans allow their opponents to clear that 75-point mark, MSU is 1-6 this season. 

A lights-out offense versus a top-10 defense can create a marquee matchup, especially between two teams who have a lot of tournament experience with each other. 

The Tar Heels lead the all-time series against MSU 12-4. UNC is also 5-0 against Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament.

The matchup on Saturday will be the second all-time meeting in the round of 32. The previous was 2007 with the exact same seeds as this year, with North Carolina as a one and MSU as a nine. UNC beat MSU winning 81-67.

“We have played against their style of basketball this season, and we are going to be prepared for them,” MSU point guard A.J. Hoggard said.

This year, the Spartans will be looking to flip the script and come away victorious in a hostile environment in Charlotte for a trip to the Sweet 16.

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About the Contributors
Jack Stager
Jack Stager, Sports Editor
Jack (he/him) is the Sports Editor at Impact radio. He is majoring in sports journalism with a focus in broadcasting and writing. He covers all sports at Michigan State but basketball is his favorite, as he claims there is nothing better in life than a well executed zone defense. Jack's favorite song of all time is Love Youz by J Cole.
Jack Moreland
Jack Moreland, Sports Photo Editor
Jack (he/him) is a Journalism major focusing in sports reporting and media photography. Growing up in nearby Okemos, Michigan, he has been a lifelong Spartan and is proud to sport the green and white. Jack is a big Baby Keem fan and is known to post on your block with your wishlist on you.

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