Final Four – North Carolina Transition

By Adam Spinella

Coach Roy Williams and his North Carolina Tar Heels have raced back to the Final Four with their iconic “Carolina Transition Offense.”

It should be no surprise that an upperclassmen-laden North Carolina squad has advanced all the way to the Final Four. An exquisite and thrilling matchup with Kentucky in the Elite Eight was tight until the final buzzer, giving the Tar Heels their biggest challenge in the tournament to date. A tough contest against Arkansas and a win over a tough Butler team are nothing to sneer at either. North Carolina enters the Final Four as the favorite to win it all, due in large part to their offensive firepower and production.

Coach Roy Williams keeps the pedal to the floor for a full forty minutes. Scoring over 90 points on seventeen occasions this season alone, Williams can design an attack that wears down opponents by attrition alone. They push hard up the floor, letting their guards and wings sprint off turnovers or missed baskets and with a sideline break after makes. The Tar Heels get up the floor in a hurry.

What should be familiar to coaches and fans is the Secondary Break and early offensive actions that Williams and the Tar Heels have been running for years. Developed initially by former Williams mentor and UNC great Dean Smith, everything this Tar Heels group does revolves around sprinting to spots, moving the ball side-to-side and hitting the defense with a wide array of actions and screens to keep them on their toes. It has been one of the most legendary and frequently duplicated play sets in basketball.

The North Carolina Break begins with running to spots and swinging the ball. The object is to beat the defense down the floor before they can get set up.


Breaking off this ball movement is always acceptable when it leads to a score. If 5 gets to the rim and can post early and get an advantage down low, 1 will look to get him the ball as quickly as possible. These are simply the spots they flow into to provide adequate spacing while they try to get the ball inside to the 5 or generate a layup or wide open three for any of the other players on the floor.

As the ball swings around the perimeter through the trailer 4 and to the wing, 5 will usually post and follow, again looking to throw the ball inside for an easy layup and a buried score. But what also happens as the ball swings along the perimeter is the triggering of a predicated movement or action – one of a variety of set calls designed to create player movement. That player movement can either occupy the help defense while they look to throw the ball inside, or serve as a screening and cutting apparatus to create a shot.

The most common is this action, a back screen from the wing for the trailer, that can create some easy layups and dunk opportunities. Also open: the screener, who can pop out to the top of the key for an open three.




There are several types of plays and screening actions out of this alignment: double staggers away for a shooter, down screen from the 4 for the 2, ball screens on the wing, and so much more.

As opposing teams begin to scout the multitude of actions that occur, they will deny reversal passes on the perimeter. Once that happens, Williams will give his speedy point guard the green light to penetrate the lane and play off simple ball screens. When the trailer is denied, he’s a dangerous option to set the ball screen.

My favorite counter of theirs is a flare for the trailer after he sets a ball screen, which can be run against man or zone, but is most effective when defenses raise their pick-up point to far above the three point line.

Trailer Flare



The key to teaching a North Carolina break is to emphasize the speed with which everyone must run the floor and the ball movement required to get open shots. The dizzying array of sets and counters only are effective if defenses feel they can relax once they get back and match up to their man.

Oregon runs a zone defense and will engage in mixing up defenses to keep North Carolina on their heels. North Carolina has been zoned frequently throughout the year – the ultimate respect to their man-to-man offense and the brilliance this early offense creates. If Oregon tries to go man-to-man at any point, the boys in baby blue could be able to speed up the pace.

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Adam Spinella

Coach, Teacher, Basketball Enthusiast. Nothing beats hard work.

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March 26, 2017 – Memphis, TN, USA – North Carolina coach Roy Williams and his bench react after opening a lead over Kentucky during the first half of the NCAA Tournament South Regional final on Sunday, March 26, 2017 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tenn. (Credit Image: � Robert Willett/TNS via ZUMA Wire)

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