UNC: Switching Defenses; Tokoto’s Tomahawk

UNC freshman J.P. Tokoto finally got to throw down an impressive dunk during a 78-55 rout of East Tennessee State on Saturday night.

UNC freshman J.P. Tokoto finally got to throw down an impressive dunk during a 78-55 rout of East Tennessee State on Saturday night.


A lot of Roy Williams’ defensive principles are based on what he learned from Dean Smith. (For more on that, read Smith’s Basketball: Multiple Offense and Defense.) He doesn’t change up defenses nearly as much as Smith did, and his teams rarely use any kind of a zone. But he has been known to throw in some run-and-jump and some Scramble, both of which were Smith staples.

The base defense – known as “20” – is man-to-man, and what you see out of Carolina most of the time. The “30” defense is the run-and-jump, which looks like straight man-to-man at first. When the opposing player with the ball gets close enough to another Carolina defender, that person will leave his man and “jump” the ball-handler, trying to force a bad decision with the element of surprise. The original defender goes to pick up an open man downcourt, maintaining man-to-man principles.

The “40” defense is The Scramble. It was conceived by Smith as a 2-2-1 zone press disguised as man-to-man initially. Once the ball-handler puts it on the ground, he would immediately be double-teamed. It’s an extension of the run-and-jump, except it’s an actual double-team and the other three defenders rotate to cover the remaining players in a zone concept. There are designated roles (the double-teamers, two interceptors and a goal-tender). The Scramble can be used with the same principles in the half-court, or even 3/4 court (double team on the first dribble).

“(The run-and-jump) helped us against Butler when we went small, and today we did it in the first half staying big because we wanted to get the big guys involved in the rotation,” Williams said. “(ETSU) has a four-year starter that’s not playing until second semester. Their starting point guard was not playing. So we’re going to see if (our players) got to the right spots – then it really is good for you. If (ETSU) turned it over just because of their inexperience or a mistake on their part, you can’t be fooled and think you’re a really good Scramble team.”

A combination of a smaller lineup with a huge deficit against Butler in Maui led to Carolina using some run-and-jump in that game. But on Saturday, even Carolina’s traditional lineup did a good job when they ran Scramble against ETSU. Of course, as Williams pointed out, who knows how well that works against – well, pretty much any other opponent except ETSU. Though the small lineup’s execution of it did force Butler into its highest-possession game of the season and its highest turnover percentage by far (nearly 25%). Those are the objectives of that defense.

It will be interesting to see how much more of it is used this year, or how much zone defense will be used. Williams has said on more than one occasion how much he loathes coaching zone defense. If Carolina has to go back to a small lineup, though, either the traps or a zone – or some of both – will be necessary.


Freshman J.P. Tokoto has been a constant in the Carolina rotation all year (getting between 5-15 minutes a game), but he hadn’t made a significant impact yet. Last week during his radio show, Williams compared Tokoto to former defensive stopper Jackie Manuel, which is high praise from Williams, who adored the lanky 6-5 swingman. Like Manuel, Tokoto’s offensive skill set is very raw. But also like Manuel, his athleticism is off the charts.

In his 12 minutes against ETSU, Tokoto made the most of it with a career-high nine points on 4-of-5 shooting. He was active defensively, made good decisions and – perhaps most importantly, from the crowd’s perspective – he finally threw down one of his thunderous dunks the fans had been anxiously awaiting.

For Tokoto, that dunk is just the tip of the iceberg. He came to Chapel Hill with the reputation of being a great dunker (nights like this one at the NC Pro-Am this summer helped feed that). And frankly, the dunks he tried this summer left local reporters debating which one, if attempted in a real game, would cause his head coach to run out on the court and tackle him.

Tokoto’s been wondering that, too. There are dunks he knows he can do that he hasn’t tried yet, including his specialty, which he said was called the 360 Eastbay. “It’s a 360, then between your legs,” Tokoto said. “Yeah, I don’t think (Williams) would be a big fan of that if I missed it.”

That’s right: a 360, then between-the-legs. He did it in the finals of the American Family Insurance dunk contest in New Orleans last spring. Oh, and he won.

He says it’s his best dunk. (Uh, yeah.) And he says he can do it successfully more often than not, even now. “We’ll be fooling around in shoot-around and right after shoot-around, we’ll have a dunk session for about 5-10 minutes,” Tokoto said. “After everybody’s done, they’re like, ‘All right, J.P. Go ahead and do your 360 Eastbay.’ I’ll go ahead and try it and I’ll usually get it down.”

In the Pro Am this summer, Tokoto threw multiple alley-oops to himself off the backboard. On one attempt, it wasn’t in transition but against a set half-court defense. (For the record, that’s the one that if attempted in a real game would likely cause Williams to lose his mind.) But he knows he could try it on a breakaway.

“I’ve had a couple thoughts about that. I just don’t know how (Williams) would feel about it and I don’t know how that would look towards the other team if it was a blowout,” Tokoto said. “That’s probably the only time that I would do that is in a blowout, and I don’t want to disrespect the other team. So I’ll probably just keep it simple and throw it in.”


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