Kendall Marshall has long received the title of most indispensable player on the North Carolina Tar Heels roster. The one player Carolina could not, under any circumstances, afford to lose. And while it’s not determined yet whether or not Marshall will be able to play against Ohio and beyond. The unthinkable happened Sunday in the Tar Heels defeat of the Creighton Blue Jays. Attempting a layup around midway through the second half, Marshall broke a bone in his right wrist bracing his fall to the floor. Marshall would continue to play for several minutes and was effective on the floor. Not until Roy Williams was interviewed after the game did anyone have a clue what had happened. With the Tar Heels firmly in control it wasn’t that odd that Stillman White played the remainder of the game. But the look on Roy’s face told a different and very scary story.
And then it was confirmed as Roy opened the press conference with the bad news. The left handed Marshall expressed optimism in his post game locker room interview. Kendall pointed to the fact that he was able to play through it for several minutes effectively. He also stated he didn’t want to come out of the game when coaches asked him. The other thing that makes it possible Marshall could in fact continue playing this March is that the injury occurred to his right wrist, Marshall of course is left handed. So even though this is a devastating blow to the Tar Heels, there’s still a chance it could all end up okay and #5 could very well still be running the point soon enough. But what if he can’t play? Can Carolina win without him?
First off let’s get this out of the way, UNC will beat Ohio, with or without Kendall Marshall. Sometimes lightning strikes, it doesn’t strike twice. Ohio is not beating North Carolina, it’s just not happening. I’m no doctor, but I’m pretty sure playing would run the risk of aggravating the injury. What I would do is suit Marshall up and sit him on the bench unless we need him in the second half. It would have been great to see Purdue knock off Kansas and eliminate the next best team in the Midwest bracket. But it’s only a matter of time until UNC plays a team they can’t beat without Marshall not only in the lineup but playing like Kendall Marshall.
What exactly would Carolina look like without Marshall? Think back to the Larry Drew III era, a combination of Stillman White and Justin Watts would play the point. Watts is an above average defender and excellent rebounder, he would provide an upgrade over Marshall in those areas. Offensively he would be a major downgrade, even from White. White can do a decent job of handling the point offensively. He’s not going to create his own hot like Marshall has been lately. And neither player is anywhere on the same planet as Marshall as a play maker. Very few, if any in the country are.
Winning it all without Marshall in the lineup at all would be a miracle. Doing it with a less effective Marshall will be extremely challenging at best. Carolina coach Roy Williams cannot rely on a rotation of just White and Watts at the point if he is left to fend without Marshall. More likely, he will have to ask Harrison Barnes, Reggie Bullock and PJ Hairston to play together and share the ball handling responsibilities. Suddenly the PG position would become one of committee, a shared operation amongst the teams most talented perimeter players. At the high school level, it is very common for the best player to take things over and run the point for his team often. None of those guys mentioned has done any of that since arriving at Chapel Hill. Roy talked about experimenting with lineups like this in the wake of the Dexter Strickland injury but I guess he never got around to that.
March Madness is a crazy time. We’ve already seen two #2 seeds fall in the first round. A #16 seed come within a horrible call of beating #1 seed Syracuse and Iowa St give Kentucky a real run for their money for 37 minutes this weekend. Anything can happen, and Carolina is fortunate this happened when they had a comfortable lead late in a game. Right before a three day break where they play #13 seed Ohio in the Sweet 16. Carolina could always sit Marshall against Ohio and see if he can play on Sunday in the Elite 8, giving him a full week to recover and perhaps practice playing with the injury and test what he can and can’t do with it.
I keep trying to tell myself it’s not time to panic yet. Trying to rationalize that he still could in fact play and play well. Trying ever so hard to take comfort in our Sweet 16 game is against a #13 seed. But I don’t think I’ll be able to exhale until I see #5 play a game like John Henson did against Creighton to settle my worries. Until then Tar Heel Nation, we all need to collectively pray to whatever higher being you believe in, get well Marshall.