A hot topic of conversation with North Carolina basketball this time of year is the rotation, head coach Roy Williams likes to experiment this time of year with different lineups mixing and matching to see what works best. This season is no different and Roy is giving everyone a chance to prove themselves and establish themselves in the rotation.
Four spots in the starting lineup seem pretty much set with Marcus Paige at the point, Dexter Strickland at shooting guard, Reggie Bullock at small forward with James Michael McAdoo inside. In both games Desmond Hubert has started inside beside McAdoo but freshman Joel James has started the second half. Roy admitted the day before the season opener that he wasn’t sure who would start beside McAdoo inside and has reiterated after both games that the position is still wide open.
Roy is splitting the minutes up between Hubert, James and Brice Johnson pretty evenly inside while McAdoo is averaging 30 minutes a game so far. Fans are becoming frustrated with the presence of Hubert in the starting lineup and the fact that he is getting around the same amount of playing time as the freshman. Hubert is averaging 13.5 minutes per game and has yet to score while James and Johnson are averaging 16 and 12 minutes per game and are the third and fourth leading scorers on the team thus far. The freshman are also out rebounding Hubert also with James pulling down six per game and Johnson pulling 4.5 per contest.
I don’t expect to see Hubert in the starting lineup for much longer if at all. Roy seems to be leaving him in as a place holder for one of the freshman. Many assume his replacement will be James, but Roy admitted in his post game press conference that Johnson is a possibility for that spot also. Roy is babying the freshman bigs a bit right now and though it may be frustrating to watch Hubert get as many minutes as he has so far it probably makes sense. James doesn’t have much basketball experience and is a very large man for the Tar Heels run, run, run system. Johnson on the other hand is very skinny and Roy must have concerns about his durability.
I like what Roy is doing at the point. Freshman Marcus Paige is starting and playing 26.5 minutes per game. It would be easy to give senior Dexter Strickland the rest of the minutes at the position but it would also create the same situation the team was in last year with no experienced backup if one of them were to go down. Luke Davis is doing a nice job and is getting four minutes per night so far giving him a taste of what it’s like to run the position, personally I think he should get a few more.
On the perimeter the rotation has been pretty consistent so far. Reggie Bullock has to be a big time player on this team and is playing by far the most minutes out of the group at 26.5 per game and if he plays like he did against Florida Atlantic that number may even go up a little bit. With Strickland playing about 9.5 of his 24 minutes at the point that means the starters are only taking 41 minutes between both perimeter positions, leaving Roy with plenty of time to go around. PJ Hairston has been the first off the bench both games averaging 15.5 minutes per game, second among reserves to only Joel James. Leslie McDonald comes next and has played 12.5 minutes per followed by JP Tokoto at nine minutes.
Roy is using a lot of combinations right now, too many to track and document but I like what he’s doing for the most part with the minutes distribution. I would like to see the team go small a bit more with Tokoto or Hairston at the power forward spot. Both Hairston and McDonald need more minutes and more shots to get comfortable and it’s hard to see where those minutes are going to come from. I predicted at the beginning of the year that they would come at the expense of the freshman Tokoto but after watching his defensive performances and his potential as a rebounder I think he’ll have some type of role this season.
It’s early in the season and with most of the roster either new to college basketball or playing a much different role than they ever have before in their college careers things right now look a lot differently than they will later in the season.