Roy Williams has started Desmond Hubert at the 5th spot for the Tar Heels against McNeese State and again versus UNLV. Before that Joel James and Brice Johnson had also started previous games. Williams claims that none of the three players have done anything to earn the starting spot previous to the UNLV game. Has anything changed after Saturday’s win against a ranked team?
Hubert started the game in the 5th spot for the Heels and made a huge block against UNLV’s leading scorer Anthony Bennett. This set the tone for the Tar Heels defensively. UNC has had their problems on the defensive end of the floor thus far this season. Against UNLV though, they were the most active and it ultimately won them the game.
Johnson came off the bench for the Heels and played a highly offensively productive 15 minutes. In that time span he was 6-8 from the floor. This statistic can be a bit misleading as several of his shot attempts were unguarded dunks. His 12 points were obviously an important contribution but his defense is suspect at best.
James only played a mere 3 minutes and compiled 2 of the Tar Heel’s 12 turnovers. Therefore this debate is between Hubert’s defense versus Johnson’s offense.
I am going to make the case that Hubert should continue to start for the Tar Heels. This decision stems from things that do not show up in the statistic book. Hubert is not as athletically gifted as Johnson but his fundamentals are much better. Hubert hustles and makes a conscious decision to box out players from the other team. Hubert does not always get the rebound on a missed shot, but neither does the man he is guarding. These are the little things that it takes for a team to win close games down the final stretch of the season and into a post season tournament. On many plays where there was a missed shot, Johnson tries to rely on his athleticism to grab a rebound. No matter the amount of athleticism, fundamentals are always going to win in the long run. Think Dennis Rodman. Not the tallest, not able to leap out of the gym and not the most athletic player on the floor but he was one of the best rebounders in NBA history.
Right now Hubert should continue to start. The Heels are averaging nearly 84 points a game and are 4th in the country in that category. Defense is where they need to step up as they did against UNLV. Johnson needs to mature fundamentally. He needs to begin to realize he is not in high school anymore and that height is not always going to dictate who gets a rebound. Height does not always mean you are a good defensive player either. When that day comes Williams should implant him into the starting line-up as he will be a more well-rounded player than Hubert.