It seems like an eternity ago but on January 12th, UNC came up with their 1st ACC win on the road against Florida State after starting 0-2. P.J. Hairston came off the bench that game to score 23 points for the Heels, but it was Jackson Simmons though, that came up with a huge offensive rebound and put-back that gave the Heels the lead for good. Off of a Reggie Bullock missed jumper, Simmons grabbed a board and put it back in to put the Tar Heels up 73-72 with 3:11 left in the game. He finished the game with 8 points on his birthday. Will Simmons come up big again?
A lot has happened for the Heels since that January 12th game. UNC head coach, Roy Williams, has taken big man, Desmond Hubert, out of the starting line-up and has inserted Hairston at the 4 spot. Hairston has made the most of it. Simmons’ minutes have actually dropped since Hairston has been starting. Williams has come to the conclusion that playing small-ball gives the Tar Heels the best chance of winning. So far his conclusion has been right. As we all know anything can happen in ACC basketball but it is unlikely Simmons will have that kind of impact again. There is one factor that could result in Simmons being the hero again.
In those final minutes of the last Florida State game, Williams trusted Simmons to be in the game with it on the line. Not star forward James Michael McAdoo, not defensive specialist and then starter Hubert, or even stellar recruit Brice Johnson were playing at the time. Close games normally come down to free throws. McAdoo has been terrible from the foul line this season. He has shot 81-145 which comes out to almost 56%. In ACC games it’s even worse at 43%. Hubert is 3-14. Johnson is a mere 13-22. While Simmons is 8-10. It does not take a Philadelphia lawyer to figure out that if the game is close and you need to foul a UNC player, McAdoo (or Hackadoo as I refer to him) is the guy you want to foul. Williams obviously realized this as well during their previous FSU meeting.
If the game is close, Williams should insert Simmons into the line-up. The remainder of UNC’s starting squad shoots 75% or better with the exception of Dexter Strickland at 65%. If I were an opposing coach, despite Strickland’s lower percentage, I would tell my team to foul Simmons as he has only shot 10 free throws on the season. If this does wind up being the case, Simmons could have a huge impact down the stretch for the Heels and end up being the hero once again.