There is less than a month before the start of the college basketball season which means it will be a less than a month before the Tar Heel fans get to see what Roy Williams and his coaching staff decided to do in the absence of P.J. Hairston. With Hairston’s impending suspension to open the season, the Heels now have a hole at one of their wing positions in the starting lineup. And while the big question is probably when will P.J. return? The bigger question could be who will start the in P.J.’s spot?
While the lost of P.J. is a tough blow, Coach Roy and his staff have several options to choose from and it sounds as if they are looking at every single one of them.
“We could go little. We could go extra little, with two point guards in the lineup. We could go bigger … we could see three guys 6-8 or (taller). Or we could see two guys that I look eyeball to eyeball with” said Coach Williams in an article for the Charlotte Observer earlier last week.
Sophomore Brice Johnson has been the most mentioned name for the spot in the lineup, however Roy Williams in the past has opted to start better defensive players over what many would consider better overall players which could mean a different rising sophomore starts the season in the starting lineup. J.P. Tokoto is North Carolina’s best defender and is capable of defending all three perimeter positions which is why he is a strong candidate to start despite his offensive struggles most of last season. Another thing that is working in Tokoto’s favor is that he is natural small forward compared to Johnson. If Coach Williams does start Johnson or possibly freshman Isaiah Hicks that would give the Heels their best offensive lineup along with a long, athletic frontline that could make it difficult on opponents to score on the inside. It could also help UNC’s rebounding margin which was only plus 1.6 last season.
The most extreme case Coach Roy mention was starting his two point guards Marcus Paige and freshman Nate Britt which would move Leslie McDonald to the three spot. Considering that’s a small lineup and Roy Williams’ desire to play with a more traditional lineup this season that makes this lineup highly unlikely.
While Brice Johnson is the best offensive option for the Tar Heels, Coach Williams’ tendency to start defensive-first players makes J.P. Tokto the likely candidate to start. The Wisconsin native has been working on his offensive game this summer so he will not have to depend on just attacking the rim to score. Also, with the Tar Heels loaded nonconference schedule which includes Michigan State with Gary Harris, Kentucky with the Harrison Twins and potentially the Louisville Cardinals with Russ Smith; North Carolina will be facing some the nation’s best perimeter scorers to start the season and having a player like Tokoto in the starting lineup who has the athletic ability and lateral quickness to become a lockdown defender could be critical if Hairston is suspended for the entire nonconference season.