There has been a question that has been lingering in the back of all Tar Heel fans’ minds for quite some time now. One single question that makes all of the fan base nervous- “What if PJ Hairston does not return?”
Well, eventually Leslie McDonald will be back. McDonald being back would soften the blow, but he cannot replace Hairston’s overall scoring and overall presence. If Hairston does not return then that will be one less outside threat on a team without many to begin with as well as one less perimeter player, but all would not be lost.
If anything was learned from the opening 84-61 win against Oakland last Friday, it should be that the big men appear to be ready to carry the load this season. If indeed PJ Hairston does not return, then the big men will need to produce all season like they did against Oakland. The big men combined to score 51 of the 84 points, 32 of the 41 rebounds, 10 of the 25 assists, and only 6 of the 18 turnovers. It will be very important for the big men group to continue their strong play against the next three upcoming opponents of Holy Cross, Belmont, and Richmond to gain confidence for the rest of the season.
If indeed this is the case then this leaves only two out of the team’s three perimeter players available, JP Tokoto and Leslie McDonald. JP will likely see minutes similar to what he played against Oakland. He played a career high 30 minutes and scored a career high 13 points. It will be extremely crucial for Tokoto and McDonald to stay out of foul trouble this season. They will need to play extremely smart and high quality basketball.
Marcus Paige played 32 minutes and will likely see that amount of minutes all season. Roy Williams came out and said he did not want Marcus to play much more than that since it is such a long season. That means freshman point guard Nate Britt will be a crucial component for the Tar Heels this season. He played 22 minutes against Oakland and will likely receive around that amount of minutes for the rest of the season. Luke Davis will also come in relief for both Paige and Britt.
Now if PJ Hairston is truly done for the year and McDonald does come back, the likely starting lineup at this point seems to be Paige, McDonald, Tokoto, McAdoo, and James. That is all speculation to this point though. It seems James will be battling Meeks for playing time and maybe even the starting role all season long. Williams might also elect to keep the two point guard lineup with Paige and Britt to start and have McDonald come in off the bench for instant offense.
At least for now, the Tar Heels need to get used to playing without Hairston. They might not have him for the rest of the season or they might not have him for only part of the season. Either way, it is always better to prepare for the worst. If the big men can continue to produce and perimeter players take care of the ball, the Heels will be fine. The key will be to aggressively rebound, play good defense, and have good shot selection all season long with the lack of Hairston’s presence.