UNC Basketball: Tar Heel Bench Play Must Improve Against Duke


It’s Duke week Tar Heel Nation!  The scum bags known as the Blue Devils will be heading into Chapel Hill Wednesday to face the Heels.  Over the course of the next three days we’ll cover ever angle, leading up to the greatest rivalry in college sports.  Today I want to discuss the Tar Heels bench play, or lack thereof.  Coming into the season the Tar Heels had without question the deepest and most talented team in all of college basketball.  Even after injuries to Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland, UNC can argue its supremacy against anyone.   At any given time, in any game, Roy Williams has more talent sitting next to him on the bench than most teams do with their best five on the floor.

For the most part, UNC has gotten by with most of its production coming from the “big 4”.  In the scoring department it’s been Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller and John Henson. With Kendall Marshall dishing out most of the assists.  At times, players like Reggie Bullock and PJ Hairston have come up with some big games, demonstrating the type of balance the team is capable of.  With Bullock moving into the starting lineup the pressure is on players like Hairston and fellow freshman James Michael McAdoo to produce.  The bench however has struggled and UNC is getting next to nothing from its two most important reserves.  Coming down the stretch of the season and especially in the ACC and NCAA tournaments, the Heels are going to need a lot more from it’s bench.

More importantly, UNC cannot expect to defeat big time teams like Kentucky, Syracuse, Ohio State or even Duke without something from it’s bench.  I do not think Duke is an elite team this season by any means.  I do however fully believe that this rivalry is so special that it doesn’t matter how large the disparity is between the two teams.  North Carolina vs Duke is almost always a dog fight and will be almost every single time they face off.

UNC’s bench was outscored 24-6 at Maryland. In the four games since Strickland, tore his ACL and Bullock moved into the starting lineup, UNC’s reserves have been outscored 80-42. That’s not going to cut it the rest of the season to say the least.  The big three scorers for UNC are great, and Bullock helps the offense in the starting lineup, 10.5 points from the bench isn’t nearly enough no matter how you slice it.

I’ve questioned Roy Williams substitution patters all season long.  One thing I’d really love to know is, how is he mixing the lineups in practice.  Is it simply, blue team vs white team, starters vs reserves?  I hope not because the biggest problem with both PJ Hairston and James Michael McAdoo is understanding their roles.  The freshman both need run with the starters so they can adapt their games and understand how they fit into the system.  McAdoo looked a little better and a lot more fluid Saturday against the Terps but is still far off from his potential.  This kid is an athletic freak and has stumbled badly in his freshman season adapting to the college game.  The fact is it’s not that he can’t play on this level.  The kid has starred playing for the USAs international teams and won both the McDonalds and Jordan HS All-American game MVPs last season.  He’s a stud, he just doesn’t know how to fit in as a role player yet.

Hairston on the other hand is limiting himself to a jump shooter role and seems timid to let his entire game out.  A great shooter with a nice quick release, PJ was recruited as a big time shooter and UNC needs that from him.  Given the slump that he is in, he needs to focus on being more efficient on the offensive end right now.  His penetration skills are probably close to what Harrison Barnes brings to the table.  Hairston is an excellent ball handler with tremendous leaping ability.  With a solid, strong frame, he’s also a great finisher at the basket.  So far he’s only demonstrated that ability in transition and has shied away from taking the ball to the basket and challenging defenders.  It’s not that he isn’t capable of playing the type of well rounded game, like McAdoo, he hasn’t figured out how to on this team just yet.  Hairston is in a deep slump, still, I expect these two to contribute in a major way before the end of the season.

The worry right now in Chapel Hill has to be when will it happen and how patient can the coaching staff be waiting?  After McAdoo and Hairston, Roy is left with a solid group of role players.   This is where the injuries to Strickland and McDonald may hurt the team the most.  With Barnes and Bullock the wing positions are fine.  Having Kendall Marshall makes all the back up PG talk just noise as long as he doesn’t get hurt or foul out of a game.  The teams depth is hurt the most and now the production from the bench must come from a pair of freshman.  For most teams, that might spell doom, except no other teams have two five star recruits coming off their bench.

In closing, things will be fine for Carolina over the long haul.  But the lack of any production from the bench worries me going into Wednesday’s match up with Duke.
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