UNC Basketball: Time to Tighten Up the Rotation


North Carolina head coach Roy Williams almost always likes to experiment with his rotations a little bit at the beginning of the season.  This season through 12 games the 9-3 Tar Heels aren’t much closer to having a stable rotation than they were at the beginning of the season.  And that has to change.

Dec 8, 2012 Chapel Hill, NC, USA. North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams (right) talks to guard P.J. Hairston (15) during the first half of a game against the East Tennessee State Buccaneers at the Dean E. Smith Center. North Carolina won 78-55. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Before I get into this a bit of disclosure I am a huge supporter of North Carolina head coach Roy Williams.  I believe in him as a coach and as a recruiter and it typically annoys me to hear fans complaining about his performance in either capacity.  He’s a hall of Famer with two national titles and countless other accomplishments as the head coach of Carolina and Kansas, but that doesn’t mean he’s perfect.

Before the season I anticipated growing pains and struggles for this young team as they grew together into a team, as this roster grew into their new roles and the freshman adapted to college basketball.   The struggles I anticipated seeing coming into the season were some of the ones we’re seeing including a lack of play makers in the half court, struggling to score at times and a lack of a shot blocking presence inside the paint.

What I did not anticipate seeing was the self inflicted struggles this team is going through, the lack of effort, heart and hustle astonishes me at times at the same time it’s understandable that a team this young, going through so many changes shuts down mentally at times.  The problem I am having is watching the inconsistency in the rotation, a young team is supposed to struggle, a HOF coach should have had things better figured out by now.

We are heading into ACC play and the now unranked Tar Heels cannot continue to experiment, that ship has sailed.  In past seasons I can remember Roy calling this the time to stop playing players just because he likes them that it’s time to start playing those who have earned it.  It’s that time now.

The fact that Roy hasn’t settled on a starting center is maddening, time to stop flip flopping between Brice Johnson, Joel James and Desmond Hubert.  In my mind Hubert shouldn’t even be a candidate and while Brice is a big time scorer, he’s lost defensively.  James on the other hand has lost his offensive touch he displayed early in the season and given his lack of basketball experience it would be difficult to hand him the keys.  Hubert is offensively inept, he looks as if he doesn’t even want the ball in the post and even though he’s probably the best defender of the three, he’s no John Henson.  The job needs to go to Brice, he’s the only one that can combine with James Michael McAdoo to establish a consistent scoring threat in the post to open things up for the teams perimeter shooters.

As for the rest of the rotation, it’s time for Jackson Simmons to take a seat next to the walk ons and Hubert shouldn’t get much more playing time than him.  Those two are averaging a combined 14.8 minutes per game, minutes that need to be distributed to Johnson, James and when Roy decides to go small, JP Tokoto.

On the perimeter it’s time to figure out a way to give more minutes to P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald.  Hairston is the only player on the roster who can shoot from outside and create his own shot in the half court.  Hairston is the teams best free throw shooter, he isn’t aggressive enough offensively and relies too much on his outside shot in other words he’s trying to do too much with the limited time he has on the court, 17.6 minutes per game just isn’t enough.  McDonald has had some big games this season when given a chance, he’s an excellent shooter who’s great in transition, after a horrible injury before the start of last season his confidence is starting to comeback but he will only blossom if he receives the opportunity to get into a rhythm and 18.1 minutes per game isn’t enough to do that.

More important than the minutes distribution and the starting spot inside beside McAdoo is the lineup choices.  I won’t waste my time or yours going over the numerous combinations used this season, anyone paying attention knows the combinations used have not been consistent at anytime this season.  Although the team lost four players to the NBA that were replaced with four freshman the reality is just about this entire team is new.  Everybody is playing a new role with new players and others in unfamiliar situations.

I don’t want to give you the wrong idea here I was never a great athlete but I have played sports my entire life, basketball is by far my favorite sport and the most difficult thing every single season was training camp and the first few games of the season.  Getting used to playing with new teammates and adjusting to skills existing players have picked up over the summer is no easy task.  The thing that always got me and my teams through it, playing together and doing it a lot.  We’re 12 games into the season and nobody on the Tar Heels roster has had the opportunity to do that.

This young roster needs consistency, they need to grow with one another and they aren’t going to do that if Roy continues to throw out infinite different combinations on the court, it’s time to tighten up the rotation.