Will Williams shuffle Heels' lineup?
Posted March 17
Chapel Hill, N.C. — Coaches normally don’t tinker with their personnel rotation only a few days before beginning the NCAA tournament, but you have to think North Carolina’s Roy Williams is at least considering it.
The Tar Heels, who open their East Regional bid on Friday (7:20 p.m., TNT TV) against Providence in San Antonio, have played only two games since March 3 -- a regular-season ending loss at Duke on March 8 and an ACC quarterfinal loss to Pitt on March 14 in Greensboro.
In neither outing did freshman starting center Kennedy Meeks make much of an impact. In 20 combined minutes, he scored one point and had four rebounds.
Meeks, an all-ACC rookie team member, has the potential to one day become a star. But for now, it seems clear that he’s hit the wall and you have to wonder if he can bounce back under the weight of NCAA pressure for the first time.
That’s part of what Williams has to be pondering.
Another issue, and probably far more important, is the backcourt. With a few isolated exceptions, fifth-year senior wing Leslie McDonald has been all but invisible on offense. He didn’t score during the 80-75 loss to Pitt and is shooting only 38.5 percent from the field.
Against Pitt and in a few other games, the backcourt tandem of sophomore star Marcus Paige and freshman playmaker Nate Britt has been more productive.
Britt is only 5-feet-11 and Paige 6-foot-1. It likely would be UNC’s smallest starting backcourt since freshman playmaker Phil Ford (6-foot-1) and senior wing Brad Hoffman (5-foot-10) in 1975.
McDonald, at 6-foot-5, adds a lot more size, but he’s just not playing with any consistency at all. Plus, Britt shoots 79 percent on free throws. McDonald’s 62.5 often is a liability and especially so on a team that struggles at the line in the first place.
When the Tar Heels (23-9) staged a late-game rally against Pitt, Britt was in at the point and Paige, who finished with 27 points, was fueling the comeback from the wing.
And who knows, maybe McDonald would be more effective coming off the bench. It’s for certain he can’t be any colder than he was in Greensboro, when he fouled out and committed three turnovers without getting an assist.
If Meeks goes to the bench, Williams has several options in the frontcourt - Joel James, Desmond Hubert and Brice Johnson.
Johnson has an overwhelming offensive edge but at 6-foot-9, 215 lbs., can get pushed around some on defense.
Providence, however, used only six players in its Big East title win over Creighton and starts two forwards -- sophomore Tyler Harris (6-9, 215) and junior LaDontae Henton (6-6, 210) -- who aren’t extremely physical.
Whether Williams stands pat or makes changes, it’s imperative that the Tar Heels get off to quicker offensive starts. When they fell behind 25-8 early against Pitt, the rest of the game became an endless uphill struggle.