The Tar Heel Jigsaw Puzzle- Replacing PJ Hairston and Leslie McDonald
When North Carolina kicks off the 2013-2014 basketball season tomorrow, they probably won’t know anything new about the status of star shooting guard PJ Hairston and sixth-man Leslie McDonald. Why not? Because the NCAA is involved and they can’t seem to do anything in a timely manner. Both players have been in the news this summer for bad reasons- Hairston for speeding, drugs and rental cars; McDonald for mouth guard endorsement. A decision doesn’t seem to be on the way, even though it should because it’s the start of the season. Since Roy Williams and North Carolina are going to do the smart thing and hold the two players out, there are a lot of holes to fill for the team in both production AND leadership. Earlier today, it was announced that the following players will be starting the opening game against Oakland tomorrow at 9pm-
PF-James Michael McAdoo
That lineup is significantly different from the end of last year, with mainstays Hairston and Reggie Bullock gone (NBA), and Paige and McAdoo switching positions. There’s also the notable absence of a starter at center. So what does this mean for North Carolina? Well, in short, not a lot. It’s the first game of the season and Oakland is coming into the year with a 16-17 record and 3 total tournament appearances. The game against the Golden Grizzlies is a great opportunity for Roy Williams to see what type of team he has and how they work together. After all, there’s no telling when Hairston and McDonald will come back, if at all.
Williams has already stripped Hairston and McDonald of a lot of their leadership and upperclassman privileges- smaller media guide recognition, less promotional prominence. He’s already told Marcus Paige that this is HIS team. So that’s why it’s so interesting that Britt is going to be starting at point, while Paige will be at shooting guard. That probably means two things- 1) Roy has seen enough out of Britt to trust him and 2) Williams trusts Paige so much that he’s asking him to replace both Hairston and McDonald (which he IS, at least position-wise if you look at the lineup).
Tomorrow’s game probably won’t reveal a lot about this team. Oakland will presumably be overmatched by even an underclassman-led Tar Heel team. But it will be interesting to see how the team adapts without two of their older players. A lot of questions need to be answered-
1) Besides Paige, who will step up as a leader? Will McAdoo finally live up to the previous (potentially unfair) expectations?
2) Where will the threes come from? Without Hairston, Bullock and McDonald, there’s not a proven go-to guy on the roster.
3) Who will be the starting center? Williams said that the whole roster is in flux besides Paige and McAdoo (likely due to Hairston’s suspension), but this position is the biggest question mark of them all.
4) Just how long will Hairston and McDonald be out?
The ceiling is extremely high for this Tar Heel team, but it remains to be seen how much they can accomplish. Tomorrow’s game will go a long way into deciding where all of the pieces fit. Circle December 4 on the calendar. That’s the day Carolina travels to face Tom Izzo’s highly ranked Michigan State Spartans. Sure, the Tar Heels have had great success against the Spartans in recent years, but that was with guys named Lawson, Hansbrough, Green, Barnes and Henson. There’s a lot for the current group of players to figure out before then if they want to continue their success.