Dexter Strickland drives against defender Gabe Moton of the Boston College Eagles during play at the Dean Smith Center on January 7, 2012. North Carolina won 83-60.
UNC has released the news we were all dreading – Dexter Strickland did indeed tear his ACL in last night's Virginia Tech game, and will miss the rest of the season. This, of course, is a serious blow to UNC's championship hopes. Strickland was not only the best perimeter defender on the team, but also the backup point guard, and it's going to take multiple players to replace him.
Strickland's starting job will probably be filled by Reggie Bullock. If nothing else, this should lead to more perimeter shooting; for a guy in the position commonly referred to as shooting guard, Strickland didn't take that many shots. (He attempted one three-pointer this season. It didn't fall.) Defensively, it's a loss, but probably not as much as most people are thinking. Bullock has in recent weeks emerged as one of the players willing to throw himself all over the court, and it has shown in defense. It's tough to judge much from the plus/minus stats, as Bullock gets more time with the second team – and plays more often against the other guys' second team – but it's rare UNC gives up significantly more points with Bullock on the floor than on the bench. (One big piece of evidence against that is the Virginia Tech game, where Strickland had three fouls in the first ten minutes, and was benched most of the time. Tech scored 52 points with Bullock on the floor, and only 16 with him on the bench.)
The role of backup point guard falls to Stilman White, who was recruited at the last minute for that very purpose. And yet he's been relegated to third string, playing only 4.3 minutes a game. Kendall Marshall is playing 31.2 minutes a game; last year after Larry Drew's departure he averaged 34.9, and it took its toll by the end of the year. Marshall has another year of conditioning under his belt, but I still wouldn't expect him to play more than 35 minutes per game. Where this may have the biggest effect is on Marshall's defense. He can no longer afford to get into foul trouble early, and opposing teams are going to attack him hard. As for White's performance at the point guard position, well, it's tough to say. His assist-to-turnover ratio is pretty good, but you rarely see him play against the other team's best defense. He's an unknown quantity, and one we'll get to know very quickly.
And that's the long and short of it. Expect UNC's defense to take a big hit, more from Marshall than from Bullock, and expect Marshall's life to get a lot more difficult. Don't expect Leslie McDonald to return, however. If there was any way he could, I'm sure he would, mind you. This is a championship-contending team, and McDonald would fight his way back if at all possible, even with Strickland healthy. No, Carolina will finish the year without two shooting guards. How they'll handle it will say a lot about this team.