Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Not that there was much of a question about this. Through three games, the team has certainly looked better even if that doesn't bear out statistically. At this point, the sample is a tad small as it compares to the rest of the season. That makes going against NC State the best test so far because on paper, the match-up does not favor the smaller lineup.
Roy Williams indicated in his press conference today that while he would love more inside scoring. He prefers the balance a solid inside game gives a team. Unfortunately, the Heels "don't have that kind of player" right now necessitating a move away from what UNC normally does. Williams said it became a matter of putting the best players on the court noting that while Hairston has had some inconsistent shooting, he is doing other things that keeps him in the lineup. Reggie Bullock also indicated that Hairston had simply raised his level of play in practice and earned his spot in the lineup.
With the Heels facing NC State on Saturday, the match-up question is a big one. NC State's coach Mark Gottfried has already said 6-8 freshman T.J. Warren will start at small forward instead of Rodney Purvis. Williams said Hairston would definitely guard Wolfpack forward C.J. Leslie and James Michael McAdoo would be on Richard Howell. There is a lot of give and take with this with the likelihood both teams enjoy advantages on the offensive end. Howell will be a bit of a load for McAdoo but at the same time, Howell is going to have trouble matching McAdoo's quickness if he faces up. Expect UNC to clear out the lane as they did versus Georgia Tech and take advantage of that.
Hairston guarding Leslie around the rim will be tough but not undoable. When asked about it today, Hairston said his main goal was to force Leslie to do things he doesn't want to do and "make him uncomfortable." Some of that will be fronting him, some of that will be using his strength to get Leslie out of position and into taking a less reliable shot. The Greensboro sophomore is giving up three inches but outweighs Leslie by 20 pounds. In terms of toughness, Hairston has proven he is the better of the two in that regard. On the flip side, Hairston will be pulling Leslie away from the basket and away from a position where he can block shots or grab defensive rebounds. In addition, it also would not hurt for Hairston to get in Leslie's head a bit much like former teammate John Henson did.
As for the rest of the match-ups. Bullock will guard Warren which should be feasible since, according to Williams, Warren is more perimeter oriented. How the other two positions shake out is going to be critical. Does UNC opt for Dexter Strickland on Lorenzo Brown and Marcus Paige on Scott Wood? Strickland can probably do a better job containing Brown but Paige chasing Wood is a concern. There are times Paige can still get lost a bit and Wood doesn't need much room to get off three pointers. This is also where a healthy dose of Leslie McDonald will help. McDonald showed against Virginia Tech's Erick Green he can guard. McDonald's shooting and defense could very well be the X-factor in this game.
-Joel James has been cleared to play and is practicing. Williams does not know if he will play citing conditioning as a concern.
-Williams also said they have not mentioned ACC Tournament seeding implications with the team saying the focus right now is on NC State.
-Williams sounded as though he was battling a cold and cough.