Parsing the 2014 UNC Basketball Scenarios

Jamie Squire

The leaves are coming out on the trees, Easter is just around the corner and UNC players are contemplating the NBA Draft. Ah, the rites of spring.

With the season slowly fading into that good night, attention turns to whether James Michael McAdoo, Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston will head to the NBA Draft or return for another season.

On his radio show last night, Roy Williams addressed the issues(as he always does) but this time with a little more commentary that he normally gives. Via Inside Carolina.

"We’ll look into it and see. I don’t feel the sense of urgency right now with that as I have in years past. We were an 8-seed. We finished third in the league. We had 11 losses. The NBA usually likes to find those guys that come off teams that won 30 games and go to the Final Four. And our guys understand that. That’s not saying anything negative. But with P.J. and Reggie and James Michael, those three for example, they’re going to be NBA players. There’s no doubt in my mind. Is it going to be next year? I think that is a big question. I think each one of those kids can gain a great deal from coming back and improve their game. John Henson’s dad said it better than anybody – it’s not how quickly you get to the NBA, it’s how ready you are to play when you get there. I think all three of those kids, I’ll have discussions with them and I’ll have discussions with the NBA people about them, but I don’t think there’s any cut-and-dried guy that’s going to be leaving for sure."

Normally, Williams says he will talk to his/UNC's NBA connections, give the information the players and their families then let them decided. That is still going to happen but I don't recall Williams so publicly alluding to a possible return of players and seemingly advocating it. In the end, I have my doubts Williams would lobby players to stay if they wanted to go but his rhetoric here seems to point to them returning.

While we wait for these decisions to be hammered out, here are the best and worst possibilities for next season based on how many of the three stay or go.

Note: All scenarios assume Andrew Wiggins does not come to North Carolina.

Scenario #1: All three leave

This is the "hide your kids, hide your wife" scenario. All three leaving would put a gaping hole in the lineup so big, you could drive a Coke truck through it which is good because Roy Williams would need all the Coke he can get. If Hairston, McAdoo and Bullock depart it would take the top three scorers off the team and with Dexter Strickland graduating the top four. The lineup would look something like this.

PG: Marcus Paige
SG: Leslie McDonald
SF: J.P. Tokoto
PF: Isaiah Hicks or Brice Johnson or Jackson Simmons
C: Brice Johnson or Desmond Hubert or Joel James or Kennedy Meeks
Bench: Nate Britt

In other words there will be exactly two positions in which there are clear offensive options and only one of those, Paige, has shown promise to play at a high level. This is the nightmare scenario people. The offense would be suspect at best and the defense likewise have all sorts of issue. There would be no small lineup to save the day in fact this team would be painfully thin on the perimeter even if you include Nate Britt in the mix.

Scenario #2: Two of the three leave

The question is which two? The most likely pair to leave together would be McAdoo and Bullock leaving a lineup that looks like this.

PG: Marcus Paige
SG: Leslie McDonald
SF: P.J. Hairston
PF: Isaiah Hicks or Brice Johnson or Jackson Simmons
C: Brice Johnson or Desmond Hubert or Joel James or Kennedy Meeks
Bench: Nate Britt, J.P. Tokoto

Hairston would give UNC an All-ACC caliber scorer and maybe, just maybe McDonald finally develops a consistent jumper. The front court still looks questionable and will require either the freshmen to be really good out of the gate or Hubert/Johnson/James need to make incredible developmental leaps over the summer. Again not ideal but not as bad as the first scenario.

If it happens that McAdoo stays with Hairston and Bullock leaving, it will be more like the first scenario with UNC struggling from outside but there being some form of interior scoring. McAdoo would need to be far more efficient, finish at the rim, etc and another post player would need to step up to take the pressure off of him.

Scenario #3: Only one players leaves

Again, it depends on who. If I had to order the three players in terms of which one would hurt the most to lose I would go Hariston, Bullock and McAdoo with the first two being easily interchangeable. If McAdoo goes, which is seemingly what a lot of UNC fans want, this would be the lineup.

PG: Marcus Paige
SG: Reggie Bullock
SF: P.J. Hairston
PF: Isaiah Hicks or Brice Johnson or Jackson Simmons
C: Brice Johnson or Desmond Hubert or Joel James or Kennedy Meeks
Bench: Leslie McDonald, Nate Britt, J.P. Tokoto

Without McAdoo, UNC would still have major question marks about the interior. That means out of the group of Hicks, Meeks, Johnson, James, Simmons, Hubert you would need to find two players who can score, rebound and play defense well enough to balance the offense. Williams has said he is not going small again next season so any notion that McDonald slides into the two, Bullock to the three and Hairston to the four should be put away for now.

If McAdoo and only one of the wings returns then from a personnel standpoint, the lineup is more balanced though going from having Hairston and Bullock to McDonald and one of Hairston and Bullock is a downgrade unless the fifth year senior steps up his game.

Scenario #4: All three return

The lineup:

PG: Marcus Paige
SG: Reggie Bullock
SF: P.J. Hairston
PF: James Michael McAdoo
C: Brice Johnson or Desmond Hubert or Joel James or Kennedy Meeks
Bench: Leslie McDonald, Nate Britt, J.P. Tokoto, Isaiah Hicks, Jackson Simmons

Regardless of what people may think of McAdoo, this is UNC's first, best chance of improving off last season. It would be four starters returning and with Paige's improved play that's four offensive threats. The assumption is McAdoo would go back to his traditional four spot and Williams will roll the dice hoping that one of the four designated centers will actually be able to hold down the spot. In 2012-13 none of the three already on campus showed enough serious game to keep UNC using a traditional lineup. That being said, without Strickland, there will be no questions about who plays the wings. Since WIlliams said they won't go small, someone needs to grab the center spot and play well there.

There are rumblings(no pun intended) that Meeks might be the answer for the word on him is his conditioning is an issue. He has great size, is a solid rebounder and low block scorer however if he can't get up and down the court in Williams' offense then his playing time will be limited. If that is the case, then it will be on one of the three current centers to make themselves a viable option at the five. The other option is McAdoo does play the five again and Isaiah Hicks starts at the four which still keeps UNC in a traditional lineup.

While everyone(who is rational anyway) will respect whatever these players do, there is an element of anxiety with these decisions more than any other. If all two or three were to leave it would be an level of attrition no program, even an elite one, could handle except maybe Kentucky. And even UK didn't weather losing a whole lineup the same way UNC did this season. There is the possibility of UNC losing eight players in a two year span during a time when the recruiting is going through a bit of a dry spell. All signs point to the 2014 class changing that but UNC needs a decent bridge to get there. While the younger players or incoming ones might be helpful, the experience the Tar Heels would have with a senior, two juniors and a sophomore in the starting line is difficult to replace.

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