2005 had Marvin Williams, 2008 had Danny Green, 2009 has...well...I'm not sure.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams' first rule for reserves is "Don't hurt us," followed immediately by the command "Do anything you can to help us."
If the Tar Heels' bench doesn't start offering some help -- particularly on offense -- a question has emerged about how long before the hurting sets in.
Entering tonight's game against No. 10-ranked Clemson (16-1, 2-1 ACC), Carolina's reserves are averaging only a combined 12.3 points a game through UNC's first four ACC contests. Those totals include a lowly six points in North Carolina's win Thursday at Virginia. By comparison, forward Danny Green -- UNC's sixth man in 2007-08 -- averaged 11.1 points in regular-season league games all by himself last season. The bench's smallest output last season was four points in a Feb. 6 home loss against Duke.
That's not exactly what was expected from the "deep" Tar Heels (16-2, 2-2) this season.
"We've gotten good play from different people," Williams said. "I think Ed [Davis] comes in the game and again gives us the defensive stand and the rebounding, and that's important to us. Bobby [Frasor] did a really nice job defensively on Saturday when he got in the game. But we haven't had someone come in and give us the scoring punch, and we would like to have that, there's no question."
Davis has been a defensive force as a reserve, averaging a bench-high 5.8 points and 6.5 rebounds in conference play. And in the past, Williams has had defensive-minded players such as Jackie Manuel in 2003-04 and Marcus Ginyard in the latter part of 2005-06 serve as sixth men.
But UNC's past two Final Four teams featured instant production off the bench -- Marvin Williams, who averaged 11.3 points and 22.2 minutes on the 2004-05 national championship team, and Green last season.
"We don't have that so far this year," Williams said.
The question is, will they get it?
The dearth of reserve firepower stems from three factors:
* Ginyard's October foot surgery and subsequent struggle to return to 100 percent pushed Green off the bench and into the starting lineup.
* Freshman forward Tyler Zeller, who displayed a strong scoring touch around the basket, broke his left wrist in the second game, probably sidelining him for the season.
* And then there's the inconsistent shooting of Frasor, a senior, and sophomore Will Graves; they have shot a combined 7-for-24 in ACC games. They're hoping that they can follow the example of starter Wayne Ellington, who shot out of his own scoring slump Saturday against Miami.
"It feels good when it comes off my fingertips," Graves said. "It's only a matter of time."
If I had to place a bet I would bet on Will Graves being that guy. We know he can shoot and he has also shown some athleticism that suprised the heck out of most people(remember the dunk of Ty Lawson's inbound during the MSU game?) Last season Graves shot 45% from three point range going 19-43. This season he is at 29% on 10-34 shooting. The issue with Graves is I am not convinced his defense is quite there. Everyone keeps looking to Ed Davis as a possibility but Davis' offensive game is not polished yet. I guess that is where the argument for starting Davis and letting Deon Thompson be that offense coming off the bench comes in. Roy has indicated that it is better for Thompson pyschologically to start so he will continue to do so.
The other reason the bench production is a concern lies in Roy's original premise heading into the season. The goal was for the Heels' 2nd five to trump the opponent's 2nd five. Losing Marcus Ginyard and Tyler Zeller dealt a serious blow to that plan and with Bobby Frasor getting close to receiving the Jackie Manuel Directive, Larry Drew being a pass first PG, Davis being a beast on the boards but not with his shot and Graves' inconsistency what you are left with is high hopes no one gets in foul trouble or that the defense becomes so stifling the offense will not be so stressed.
One other thing...
In the above link to Roy's radio show, Zeller's status was addressed and Roy is certain he does not play in a game this season. The priority for the UNC coaches is to get Zeller back in practice so they can take advantage of him working on his game versus Tyler Hansbrough and also give the active players a quality center to go against.
There is still no word on Ginyard other than to say he will try to practice next week and they will go from there. Roy wants him for this season and if he plays one more game he cannot redshirt since we are past the midway point of the season.