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Picking Up the Pieces

Now that it's the day after the Larry Drew bombshell, it's time to take a look at how UNC responds to the sudden change in the lineup.

Contrary to some fan opinion and even that of some pundits, the loss of Drew is, in fact, a big deal. The Tar Heels have responded positively to moving Kendall Marshall into the starting lineup, but a major piece of that positive response was the vastly improved play of Drew. The fact that Drew had 19 assists and only 4 turnovers in the time since he was benched should not be minimized, and Carolina will be hard-pressed to get a 5:1 assist/turnover ratio out of Marshall or whoever replaces Drew (likely Dexter Strickland) as Marshall's backup.

There are two primary ways UNC can change lineups to respond to Drew's departure:

First, Strickland can assume Drew's role as the backup point guard and come off the bench, thereby moving Leslie McDonald or Reggie Bullock into the starting lineup at the 2 guard. The advantages of this strategy are that it puts the team's top 3-point shooters into the wing guard spot (which some fans have clamored for anyway) and it otherwise preserves the rotation that has worked so well over the past few games, including some spots where Marshall and Drew were playing together, meaning Marshall and Strickland would play together.

On the minus side, Strickland has proved to be an able defender and having him split time at the point actually reduces his minutes, as Strickland plays the 3rd-highest minutes on the team (behind Henson and Zeller). And, let's not forget, Strickland's last foray into playing point guard was hardly a success. I'm not sure Roy Williams wants Dex playing 18-20 minutes per game, even though as a sophomore, Strickland may be more well adapted to the college game and able to handle playing the point more easily than as a freshman last year.

Second, Marshall can play 30+ minutes per game at the point and Dex can spell him for 2-3 minutes at a time twice per half. Roy Williams is skilled at couching substitutions around media timeouts, thereby extending periods of rest. The advantages here are that the team's best ball handler is given the keys for most of the game. It becomes a case of survival for the few minutes that Marshall is out of the game. The disadvantages are that Marshall instantly has to increase his minutes by 50%, as well as disrupting the rotation at the 2 and 3 that has worked so well over the past four games.

Of course, the actual answer may be all, some, or none of these two options. In addition, it is important to remember that what UNC does against Florida State may not be the long-term manner in which this situation is dealt with. As Roy noted in his press conference, he was essentially given five hours to figure out what to do about this for the rest of the season. Carolina may have to experiment over the next few games to figure out the best mix. The problem is, Florida State, at Duke, and at Clemson are a great stretch of games to be figuring out what to do at the most important position on the floor.

Oh, and don't forget to (if I may borrow a phrase from Woody Durham) go where you go and do what you do to keep Marshall healthy and out of foul trouble...