Now that we know Dexter Strickland is out for the season our attention turns how the Heels will adjust to losing the team quickest guard and best perimeter defender
First of all, the most popular question since UNC confirmed Strickland's status is whether Leslie McDonald's redshirt might be reconsidered. My gut feeling is this will not impact that but obviously it is a possibility. The problem with bringing McDonald back is he is not ready now and could be weeks away from that being the case. Secondly, McDonald doesn't really help the team in the two areas Strickland was most valuable which are defense and backup point guard. Obviously UNC is a lot thinner now and another quality player would be helpful but at this point the only real issue with depth is foul trouble and this team is not foul prone. If there is another injury to any other wing players or Kendall Marshall, the Heels would be totally screwed. In short, even with the injury, there is no compelling reason to rush McDonald back for what probably amounts to 15-18 games at best.
With McDonald not being an option, the roster UNC has is the hand Roy Williams will play with the rest of the season barring additional injuries. That means Reggie Bullock will move from the bench into the starting line up at wing guard. P.J. Hairston is now the only available sub on the wing. James Michael McAdoo and Justin Watts will continue to see minutes spelling John Henson and Tyler Zeller. Since Strickland is the backup point guard, that means Kendall Marshall will be asked to play 36 minutes or more in competitive games. Stillman White was offered a scholarship late last spring just for this eventuality and although he is nowhere near the caliber to provide major minutes, White will be called on to hold down the fort for 3-4 possessions per half. Marshall will have to be smart on defense, not get himself in foul trouble and keep himself healthy.
The overall impact of losing Strickland to the team is a change in the dynamics of both the offense and defense. Strickland gave UNC a quick perimeter defender who could keep either the opposing point or wing guard in check. Without him, Bullock will have a tall task in filling the void. The dropoff from Strickland to Bullock on the defensive end is not huge. The problem lies with Strickland and Bullock being different types of defenders. Strickland's quickness and ability to chase around screens made him very tough for any point/wing guard to get free from. Strickland could also keep these kinds of guards in front of him. Bullock does not possess Strickland's speed though I do think he really works hard on the on the defensive end. He will have more trouble will smaller, quicker players but aside from that his length and size will bother many opposing guards who are generally smaller. Another options is using Harrison Barnes to guard quicker backcourt personnel. This is what Roy Williams did vs Virginia Tech in having Barnes guard Dorenzo Hudson. It turned out to be effective and it could be again in future match-ups.
On the offensive end, it is commonly held that Bullock gives UNC more production. In my opinion it is not that simple. While Bullock is certainly a better three point shooter, Strickland has been very effective shooting the mid-range jumper when available. He has also given the Heels some speed on the fastbreak. Strickland could go end-to-end in a manner reminiscent of Ty Lawson. Losing that, considering UNC's preferred pace, is a problematic. Bullock, on the other hand, gives UNC another three point shooter on the court. I also would not sell Bullock short on his ability to score aside from three point shooting. He doesn't have Strickland's speed but I think he is capable of being a scorer rather than just a shooter. Bullock will need to be more aggressive as well as use his size to give the Heels more backcourt rebounding.
Overall, it is almost impossible to judge totally how this will play out which is why we watch the games. Based on a fair amount of statistical evidence, UNC is better on offense and the defense is acceptable with Bullock in the line alongside Marshall and the Big Three. In fact UNC's hope for winning anything has always ridden on Marshall and the Big Three. Not that Strickland or Bullock aren't important but neither are at the top of the list. From the depth perspective, there is little doubt this hurts but it is not a dealbreaker. The 2005 team operated with this type of thin roster and almost no real point guard backup. Quentin Thomas was just plain awful as a freshman so it was all Raymond Felton all the time. Yes, Melvin Scott did play some point but overall this team is dealing with the same setup in terms of personnel.
For the second season in a row, UNC is dealing with a personnel loss mid-season. Losing Some Other Kid last season was a blessing in disguise, the removal of a player no one wanted. Losing Strickland is the complete opposite in every sense imaginable. No one liked SOK, everyone likes Strickland which is another discussion for another time on how perversely unfair life can be sometimes. The question is how the Heels respond in the general sense. Having a week before the next game helps since there is time for Roy to make the necessary adjustments in practice to account for the loss of a key player. More than that, we will hear the standard fare from players, coaches and media alike about stepping up, pulling together, etc, etc, etc. Where this team is concerned, this sort of thing could be the necessary catalyst to resolve the "lack of natural intensity" issue. On Thursday night, the Heels had already stepped up their game by the time Strickland was injured. However there was no drop off in the level of play after Strickland went out.
Without Strickland, UNC will need multiple players to do a little more in certain areas to compensate for his absence. Probably the most important is more activity on defense and if there was ever a time to see Harrison Barnes really live up to the hype, now would be the time. The question at this point is how much this ultimately damages UNC's title hopes? Probably some or at the very least it narrows the margin of error some. UNC ceiling this season still depends on the play of the Big Three and Kendall Marshall, if Reggie Bullock can be a suitable substitute for Strickland then it still might be enough.