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An In-Depth Look at UNC's Starts in ACC Play

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Much has been made about the manner in which UNC has started games in ACC play. Since the league schedule opened UNC has found itself trailing at the first TV timeout six times in ten games. In one instance it was a tie and only once has UNC led by more than two points. Now, accounting for the first five or so minutes of the game is an incredibly small sample but the poor starts have thrown even more flammable liquid on the raging lineup fire that is burning even hotter than most seasons. Losing does that. The chart below is a break down of the starting lineup's performance in the span of time leading up to the first media timeout with each starter's points and shooting.

Opponent 1st media TO Mins TOs Paige Strickland Bullock Hubert McAdoo
at Virginia UVa 9-5 4:02 0 0 0-1 0 0-0 2 0-1 3 1-1 0 0-1
vs Miami Miami 6-5 4:39 2 0 0-0 0 0-1 3 1-2 0 0-0 2 1-3
at FSU Tied 6-6 4:27 4 3 1-2 0 0-0 0 0-1 0 0-0 3 1-1
vs MD UNC 13-4 5:25 2 0 0-1 2 1-1 10 3-6 0 0-1 1 0-1
vs GT UNC 8-6 4:10 1 0 0-1 0 0-0 4 2-3 0 0-0 2 1-3
at NC State* NCSU 15-7 5:55 1 0 0-1 0 0-2 3 1-3 0 0-0 0 0-1
at BC BC 8-2 4:03 1 0 0-0 0 0-2 0 0-2 0 0-0 2 1-3
vs VPI VT 12-2 5:19 2 0 0-1 2 1-3 0 0-1 0 0-0 0 0-1
vs WF UNC 6-4 4:03 1 0 0-0 2 1-2 3 1-1 0 0-0 1 0-3
at Miami Miami 9-2 4:10 1 0 0-2 0 0-0 2 1-2 0 0-0 0 0-1
TOTALS Opp. 79-56 46:13 15 3 1-9 6 3-11 27 9-21 3 1-2 11 4-18

*McAdoo played only two minutes to start the NCSU game due to fouls. In his stead Brice Johnson scored four points prior to the first media timeout.

Observation #1: James Michael McAdoo has been awful at the start of games. While the discussion revolves around Dexter Strickland playing over P.J. Hairston, it is important to note how poorly a player who was a pre-season All-ACC pick is performing. McAdoo is 4-18 for 11 points with three of those 11 coming on rather poor FT shooting. What's more 7 of UNC's 15 turnovers occurring before the first media timeout are McAdoo's. While the Hairston over Strickland talk has merit, the fact McAdoo has struggled to start games is an even bigger issue. Why? UNC's offense is interior oriented. In 10 ACC games so far, McAdoo has taken the first shot for UNC in seven of them going 1-7. Against Wake Forest he was fouled on a shot and made one of two FTs. This past Saturday, McAdoo took the second shot of the game and missed it.

Granted we are talking about a small sample size and in many games, McAdoo ends up scoring and rebounding well. However he has struggled early in games and as a result the offense gets thrown out of kilter. That leads to two possible solutions. McAdoo simply has to improve or the offense needs to be changed. Since the latter isn't happening, here is hoping McAdoo stops getting off on the wrong foot in future contests.

Observation #2: The starting backcourt is horrible shooting the ball. Actually this sort of applies for the balance of the game though Marcus Paige has shown he can shoot the ball well just not consistently. In 46 minutes, the starting back court is 4-20. That includes one made three, by Paige in the FSU game. In four of the last five games, Strickland has taken two or more shots during the first 4-5 minutes of the game going 2-9. In two of those games, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech, Strickland had more shot attempts than Reggie Bullock in the early minutes. One of the reasons that might be is defenses blanket Bullock, Paige is unable to penetrate, getting it inside proves difficult so Strickland ends up taking a tough jumper.

Obviously the much talked about solution to this problem is starting Hairston over Strickland which would put two shooters on the floor and changed the offensive dynamic. However it would have to be more than that. The offense would also need to be more perimeter oriented. McAdoo's issues make it clear, going to him early doesn't garner enough production. If Hairston were to start it would also need to be accompanied by a change to the offensive scheme. This is not advocating going full Duke and simply bombing threes but rather using three point shooting to open up spacing and give the interior offense some breathing room. It also stands to reason that since Leslie McDonald is back, the bench is not necessarily devoid of offense.

Observation #3: Reggie Bullock is a man on an island. He has gone 9-21 and scored 27 points in the early minutes of games. Even then, he is probably not shooting enough. Only twice has Bullock scored more than three points and one of those was the 10 point outburst against Maryland. In some ways UNC appears to be getting too many shot attempts from McAdoo and not enough from Bullock. It also hurts Bullock that defenses can key on him without fear of another player on the floor beating them.

Observation #4: Desmond Hubert is a non-factor. In only one game did Hubert score in the first 4-5 minutes and in only two games has he taken a shot. Combing through the play-by-play revealed Hubert's name rarely came up except for a random block or rebound. Still, I am not necessarily that put out by him starting as some people are because in the end he doesn't play that much. It has half-jokingly been said Hubert is out there to win the tip and that is all. Given how little he plays beyond the first 5 minutes of the game, there might be an element of truth to that. Brice Johnson starting might result in more offense but again UNC needs its perimeter players to produce to really ramp up the early game production.

Observation #5: The offense is the problem more than the defense. Excluding the Maryland game, which looks very much like an outlier UNC is averages 4.7 points in roughly 4.5 minutes. Opponents are averaging over 8 points in the same span. That includes three games where UNC only scored two points prior to the first media timeout. Two of those games were against Boston College and Virginia Tech. UNC is shooting 29% from the floor(18-61) prior to the first media timeout and committing 15 turnovers. Yes, it is nice thought to put a good defensive team on the floor to start the game providing there are solid offensive options. That is not the case with this team.

I realize this is the horse beating I referred to in the comments yesterday. I also realized based on Roy Williams' comments today that the starting five are the ones who have won the position in practice nothing is going to change. Of course, Williams does have a point about practice and that being a tool to decide such things. He might be too dependent on practice data for starting lineup decisions but at the same time there are times when he does give the right players plenty of run. There have been many end of game situations where the lineup that best fits the situation has been on the court. The problem is there is a problem and a perception that fixing said problem is very simple. It would almost be better if the team was just bad and there were no obvious solutions. At least then fans could stop banging their heads against the wall.