Doc Kennedy, Chris Strohsahl, Paul Kushner and I discuss the season to come, recruiting and how UNC might fare in the first six games in the preseason edition of the roundtable.
Brian: The season is just a scant two days from opening. UNC is #1 team in the country according to the AP Poll and the expectations are right where they should be for a Tar Heel basketball team. The season won't start smoothly with last week's news that Marcus Paige broke a bone in his non-shooting hand. The prognosis says 3-4 weeks which means missing the first six or seven games of the season.
Let's assume Paige returns for Maryland on December 1st(which four weeks exactly). Can UNC win the first six games without him?
Chris: They certainly can win all six, though it wouldn’t shock me if they do drop one. As the schedule sits now, they play three of those six games against teams ranked in the (KenPom) top 100: Temple (76), N. Iowa (59), and Northwestern (51). All three of those games will be played at either a neutral site or on the road, which would be a tall task even at full strength. Northern Iowa, on paper, looks like the best guess as to which game the Heels could drop, though they are replacing four key seniors, including Seth Tuttle, who finished 5th in the KenPom NPOY standings, so they may be still be struggling with their identity.
Paul: I think they could drop the Temple game. Temple always plays tough and I think the first game will be when the Heels are most vulnerable since they are still trying to figure out who should start at point guard. The Heels shouldn't really be tested until the Maryland game though. Even without Paige the Heels are just better at every position.
Doc: An early-season loss without a point guard is not unheard of in UNC lore (Santa Clara, anyone?). The good news is that A) UNC has a capable backup at the point and B) there will be some practice time to have the first unit work without Paige. This is not like an injury happening in the heat of conference play in the middle of three games per week and little practice time. The other good news is that with the injury being to his non-shooting hand, he can still participate in drills, conditioning, and even form shooting so the adjustment time upon his return should be minimal.
Brian: And the nice thing about these games is there is insulation. Sure a loss would drop UNC in the polls but it will immediately be dismissed as "They didn't have Marcus Paige." Still it would be nice to see players step up and play at such a level as to mitigate Paige's absence against these six teams.
So the question is who gets the start? Will Roy do Roy things and give the node to Nate Britt as the more experienced player or go with Joel Berry? Or does it really not matter given how much he will rotate both players?
Chris: My guess, based on the way we saw PT divided at the end of the last season, is that Berry will start… though I also think your point about it probably not mattering much is the most correct. Unless there one dramatically out performs the other, I expect their minutes to be pretty even through the first 6 games.
But here’s another question: what if Britt or Berry dramatically out perform Pinson through the first 6? Does that change the plan to have Paige be the primary point guard when he come back?
Paul: My inclination is to see what happens on the defensive end as opposed to the offensive end. I would expect Britt to be poised for success more than Berry on this front. Pinson will play more since he does not need the ball in his hands and can rebound better than the nominal guards. Britt should be a better defender because of his experience and length, a good performance from him early would threaten Pinson more than Berry. I expect Berry to come off the bench no matter what since he would be a good ball dominant guard to carry the offense when Paige is resting later in the season.
Doc: I agree with all three of you on some level. I think Roy could give the nod to Britt as the experienced player, but I also think it really won't matter as Britt, Pinson, and Berry will all see significant time, especially in the absence of Paige. Once Paige gets back, I could see Berry as the other starter, because then you bring Britt off the bench to either spell Paige or move him to the 2, rather than starting Britt and bringing in Berry/Pinson to move Paige to the 1.
Paul: Random question, with Seventh Woods' commitment people are already looking at potential lineups for next year. A lot of people seem to think Jusitn Jackson and Kennedy Meeks are leaving. Am I the only one who thinks that's unrealistic? Jackson is way too skinny to be an NBA player and is projected well outside of the lottery. He was also home-schooled K-12 and in talking to him and seeing other reports he seems to care a lot about his degree. And with Meeks, he's a similarly projected late round pick. Why would he go? He still needs to develop more of a jump shot if he wants to make an NBA roster.
Chris: Strictly from a fan’s perspective, it’s sort of a “Catch-22” proposition. Right now, Jackson (24, Draft Express) and Meeks (26) are “end of the first gambles,” but if UNC has the year that most are expecting, then that will mean that Jackson (certainly) and Meeks (likely) will have played themselves into the first 15-20 picks.
However, if Jackson and Meeks don’t play to that level, then I have a hard time seeing UNC making a deep run in the NCAA tournament. And I would say that is especially true of Meeks, as one of the two absolute constants (the other being great play from the point guard) in Roy’s best teams, both at Kansas and UNC, has been a dominant scoring presence inside (LaFrentz, Gooden, Collison, May, Hansbrough, Zeller).
Brian: And to that point, for UNC to win a title, Jackson will very likely need to be a consistent perimeter threat. If Jackson does that and shows he can rebound from the wing, he effectively answers some of the biggest concerns about his game. At that point he almost certainly goes because Roy Williams is going to encourage it. If he stays he risks damaging himself as flaws might be exposed. Also, Roy actually needs some guys to be successful and leave early to ease some of the concern on the recruiting trail that good players go to UNC, stay too long and have their stock damaged.
Doc: Agreed on all counts. Besides, you play the hot hand. If UNC makes a deep tournament run, Meeks and Jackson could go. Not many people thought Sean May would leave at the start of the 2004-05 season but he played his way into the lottery. As Chris said, it's a fan's Catch-22. For UNC to have a truly special season, Meeks and Jackson will need to play like they are NBA-caliber and if they have that special season then they need to strike while the iron is hot and go.
Brian: And ultimately the benefits of winning a title and the NCAA business being cleared up will get the recruiting back on track and get UNC back into a "normal" cycle.
Turning to the schedule, the non-conference slate isn't necessarily as tough as ones we've seen in the past for UNC but still 5-6 tough games on the slate then the Tar Heels hit ACC play. While winning the regular season is an obvious goal for Roy Williams the real prize is a #1 seed and placement in Raleigh for the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament. What does UNC need to do record wise to get there?
Paul: I would say they need to have no more than 5 losses. The ACC will be deep enough that they can lose some games in conference play and still win the regular season and tournament crowns which will get them an automatic one seed. I think they can stand to lose one game sans Paige and then four in conference play.
@Cuse @Duke @LVille @UVA @ND will all be tough and you'd expect them to drop a few of those which also assumes they're perfect at home.
Doc: I don't think it's as much about record as it is how UNC performs relative to Duke and UVa. I know that Sports Illustrated had them with 5 ACC losses even as the #1 team in the country. Given that they may drop 1 or 2 non-conference, they could be looking at 6 or 7 losses, but how they finish relative to their two most prevalent regional rivals will determine if they are in Raleigh for the tourney.
Chris: I agree with Doc; it’s more about how they do in relation to their rivals than anything else. There look to be no dominant teams this year, so I doubt we will see a situation like 2008, where the four #1-seeds entered the tournament with 9 losses, combined. I think the target should be 5 losses for a 1-seed, but can certainly envision a scenario where 7 losses would still get it done. All one has to do is look at the the 2012 Michigan State team for an example. They started that season 0-2 (albeit to UNC and Duke), went 13-5 in conference, and then won the B1G Tournament to secure a 1-seed. The key was that they were a combined 5-1 against Ohio State (2-seed) and Wisconsin (4-seed). If UNC has similar success against Duke and UVa, the rest is (almost) irrelevant.
Brian: There is also the issue of the unbalanced schedule which Virginia is again benefiting from. UNC has Duke twice and road games at FSU, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Louisville and Virginia. On the other hand Virginia sees UNC and Duke just once and get Syracuse and Miami at home. The Cavs do have play Miami and Louisville twice but generally speaking UVa's chances of getting through the ACC slate with fewer losses than UNC is somewhat better. I think UNC can get through the non-conference unscathed providing they get Paige back for Maryland. Right now KenPom has UNC with a 68% of better chance of winning those games with the exception of a 51% chance when the Tar Heels travel to Texas. It also does not include the 2nd CBE Classic game. Worst case UNC should come out of the preseason with 0-2 losses and probably max out at four in ACC play. In that scenario they likely get to Raleigh