Signs are pointing that way.
UNC junior center Kennedy Meeks participated in pregame warm-ups versus Georgia Tech last Saturday and was seen working with trainer Doug Haverson earlier that morning. According to Roy Williams on his radio show last night, Meeks will return to practice this week with an eye on a possible return versus Syracuse this weekend.
"The plan is to try to get him through a little bit of practice [on Wednesday]," Williams said. "A little bit more on Thursday, and if he can go the full practice and go up and down the court on Friday, then it will be my decision whether to play him because of how efficient he is. But, at least, if he can do those things health-wise, he will be able to play on Saturday."
While UNC has gone 7-0 in Meeks' absence and beaten teams(UCLA, Georgia Tech, FSU) with some size on the interior. Despite a clean record with him out, Meeks is still an important piece to the team's season success. Meeks' offensive and defensive rebounding rate far outstrip Joel James, Isaiah Hicks and Luke Maye. He is hitting nearly 60% of his shots on the season and his passing acumen gives UNC more versatility.
On the defensive end, UNC's overall efficiency was better with Meeks both because more defensive rebounding ends possessions but also because he had 13 steals in nine games. Meeks did struggle with pick & roll and ball screen defense but overall the Tar Heels were better defensively with him on the floor than without.
Ultimately this comes down to a talent issue. In Meeks' absence James has played 14.5 mpg with Hicks seeing a bump along with Maye. Less James and Maye and more Meeks is a good thing. The tricky part of this is still getting Hicks and his skill set on the floor. Hicks has played 20.0 mpg since Meeks went our versus 17.1 mpg in the nine games prior. Of course heading into this portion of the schedule it is possible Hicks still sees the court at about the same rate since whatever minutes James and Maye were getting in November and December will likely evaporate.
The most important aspect of this is increasing UNC's quality depth and having different lineup options to combat various situations. While the minutes played gets much of the focus, the more important discussion is when a player gets those minutes and having those players to deal with certain types of games or opponents. Syracuse's zone defense and the necessary ball movement needed to overcome it make this game one Meeks could be a huge factor.
Correction: I fixated on the wrong column in the stat sheet for Isaiah Hicks' minutes. Those have been corrected.