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Theo Pinson’s return has elevated the Tar Heels

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Since Theo’s return Carolina has gone 5-0. A lot of the credit for this can be attributed to Theo Pinson.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina State at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina is on a six-game winning streak in the ACC, and a lot of this can be attributed to the return of junior swingman Theo Pinson. Carolina is 5-0 since the return of Theo, who can play a variety of positions from shooting guard all the way to center (which he showed in guarding 7’1” FSU center Michael Ojo in the Tar Heels’ 96-83 win over Florida State.).

Coach Williams has described Theo as a “stat-sheet stuffer,” and he’s shown that in his first five games back. In his debut game versus NC State he had five rebounds, five assists, and four steals. However he was 0-3 shooting and missed a free throw to finish with zero points in the Heels’ 107-56 victory. His next game back was against Wake Forest, when he once again went 0-4 from the field, however he grabbed three rebounds, dished out two assists, and was 2-2 from the line to finish with two points on the night.

Pinson’s biggest game would come against FSU. Due to Tony Bradley being out because of a concussion and Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks getting into foul trouble, Theo was called upon to play the four and even center, guarding at times (as was said earlier) 7’1” FSU center Michael Ojo. He had a very successful game, shooting 3-5 from the field (including 1-2 from three point range) and went 5-6 from the line for 12 points. He also grabbed ten rebounds to finish with a double-double, in addition to three assists. His highlight-worthy tomahawk dunk with just under five minutes left would kick off a game-winning run to finally put the pesky ‘Noles away, and his three pointer, his first of the season, would give Carolina a game-sealing 91-80 lead with just about two minutes left.

Theo put up another good game against the Syracuse Orange, when he went for seven points, five rebounds, and five assists to no turnovers. In Carolina’s last game against Boston College he had another exceptional game, going for 11 points on 3-3 shooting and would have five rebounds, three assists, and a steal. He would also go 5-6 from the line, and at one point he scored four straight UNC points on tip ins that would help Carolina win the hard-fought road game.

But it’s not just Theo’s “stat stuffing” that helps the team as a whole. He and his fellow players have described him as a “spark plug” that can provide energy to a game. This combined with his freakish athleticism (just look at that dunk vs. FSU) and stellar defense make this great UNC team that much better. He has been described by many as UNC’s best perimeter defender and one of the team’s best defenders, period.

Theo being out for all of the non-conference schedule and the first two games of the conference schedule affected UNC greatly. It was obvious in the Kentucky game back in December when Malik Monk put up 47 points against the Heels in the 100-103 loss. If Theo was active, he would have been put on Monk and his greater length over over-matched 6’2” guard Kenny Williams could have at least shaved a few points off of Monk’s monstrous game.

Theo Pinson’s versatility also makes Carolina a better team as a whole, which adds a lot of depth to the Heels. Now Carolina can more effectively play in a smaller lineup without losing much rebounding ability, as Theo has proven that he can rebound as good as almost anyone else (with the exception of maybe Kennedy Meeks). His three point shooting, while not as good as some other players, adds just another weapon to the arsenal, and he can score effectively inside as well. His ability as a passer is second to none on this Carolina team. He seems to throw some monster alley-oop almost every game.

Finally, with Theo healthy Roy can now successfully play 11 or 12 guys (if you count Stilman White). This lessens the effect of foul trouble on this team and makes them just that much deeper at almost every position. This will be a big advantage going into the meat of the schedule in February and beyond into March and maybe April.

Carolina plays next against Virginia Tech on Thursday. Theo has yet to start this season, however he is bound to start at some point. Kenny Williams’ playing time is already down, and we will see if Theo will start against the Hokies soon. If he doesn’t, then it can only be assumed that it will be one game soon when he’ll make his debut as a starter. We shall see.