When Friday night’s game against the Bahama All-Stars tipped off, Roy Williams answered the first of many questions with the following starting lineup:
Starting lineup for #UNC: Seventh Woods, Kenny Williams, Brandon Robinson, Luke Maye and Sterling Manley— InsideCarolina (@InsideCarolina) August 17, 2018
The lineup was a bit of a surprise considering five-star stud Nassir Little seemed to be a prime candidate to slide into Cam Johnson’s open spot. Someone may have even suggested Little likely would start in the Bahamas because of this, but I have no clue who that was. The rest of the lineup wasn’t a surprise at all, especially Seventh Woods’ inclusion considering he was the only experienced point guard returning.
Fans who have followed Roy Williams teams, especially those who have followed his predecessor Dean Smith, know that when you have a freshman point guard and a junior point guard, the junior is going to be the one who is on the floor when the season tips off. Don’t believe me? Look at this game summary from Carolina’s first game in the ‘06-’07 season, when Ty Lawson was a freshman. He started, right?
Nope, Bobby Frasor was your starting point guard while Lawson “saw significant time backing up” Frasor. It wasn’t until the home blowout against Kentucky on December 2nd that Lawson jogged out as the starter.
The only freshmen to start their first game at the point at Carolina under Williams was the afore mentioned Frasor and Marcus Paige. In both cases, it was because there really wasn’t another point guard on the roster who could start and allow them to grow into the role. in ‘05, you had Quentin Thomas as a sophomore who barely played behind Raymond Felton. Thomas and Frasor tag teamed that season. In ‘12, Dexter Strickland started at shooting guard and walk-on Luke Davis was not a starter-caliber player. With a junior on the roster in Seventh Woods, conventional wisdom is that Coby White will start the season on the bench.
That conventional wisdom, however, was thrown out the window with an interview Kenny Williams did with Inside Carolina. Williams did not throw any shade at Woods, complimenting him on his moves, drive, and finally stable health. That said, the senior heaped a good amount of praise on the freshman White as well, saying he’ll make it a “tough decision.” The senior knows all too well how difficult it is to crack the starting lineup under Roy Williams, and that he sees a chance for the freshman to do it is significant.
White did a lot on his own to stir that conversation this weekend, too. While White didn’t start, he banged home 18 points and four assists on Friday. Woods answered with 11 points and the dunk of the weekend, and with that the competition is on.
Saturday didn’t really provide us with much of a follow up. That masterful dunk didn’t exactly end well for Woods, and soon after tip-off on Saturday he had to leave early with a sore back. White also struggled, only scoring six points in the 80-point blowout. Thus, in a two-day span we saw both the strengths and weaknesses of the two main contenders: White is an electric scorer but is a freshman and will take time to learn the intricacies of the Roy Williams system and playing consistently at college speed and physicality. Woods knows the system, but has had trouble getting into a rhythm, consistently being tripped up by injuries.
The comparison between Woods and White isn’t apples to apples. Woods is a lead point guard, not really expected to be able to slide over to the two spot and be a primary scorer. White, however, can play the two guard, and has a great chance to be the first one off the bench to spell either Woods or Williams. The possibility is thus there for Woods and White to play on the floor at the same time, similar to how any two of Joel Berry, Nate Britt, and Marcus Paige could play together.
Ultimately, if Ty Lawson and Kendall Marshall couldn’t start their first games in a Carolina uniform, the chances Coby White can do so are slim. We’ll have the fall practices to parse whether he’s managed to surpass Woods, but based on Coach Williams’ history, you wouldn't be smart to put money on it.
Laying money on Woods being the starter the whole season, though? That may also not be a smart bet to make.
*This article was updated to add Bobby Frasor started at point his first game in the 2005-’06 season.