UNC’s dominant win over Georgia Tech on Tuesday night was a bit dampened by the injury to Leaky Black. The freshman left with an ankle sprain late in the second half and was later seen leaving the building on crutches and a walking boot. Said fellow frosh Nassir Little after the game, “Coach was talking but it was hard to pay attention because I was worried about my brother.”
I just want to thank everyone for the prayers and support! I’ll be back soon.. ❤️— Leaky Black (@RechonBlack) January 30, 2019
No one wants this for Leaky, and certainly no one on this tight-knit, high-character team enjoys or relishes the prospect of taking his now-available minutes off the bench. But that’s just what needs to be done: Sterling Manley is still out and the deep Tar Heels are suddenly looking at an eight-man rotation. Someone’s role is about to get bigger and the most likely candidate is Brandon Robinson.
As we discussed briefly after the Notre Dame game, Brandon has carved out a role for himself off the bench and showed solid stretches of basketball during this run of ACC conference play. His shooting against the Irish and his playmaking against the Hurricanes played a role in two close wins. Tuesday night he was strong again, going 3-4 for 7 points and 2 assists. His shot has also looked confident the last few months and that is a very welcome sign.
But there have been concerning numbers as well. After 7 ACC games, Robinson’s +/- is the second lowest of any Tar Heel in the main rotation:
UNC's On-Court/Off-Court Leaders through 7 ACC Games:— Adrian Atkinson (@FreeportKid) January 30, 2019
Now, some of that of course is a product of the lineup that B-Rob is usually playing with (he’s not a starter or a game-closer so it stands to reason that his +/- numbers dip with the second unit), but Nassir Little has seen plenty of second unit time as well, as has Black, and their numbers are better.
More concerning is what UNC loses on the defensive front with Leaky out. Next up for the Heels in the next two weeks are Louisville, NC State, Miami, and Virginia. Three ranked teams, one of which is on the road (and has already WHACKED the Heels this season). Louisville’s opening perimeter barrage is still fresh in everyone’s mind. The Heels will need a stronger defensive effort if they are to get a revenge win against the Cardinals.
Leaky Black may be inexperienced in many facets of the game (he is, after all, only a freshman) but he is already a very good perimeter defender, especially off the ball. His long arms, mobility, and quick hands are a major problem for opposing players. There were times on Tuesday night that Leaky could just swallow up opponents trying to dribble loose on the perimeter. Robinson isn’t a bad defender, but he’s not the disruptive presence that Leaky has been.
Robinson is averaging 11.6 minutes per game for the season, and 14.9 in conference play. With Black potentially out and Manley still sidelined, he could be looking at those numbers climbing into the 20s for a couple weeks. He’ll be the primary sub at the 2 and 3 spot, since Manley’s absence has shifted Nassir Little heavily to the 4, with Carolina going small more often. If those are to be the minutes that he sees, UNC will need his improved shooting to continue and his impact on the defensive end to be felt.
It’s crowded at the top of the ACC. Four teams have just one conference loss and none of them have dropped a game in the last two weeks. If the Heels are going to maintain the pace over this tough upcoming run, they’ll need all hands on deck. Brandon Robinson’s hands are about to carry a heavier load.