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How UNC Basketball Got Here: Injuries

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Early departures and roster construction have led us to this point: how injuries have doomed this team so far.

NCAA Basketball: Wofford at North Carolina Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

So far, Jake and I have laid out the issues that have led up to the this team’s roster construction. It’s been a lovely tour through the early departures (Tuesday) and the recruiting issues (yesterday) that have occurred over the last few years. Those should help you understand why the talent that’s on the floor seems to not be at the level of other Carolina seasons.

That said, as Jake outlined, it’s not like the Tar Heels are rolling with a Division-III level squad on the floor. Roy Williams and the Carolina staff had to fight off several Power 5 programs to get the players that are on the floor today, so of course there are other reasons for their struggles besides simple roster construction.

So, our journey today takes us to head trainer Doug Halverson’s office as we go over the sheer mountain of injuries faced by this current squad. I’ve laid them out chronologically, and will only bring up a game where someone was injured during, noted as out before, or returned from injury.

Preseason

Out: Sterling Manley, Anthony Harris, Jeremiah Francis

Both Harris and Francis were coming off season long, or longer, injuries that made it to where no one expected them to produce much of anything, if at all, in the 2019-20 season. So it wasn’t a shock that they hadn’t participated in any of the summer or fall practices, and Carolina supposedly had the depth to allow them to ease their way back into the lineup

Manley had been battling knee issues since last year, and unfortunately things hadn’t improved throughout the offseason. Despite bulking up, Manley didn’t participate in any practices to start the season, and didn’t suit up before the first game.

11/1 Exhibition vs Winston-Salem State

Injured during the game: Brandon Robinson

Senior Brandon Robinson fell awkwardly on his ankle and needed help getting off the floor during this win. The ankle was badly sprained, and he was soon spotted rolling around Chapel Hill on a special cart, meaning he wasn’t going to be there for Carolina on Opening Night.

Thus, before the season even started, Carolina was down four scholarship players, one of whom was expected to be a starter.

11/27-11/29 Battle 4 Atlantis

Returned; Brandon Robinson

Injured: Cole Anthony

Carolina would play four games, all wins, without their senior wing, and that month without Robinson on the floor hurt the team’s development. His insertion at the Battle 4 Atlantis added some depth, but it was obvious that he was rusty. Robinson’s shooting was off, and he showed just how gimpy the ankle still was after coming up lame during their win against Oregon. That month out, complete with the various holiday breaks and travels, likely slowed his comfort until just this past weekend against Clemson, where he had his best game of the season by far.

Cole played through the tournament and two more games, however, video review of his play revealed a moment that he went to the floor against Alabama. His play noticeably dipped after the fall, but we wouldn’t find out until much later just how much he was injured. He’s alluded to as much on his Instagram stories.

12/4-Ohio State

Injured: Armando Bacot

A thrilling showdown in the Big 10-ACC challenge was quickly thwarted when Bacot twisted his ankle in the first half. At the time it looked bad, to the point where after the game Roy had zero clue about how long he would be out. Without Bacot, a major component of Roy’s offense was gone, and Ohio State didn't have to worry about anyone else but a hobbled Cole Anthony.

Looking back, this game is really where the season took its turn for the worse.

12/8-Virginia

Returned: Armando Bacot, Jeremiah Francis, Anthony Harris

Bacot’s ankle miraculously got better in a few days, and he was able to suit up and play against the Wahoos. The problem was your starting five was a hobbled Cole Anthony, Armando Bacot playing on a freshly-injured ankle, and Brandon Robinson, who was about a month behind the curve playing with his teammates. I didn’t list Leaky Black as injured here, but it is possible he was hobbled as well considering he was about to miss the next game.

It was at this point that Jeremiah Francis and Anthony Harris made their surprising debuts. It was only after the game that we learned the two had been practicing, and with the apparent Tar Heel struggles on offense, Coach Williams was obviously trying to inject some sort of life onto the floor.

The worst part is this would be the most players that Roy would have available to him this season. At least two of them were hurt, and two were playing their first game in at over a year.

12/15-Wofford

Out: Cole Anthony, Leaky Black

Confirmed out for the year: Sterling Manley

It wasn’t until this game, over two weeks after he likely suffered the injury against Alabama, that the pain in Anthony’s knee had gotten to the point where he and the coaching staff decided he needed to sit out. Unfortunately, this news didn’t come until right before the game, and to complicate things, usual backup Leaky Black was hurting as well. So the Tar Heels had to roll with KJ Smith and Jeremiah Francis, with Francis playing his second game overall. Before the game, it was also announced that Sterling Manley had surgery on his knee and wouldn’t be back this season, which basically confirmed what most folks had assumed by this point.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the Heels let an early lead slip away and Wofford took over and won in the second half. Now, it’s time to go on the road.

12/18-Gonzaga

Returned-Leaky Black

The good news is that Black’s injury only kept him off the floor for one game, and it allowed Roy to ease Francis into the point guard spot a little more.

The bad news, besides the fact that Gonzaga ran away with this game, is that Black really hasn’t looked fully healthy since missing the Wofford game.

12/30-Yale

Out: Andrew Platek

Injured: Anthony Harris

After struggling against Gonzaga and beating UCLA, the Tar Heels managed to find some traction against a Yale team that had beaten Clemson earlier in the year. Junior guard Andrew Platek had an ankle issue that cropped up sometime before this game, and that led to Anthony Harris playing more minutes, as Williams was getting short on guards and wanted to get him more in basketball shape.

Things went well till about three minutes remained in the second half when Harris’ knee buckled as he came down. The instant look on his face completely sucked the life out of the Smith Center and the team, and the Tar Heels barely hung on to win.

1/4-Georgia Tech

Out: Andrew Platek

Confirmed Out for the Year: Anthony Harris

The day before this game, UNC officially announced that Harris had torn his ACL and was done for the season. Platek was still out, and with Anthony still rehabbing, someone who might play the two for Platek in Leaky Black had to play some time at point guard because of the relative rawness of Francis and the lack of production KJ Smith provided. This confusion showed up in the game early, we don’t have to recount how that went.

1/8-Pittsburgh

Returned: Andrew Platek

Injured: Jeremiah Francis

Finally some good news on the injury front as Platek’s ankle seemed to get better, and he was able to slide into the rotation. This allowed Williams to plan to play Francis a little more at the point, who had shown he could run the team well. Unfortunately, being gone from the game as long as he had meant he had zero lift, and as the game wore on, it was clear with his lack of production that something was off.

This crystalized as Carolina let yet another second half lead slip away, this time with Leaky Black playing long stretches at point guard despite Pitt making a strong run. By the time Francis came back in, the Panthers had the lead and were able to end their ACC road losing streak.

1/11-Clemson

Out: Jeremiah Francis

And thus we get to our most recent game where, thanks to the combination of injuries and players out for the year, the Tar Heels were left with a roster that saw the starters Brandon Robinson, Leaky Black, Garrison Brooks, Armando Bacot, and Andrew Platek play between 36 and 41 minutes. The bench only went three deep (Christian Keeling, Justin Pierce, and KJ Smith), and they only played a total of 31 minutes combined. In an overtime game.

Read that again. Three players combined to play less time than one of the starters.

***

So, in summary, Carolina has played 16 games on the season. Here’s are the scholarship players who’ve missed games:

Sterling Manley-16 (out for the year)

Anthony Harris-11 (out for the year)

Jeremiah Francis-9 (so far, hasn’t returned)

Cole Anthony-7 (so far, 4-6 week time table)

Brandon Robinson-4

Andrew Platek-2

Leaky Black-1

Armando Bacot-1/2

With these injuries, players have missed a total of 50.5 games versus if all thirteen were healthy, they could combine to play a total of 208 games so far (16 x 13 scholarships, think of it the same way as having a maximum of 200 minutes you can play your players during a game). Put another way, Roy has been playing without almost 25% of his available scholarship player availability all season.

This doesn’t even take into account that some of the players on scholarship have been misses or haven’t performed up to their potential to the point where Williams can’t consider them an option. Christian Keeling, Justin Pierce, KJ Smith, and Brandon Huffman all have a scholarship and have struggled to produce in heavy minutes on the floor.

Incidentally, this trend will continue going forward as Manley and Harris are done for the year, we aren’t sure when Cole Anthony will return, and it was announced that Brandon Robinson was in a car accident on Sunday (thank God he’s OK, because car crashes with drunk drivers are scary things). For sure, Coach Williams won’t have his full roster, the question is going to be what the final number of total missed games by scholarship players will be.

Tomorrow, Jake winds this all up by talking about coaching decisions made, both before and during this season, that is the final piece of the puzzle on this disaster of a season so far.