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UNC Basketball: Bench Press

In a Sweet Sixteen match-up between two blue bloods, who holds the advantage on the bench?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round-North Carolina vs Baylor Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

When UCLA and UNC meet in Philadelphia this Friday night, recent statistics indicate that both the Bruins and Tar Heels will rely on their starters to provide the majority of points.

UCLA has used more bench players for more minutes than Carolina; they have employed four main subs for a total of 78 minutes. UNC only contributed non-Biscuit minutes to three subs for 68 minutes. But Carolina’s production from its subs has been substantially better: Dontrez Styles, Puff Johnson, and Justin McKoy have chipped in 30 points in the first two rounds, compared to nine points for UCLA’s subs. Bleh.

Hubert Davis has really solidified his Iron Five, which is quickly growing into Tar Heel lore, culminating in their zero-sub second half at Cameron Indoor Stadium for the Duke win. Clearly, UNC’s starters are able to handle the workload, but unexpected departures, such as foul outs or bullshit flagrants need to be accounted for. Having Dontrez Styles emerge as a competent contributor off the bench is a welcome development. The freshman was the first sub called into both NCAA Tournament games and has played the heaviest minutes.

It looked towards the end of the regular season that Puff Johnson would be that guy, especially after his thrilling 16-point, five-rebound performance at NC State. Puff’s three-point shooting and length allowed him to score at multiple levels. But Dontrez Styles has shown that his explosive athleticism and thicker build allows him to better compete on defense and on the glass, and he is stronger taking the ball to the rim than Puff.

UCLA’s four main subs have been Jaylen Clark (6’5” guard), Myles Johnson (6’10” center), Peyton Watson (6’8” wing), and David Singleton (6’4” guard). That quartet has size and variety, although so far against Akron and St. Mary’s, only two of them have scored—Watson scored 5 points against Akron and two against St. Mary’s, while Clark had two points against the Gaels. Myles Johnson appears to be a lummox, netting one block and three fouls in nine minutes of action against the Zips. He does not appear to be someone who can be trusted to cover Armando Bacot for long stretches.

UNC and UCLA should be fairly evenly matched with regard to their starting line-ups and bench, especially since RJ Davis won’t suffer a huge size difference against 5’11” point guard Tyger Campbell. A lot will ride on the availability of Jaime Jaquez. If he’s out and UCLA has to plug in one of their main subs, the production difference is not so much a dip as it is a canyon. Jaquez is like a single mother for the Bruins: he provides everything. Take a look at his stats against Akron, when he played 37 minutes: 15 points, nine rebounds, six assists (against one turnover), two steals, and one block. Sheesh.

If Leaky Black can cover Johnny Juzang instead of Jaquez, it frees up Carolina significantly on the defensive end. UCLA simply does not have a like-for-like replacement on their bench. We do wish for long-term health and sustained success for Jaquez. If that means resting his ankle in preparation for his professional career, so be it.