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UNC basketball: The importance of Theo Pinson

The senior guard has proven to be instrumental towards his team’s success.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Florida State Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

In North Carolina’s 80-81 road loss to Florida State, the usual suspects made the headlines. Kenny Williams’ hot shooting kept the Tar Heels in the game in the first half, while Joel Berry put the team on his back in the second. Perhaps what was maybe understated in that game, and for the whole season for that matter, was the importance of senior guard Theo Pinson.

Pinson’s role often gets overlooked because he doesn’t exactly light up the stat sheet, although he has flirted with a triple-double at times (11/7/9 vs. Portland, 8/6/7 vs. Michigan, 7/8/9 at Tennessee). Still, his five points, four assists, and three rebounds against Florida State were hardly talked about. It was when Pinson picked up his fourth foul with 9:30 to play and was forced to go to the bench that his value was made painfully obvious.

At this point in the game, UNC had just taken a 65-63 lead behind two straight buckets from Pinson. As soon as he left the game, the Tar Heels looked noticeably different on both ends of the floor. The offense became stagnant, with very little ball movement and guys deferring to other teammates to make a play. This resulted in a turnover immediately upon Pinson’s departure and a four minute stretch where just one field goal was made.

On the other side, Carolina reverted back to the sluggish defense that plagued them in the first half. FSU rattled off three straight three-point plays (two of those were and-ones) in what was ultimately a 13-2 run for the Seminoles. This run proved to be the defining stretch of the game, as Berry’s late-game heroics were not enough to fully erase the deficit. By the time Pinson returned to the game with 3:34 left, the damage had been done and the Tar Heels were in desperation mode.

Pinson will have the occasional head-scratching turnover, and it’s easy to stack those plays against the rest of his numbers and spin his effect on the team as a negative at times. However, the Tar Heels’ performance with Theo Pinson on the floor speaks for itself:

It’s also worth noting that those figures do not include the Florida State game.

There’s a lot to be said about a player who can affect the game at so many different levels. His versatility defensively and his vision, unselfishness, and play-making ability on the offensive end are what allow Pinson to be such a net positive when he steps on the court. They also make him a sneaky scouting report guy for opposing teams.

For Roy Williams, these early conference games are a way for him to learn more about his team and adjust accordingly, especially with so many new faces on the roster. Aside from the very obvious improvements that need to be made with the Tar Heels’ perimeter defense, Williams’ biggest takeaway should be the significance of his senior swingman. Theo Pinson just might be the key to this UNC team reaching any of its goals.