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UNC Basketball: Brandon Robinson’s return can’t come soon enough

The senior wing could help address many of UNC’s struggles.

NCAA BASKETBALL: MAR 29 Div I Men’s Championship - Sweet Sixteen - Auburn v North Carolina Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For a team that is currently ranked #5 in the nation and has won the first four games of the season, UNC has an awful lot of concerns after Wednesday night’s ugly win over Elon. While it’s far too early to get our Chicken Little on, let’s not kid ourselves: This is NOT a top five team at the moment and unless improvement is made in several areas (mainly perimeter and free-throw shooting), they may be getting a colder splash of water in the Bahamas than the Caribbean usually provides. This Tar Heel team’s schedule gets considerably more difficult over the next few weeks.

Fortunately, this team has not yet played with a full deck and with the imminent return of senior guard Brandon Robinson (a game time decision last night), let’s take a look at some of the issues that B-Rob can help solve.

Can provide quicker starts, especially offensively

As Brandon wrote yesterday, this team has been sputtering out of the gate on several occasions already this year. In virtually every game the Heels have played, their second halves have been better than their sluggish firsts. Against teams like Gardiner-Webb or Elon, that is enough for victory. Against teams like Ohio State and Gonzaga, it risks the doors being blown off early.

Robinson is a potential salve for that with his shooting. Last season, he shot 46% from three-point range, coming off the bench to deliver instant perimeter offense. Coming in cold and immediately being able to provide impact is no mean feat. If he were to come in as a starter (and he likely will), he’d be more warmed up and could be even more effective than he was last year. In games like Louisville in the ACC Tourney and Notre Dame in conference play, he hit multiple threes in games that needed then. He fired up 50 three-pointers in the 2019 campaign (for comparison Leaky Black attempted just 12, albeit in about 60% of the minutes B-Rob played) and made 23 of them.

A starting lineup of Anthony, Keeling, Robinson, Brooks, and Bacot has more upside from a shooting perspective and could be just what UNC needs to snap out of its slow-starting slump.

Provides more quality depth

With the injuries sustained to Carolina’s back court, it was inevitable that certain players would see their minutes expanded beyond what Roy Williams intended. Cole Anthony, for example, is logging 35 mpg and this is against inferior competition when he should be seeing healthy amounts of breathing time.

Andrew Platek, who averaged 3.6 minutes per game in the 2018-19 season, is currently sitting at 23.5 mpg. Platek has shown vast improvement from last year and has had some very nice moments in the first four games. His energy, work rate, and basketball IQ all make him a useful sub to spell the main rotation of guards. But the team is giving up a lot when he’s on the court for extended minutes: He’s shooting just 23% from three and isn’t much of a threat off the dribble to balance that out.

Robinson’s return splits some of the minutes off not just team leaders like Anthony and expanded role players like Platek, it also enables the Tar Heels to utilize their roster in the way they intended all along. There’s no way that Roy Williams wanted Leaky Black to be averaging 32 minutes a game when he’s only just come off rehabbing his ankle (a process that lasted longer than anyone anticipated). Which brings us to:

Shifts Leaky Black to his ideal role

While there certainly have been things to like, it’s fair to say that Leaky Black has struggled somewhat in his expanded role. That’s really not his fault in any way shape or form: He wasn’t intended to be the Day 1 starter, his minutes were meant to be more limited, and he hasn’t been exposed to a wide role like this in his time at Chapel Hill. When B-Rob is back (and this is assuming he’s 100% and not playing his way into max shape) he should be the starter. He can provide a better perimeter threat immediately, stretch the floor better for Cole and Keeling (both of whom would benefit from using their dribble early to set the tone), and is a more veteran player.

That’s not to say Leaky hasn’t done a terrific job in certain areas: his rebounding has been great, he’s a strong distributor of the ball, and he has been versatile in the backcourt both offensively and defensively, playing both on and off ball and guarding multiple positions. His height and length are huge assets at his position(s) on both ends of the floor. His outside shot, however, is virtually nonexistent. Don’t get carried away by his couple threes against Elon: they were his first of the year and he has only attempted five in four games.

What Leaky’s ideal role on this team is as a 6th man: A strong passer and defensive stopper off the bench. Think Theo Pinson in 2016. His versatility would best used as response to game situations and not as an opening act. Someone on the opposing team’s getting hot? Stick Leaky on him. Need to get Cole another facilitator? Put Leaky out there and shift Cole off ball. Want to go with a longer lineup for defense? Sub Leaky in for Keeling.

That becomes possible when B-Rob is available. You’re not losing much defensively (maybe not losing anything at all) and you’re adding a stronger shooting threat to get the Heels rolling early and can stretch the floor for drivers and bigs (which will be even more necessary against teams with elite size and rim protection). Robinson isn’t an automatic fix for all of Carolina’s problems, heck, he may struggle himself in a wider role, but he fills several voids that the Tar Heels seem to be dealing with at the moment.

And you just know he can’t wait to get out there.