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Dexter Strickland’s loss won’t sink Heels if offense kicks in

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source: APNorth Carolina’s had better weeks.

Five days after the Heels’ 33-point loss to Florida State, they handled Virginia Tech but lost starting guard Dexter Strickland for the season when he tore the ACL in his right knee.

Yes, it’s a biggie. Ask any Tar Heel fan.

The 6-3 junior is UNC’s best perimeter defender, one of its primary ball-handlers and the security blanket in case anything happened to point guard Kendall Marshall. (Doubly so given that guard Leslie McDonald tore his ACL during the summer.)

Strickland isn’t a stat-stuffer, but he’s one of Roy Williams’ ideal players – he allows the offensive-minded players in the offense to thrive. When Williams has a guy who can disrupt an opponent’s best player (David Noel in 2005), his team really thrive.

(deep breath)

But this isn’t the end of UNC’s title hopes. In fact, it may just be a hiccup.

Strickland’s role is easy to describe, but harder to pinpoint exactly how much he impacts UNC’s play. Yes, he plays great defense. Ask any Tar Heel onlooker. But his defense isn’t good enough to where UNC will collapse without him. When the 2009 team won a title, it did so without a lockdown defender (Marcus Ginyard was supposed to be that guy but was hurt). If this team reaches the Final Four or even win it all, it can do so without Strickland.

Consider: Strickland used just 14.2 percent of the team’s possessions and took 13.1 percent of its shots while playing 60.7 percent of available minutes. He didn’t impact the offense at all. (Marshall has similar usage and shot percentages, but his assist numbers dwarf Strickland’s, meaning his offensive role is clear.)

If Strickland’s not in, it gives guys like Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston more playing time, both of whom score more efficiently and are larger parts of the offense, even with coming off the bench. This post from Tar Heel Fan lists each player’s season impact rating (go with it; he’s done the work) and shows Strickland to be less consistent and have less impact than Bullock this far. And with guys like John Henson and Tyler Zeller in the frontcourt, the Heels’ post defense remains its strength.

This isn’t to suggest losing Strickland is a good thing.

Anyone that focuses on defense and ensuring the other guys play well is hardly worthless. His absence means the Heels’ perimeter defense could fall off and Marshall no longer has someone who can automatically take the quickest guard.

But if Strickland was hindering the offense, it’ll be interesting to see how UNC responds. Remember, he’s a non-factor who only attempted one 3-pointer all season and basically only scored in transition. Bullock and Hairston are guys who can stretch a defense and score in transition. Despite the talent, this isn’t one of Williams’ best offensive teams. In fact, it still needs plenty of work.

If UNC wants to make that run at a title, I’d suggest kicking the offense into high gear and seeing if everyone else can keep up (this does not mean Harrison Barnes should just start chucking shot after shot, though). At this point, what else can you do?

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Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament chances take a major blow in loss to No. 16 SMU

SMU guard Nic Moore (11) shoots over Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
(AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
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Nic Moore scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and added 11 assists as No. 16 SMU knocked off Gonzaga in Moody Coliseum on Saturday night, 69-60.

The Zags got 20 points and 16 boards from Domantas Sabonis, but Kyle Wiltjer scored just four points and shot 2-for-17 from the floor.

It wasn’t pretty.

And it may have been the end of Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament hopes.

Entering Saturday, the Zags had an RPI in the mid-60s, enough to keep them in the bubble conversation but not enough to make them anything more than a team that will be projected to end up on the cut-line.

The issue is a complete lack of quality wins on their résumé. Gonzaga beat UConn in the Bahamas. That’s a borderline top 50 win. They beat Washington, another borderline top 50 win. Beyond that? They swept Pepperdine, beat Tennessee and own a win over Montana. None of those are top 100 wins, and that’s why the SMU game was such a big deal. The Mustangs are a top 25 team. This was a road game. This win was the kind of thing that the Zags could pin at the top of their profile.

But Wiltjer didn’t show up, the Zags had no answer for Moore and they’ll head back to Spokane needing, in all likelihood, to win the WCC’s automatic bid if they want to dance.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown: