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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As good as they’ve been, No. 3 Michigan State has yet to play their best

Bryn Forbes, Ryan Fazekas
Associated Press
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Sunday night’s Wooden Legacy title game matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence was billed as a matchup of the nation’s two best players, and rightfully so. Michigan State senior Denzel Valentine (17 points, six rebounds, five assists), who already has two triple-doubles to his credit this season, and Providence redshirt junior Kris Dunn (21 points, five rebounds, seven assists) have more than lived up to the preseason expectations and more of the same was expected in Anaheim.

And while both had their moments, it was Michigan State’s supporting cast that made the difference in their 77-64 victory. The scary thing for future opponents on Michigan State’s schedule is that Tom Izzo’s team is nowhere near being a finished product.

With Valentine dealing with first-half foul trouble Bryn Forbes stepped up, scoring 13 of his 18 points to help the Spartans take a two-point lead into the half. As for the 11-0 run that Michigan State produced to take control of the game late, a host of players stepped forward in regards to scoring, rebounding and defending.

Freshmen Deyonta Davis and Matt McQuaid combined to score nine points over the final 5:32, with transfer guard Eron Harris adding six of his 12 points during that stretch. The Spartans outscored the Friars, who aren’t as deep, 22-7 during that stretch to close out the game, hunting for quality shots and hitting the offensive glass while making things difficult for Providence on the other end of the floor.

The end result was a final margin that does not indicate just how close the game was. While Providence seemed to run out of steam Michigan State received contributions from multiple players, which is undoubtedly a good sign for this group moving forward.

The Spartans will return the currently injured Gavin Schilling later this season, giving them another big man alongside Davis, Matt Costello and Colby Wollenman. He was a player they missed Sunday night, as he can defend opposing big men both in the post and on the perimeter. His absence was a main reason Michigan State didn’t have an answer for Providence’s Ben Bentil (20 points, seven rebounds) defensively.

The key for this group is going to end up being role definition, which is especially true in the case of Harris. A transfer from West Virginia, Harris came to East Lansing with the reputation of being a big time scorer. He’s struggled through the first two weeks of the season, but he got on a roll on Sunday night, finishing with 12 points, three boards and three assists. He showed he’s capable of doing a variety of things on the perimeter, and fitting into a “Swiss army knife” kind of role would make Michigan State that much more dangerous.

There’s no denying that Michigan State has been one of the nation’s best teams thus far.

But there’s also no denying that the Spartans have yet to hit their ceiling, which is definitely a positive moving forward.

Wichita State’s Anton Grady returns home with team

AP Photo/Willie J. Allen Jr.
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Wichita State forward Anton Grady was released from a hospital in Orlando on Sunday afternoon in time to return home with his Shocker teammates.

Grady suffered a spinal corn concussion on Friday when he collided head-first with an Alabama defender, snapping his head sharply to the side. He lay on the court motionless for 10 minutes after the injury and was taken off the floor on a stretcher.

[RELATED: Can WSU still make tourney?]

“I want to send out a big thank you to Shocker Nation and all of my friends and family for of the love and encouragement that I have received the past few days,” Grady said in a statement on Sunday morning. “I’ve been reading your tweets and posts and appreciate every last one of them. I have a lot of work to do to get back on the court, but with the help of such a great support system, I’m ready for the challenge.”

By Friday night, Grady had feeling in all of his extremities, but he has a long road of rehab ahead of him.