We don’t know when North Carolina will be blessed with the services of Leslie McDonald and P.J. Hairston this season, but what we do know is that they two won’t be in Connecticut this weekend.
The Tar Heels head up to Mohegan Sun this weekend for the Hall of Fame Tip-Off when they will face Richmond on Saturday and, assuming the No. 3 Cardinals get past Fairfield, Louisville on Sunday. According to ESPN.com’s C.L. Brown, Hairston and McDonald are not only out for those two games, they won’t even be making the trip. They are still waiting to hear from the NCAA on an eligibility ruling.
Good thing I built part of my November schedule around getting the chance to see those two teams.
I’ve said it a number of times, but I’m not sure if I’ve written it here yet, so here goes: Without Hairston and McDonald, North Carolina is not an NCAA tournament team.
Well, let’s start with the obvious: Hairston is an all-american caliber talent, and when you lose a player that is that good, it is going to hurt your team. I don’t care who you are. It will hurt.
But what hurts more for this Tar Heel group is that without Hairston and McDonald, their severe lack of back court depth gets exposed. Freshman Nate Britt is forced into the point guard role. Britt’s talented, but I’m not sure he’s ready to take over this team yet. More importantly, it means that Marcus Paige has to slide over to the off-guard spot. That doesn’t sound like a major issue, but it is in Roy Williams’ system. The point guard and the off guard play two very different roles for the Tar Heels, and Paige has spent a year and a half in Chapel Hill learning to run the point. Now he has to move off the ball? That’s not an easy thing to do before you talk about the frustration of being forced out of position.
And then there is the issue of North Carolina’s big men. When the Tar Heels are good, they have a best on the block. Sean May, Tyler Hansbrough, Tyler Zeller. This year? Joel James, Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson and Desmond Hubert are good players, but they are North Carolina caliber big men.
Long story short: without Hairston and McDonald, I’m not sure that the Tar Heels will be able to get past Richmond on Saturday.