All anyone can talk about regarding North Carolina is the status of Kendall Marshall, quite obviously.
The sophomore point guard fractured a bone in his wrist in Saturday’s round of 32 win over Creighton, and while he had surgery on Monday morning, it is unclear whether or not he will actually be sitting out or if my some miracle of modern medicine he’ll be able to get on the court.
As of now, I think it’s safe to assume that Marshall will likely need at least the better part of a week to recover from surgery, which means that Roy Williams is going to be looking at having his uptempo, fast-breaking team run by true freshman Stilman White or by senior Justin Watts, who isn’t even a point guard.
Inspired by this post from Kevin Pelton and by this post from Luke Winn, I decided to take a look at just how UNC fared without Marshall on the floor since Dexter Strickland went down with a torn ACL. What I did was go through the play-by-play stats (neither Miami nor Wake Forest listed substitutions on their PbP, so they weren’t included) from each of the 17 games that Strickland has missed and chart precisely how many minutes Marshall was off the floor and what the scoring looked like during those possessions.*
(*To factor out garbage time, I didn’t include any rotation where Marshall came off the floor and ended the game off the floor. In other words, if White entered the game with three minutes left and finished the game, I didn’t include it in these numbers.)
Here’s what I came up with:
For reference, UNC has scored 83.0 (PP/40) and given up 68.2 (PP/40) since Strickland was hurt with Marshall on the floor.
Now, some of these numbers look a little funky — 49.9 (PP/40) in an insanely low number — but that will happen when you’re dealing with a sample size that is only 58.5 minutes and is made up of rotations that are just a minute or two in length. There were times during this stretch where Marshall was off the floor for, literally, one possession.
What we can take out of this, however, supports what both Pelton and Winn were saying: that UNC probably won’t be worse and may end up being a better defensive team without Marshall on the floor. That would make sense. Marshall has never been known for his defense (in fact, calling him a defensive liability may not be an exaggeration), and given the fact that he was playing 37 or 38 minutes a game, there were times where Marshall appeared to be getting his rest on that end of the floor.
White is not a great defender, either, but he’ll likely be willing to put in more effort on that end. Watts, on the other hand, is a better defender than Marshall, which won’t make Ohio’s star point guard DJ Cooper too happy to hear. It will also be interesting to see if playing without Marshall will make the UNC players less likely to try and beat their opponent down the floor. I’m not saying that UNC cherry-picks, but without the guarantee of a 50-foot pass thrown in stride that leads to a dunk, will UNC be more focused cleaning off the defensive glass?
Considering that the Heels were already better defensively than they were offensively — they rank 11th in Kenpom in defensive efficiency and 14th in offensive efficiency — the key to the Heels having continued success may be to focus on that end of the floor.
With or without Marshall, the Heels have quite a bit of scoring pop. Harrison Barnes and Tyler Zeller are both capable of going for 25 points on any given night, and they don’t necessarily need Marshall’s table-setting ability to do so.
They say defense wins championships. UNC better buy in.