There was no doubt that North Carolina would go through an adjustment period given how much talent left Chapel Hill after last season. Losing Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Kendall Marshall and Tyler Zeller from last season’s Elite 8 team isn’t something that a program can simply get over, regardless of how well it recruits.
But after their 78-69 home loss to Miami last night, dropping Roy Williams’ team to 10-5 overall and 0-2 in ACC play, how much trouble is North Carolina in with a trip to Tallahassee next on the slate?
The last time North Carolina began ACC play 0-2 was during the 2008-09 season, a run that ended with a national championship. Two of the differences between that team and this one: a true star in Tyler Hansbrough and an experienced point guard in Ty Lawson.
Unless Barnes were to stun the masses and return to school this group was destined to be without a star player, regardless of the preseason hype bestowed upon sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo. Having an experienced hand at the point can help alleviate some of those issues, and upon first glance Marshall was to be that guy.
But when you’re a projected lottery pick (Marshall was picked 13th by the Phoenix Suns) it’s tough to return to school, and few (if any) will blame Marshall for making that decision. A glimpse of what North Carolina was without Marshall was seen during the NCAA tournament when he suffered a broken wrist in the Tar Heels’ win over Creighton, as one of the nation’s best offensive teams had a tougher time scoring.
Without Marshall a team capable of winning a national title ultimately fell to Kansas in the Elite 8, and that was with players like Barnes, Henson and Zeller at coach Williams’ disposal. With Kendall Marshall gone UNC handed the reins of the offense to freshman Marcus Paige, and while the scoring hasn’t dropped off much the Tar Heels are turning the ball over at a higher rate (18.6% turnover percentage; 16.4% in 2011-12 per statsheet.com).
Although McAdoo might be the only star-level player on the squad, players such as Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston do have significant ability and likely would have flourished with an elite playmaker such as Marshall running the attack.
Players such as McAdoo, Paige, Hairston and Bullock certainly don’t lack for talent, but which of the players in the rotation have the ability to step up and be the feature option for North Carolina? Which player (or players) has the ability to step up and be the leader this young group needs?
Bullock attempted to take that step, calling a players-only meeting after their loss at Virginia, and as one of their most consistent players it makes some sense that Bullock would be the one to do so. Another player UNC needs to step up and lead is senior guard Dexter Strickland, who has scored just four points (2-of-8 FG) over the last two games.
By January most teams that become factors in March have their roles well-defined and that’s yet to happen with North Carolina. The Tar Heels need to solve that issue before its too late.