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After start, UNC sticks with Kendall Marshall

1/25/2011

For much of the season, many North Carolina fans -- as is their wont -- have, among other complaints, argued that freshman point guard Kendall Marshall deserves to be the starting point guard over sophomore Larry Drew II.

I concur. The Tar Heels' offense requires a point guard that can score and dish in the fast break. Last year, it didn't have one. This year, Roy Williams has Marshall, but for a variety of reasons Williams has been hesitant to hand over the keys to the freshman. Instead, UNC has stuck with Drew II, instead using Marshall in gradually increased spot duty.

No more. Marshall got his first start in UNC's 75-65 win over Clemson last Tuesday, and according to the Raleigh News & Observer, Williams is going to stick with the freshman Wednesday night at Miami.

"I don't do it [change the starting lineup] a lot, but it was hard to do, especially because Larry was trying so hard defensively," Williams said. "But we were just a little stagnant offensively, and we can still get him to be extremely important to us, just like he was in the Clemson game."

As Williams sort of mentioned, there's a perception that Drew II is the superior defender, that choosing Marshall over his counterpart means sacrificing defense in favor of offense.

I'm not so sure that's true. Defense is hard to measure, and there are lots of unquantifiable things defenders can do that don't show up on the stat sheet, but it is worth noting that Marshall has a higher steal rate and a lower per-40 minute foul rate.

Marshall's clearly a better offensive player. If you've seen him break down the defense and get John Henson open for a dunk on the low block, you probably don't need the stats, but the stats indicate as much, too. Marshall has a higher offensive rating, much better shooting percentages, and his assist rate -- 46.7 percent -- is the fifth-highest in the nation (!) according to Pomeroy. The only blight on his performance thus far is his turnover rate, which is very high at 31.0 percent. But Drew II's (29.9 percent) isn't all that much better, so that's essentially a moot point.

In any case, North Carolina doesn't need defense. It's already a very good defensive team. What it needs is offense, and what its offense needs is a dynamic point guard that can get out in the break, make shots, and get UNC's talented batch of forwards (Henson, Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller) in scoring positions. Unless both our eyes and the stats are deceiving us, Marshall is the best bet to do all those things. UNC fans have been saying this for weeks. Apparently, Roy Williams now agrees.

Hey, you know what? Maybe Roy Williams listened to his radio show callers after all.