While pondering what North Carolina won’t be as long as P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald are out of the lineup (hint, proficient from the perimeter), there’s one area where the Tar Heels should dominate.
On the boards.
Rebounding was most certainly a struggle last season when the Heels were forced to play a four-guard lineup that moved forward James Michael McAdoo to center. Carolina held its lowest rebounding margin (+1.6) of the Roy Williams era and came close to being the first team since 2003-04 to get outrebounded.
It shouldn’t be that close this season.
While UNC awaits word from the NCAA regarding eligibility issues for Hairston and McDonald, Williams will be forced to use a big lineup at times. He could even potentially (however temporary) use a lineup that features J.P. Tokoto at shooting guard and McAdoo at small forward.
Having the team’s two best rebounders paired with a frontcourt that could include forward Brice Johnson, who had the second highest rebounds per minute last season, would be an overpowering matchup for most of their non-conference foes.
Carolina doesn’t face a team that finished on the plus side of rebounding margin until the fifth game of the year when it will play either Fairfield or Louisville in the Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament.
Consider UNC's 2013-14 non-conference opponents' rebounding margin (& national rank) from last season:
Oakland -0.8 (205)
Holy Cross 0.0 (142)
Belmont -1.5 (T-240)
Richmond -5.8 (331)
Fairfield +0.8 (153) or Louisville +3.6 (66)
UAB +1.7 (120)
Michigan State +7.6 (10)
UNCG -0.9 (209)
Kentucky +4.3 (48)
Texas +0.9 (149)
Davidson +2.0 (114)
Northern Kentucky -5.0 (N/A)
UNCW -1.5 (233)
Rebounding has also been a point of emphasis with Williams in determining who will get to start at center. It’s why Joel James is more focused on his rebounding technique than he is post moves.
“I feel like if you make that contact first, you have a better chance of rebounding the basketball,” James said. “It’s coming slowly, but it’s coming.”
Statistically speaking, the Heels controlled the boards better in 2007-08 than any team during the Williams’ 10 seasons. They enjoyed a rebounding margin advantage of 11 per game. While the 2011-12 team grabbed the most total rebounds, averaging 45.0 per game, their rebounding margin was slightly behind at 10.4 per game.
This team might not quite reach that stratosphere, but all signs indicate rebounding will be once again be a strength this season.