After two victories, Roy Williams pretty much knows what he’s going to get from returning starters Kendall Marshall, Dexter Strickland, Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller. So during the upcoming weeks -- beginning with Sunday’s home opener against Mississippi Valley State -- expect the North Carolina coach to start trying to hone the best rotations, and figure out which reserves he can count on.
Williams has said he wants to get more minutes out of wings Reggie Bullock (11 minutes per game) and P.J. Hairston (10). But it will be interesting to see whether he tries to expand his rotation past eight (freshman forward James Michael McAdoo is the only player currently averaging double-digit minutes, at 13).
During his eight previous seasons at North Carolina, Williams has used as few as seven players (his first season trying to rejuvenate the program, in 2003-04) consistently. However, as many as 11 Tar Heels averaged double-digit minutes in 2009-10, when injuries forced players in and out of the lineup and UNC didn’t make the NCAA tournament.
Williams said he never enters the season with a set plan on how many players will contribute.
“It’s how well the guys play in practice, are they effective enough to get more playing time once it’s crunch time?” he said. “I’ve had teams where we’ve played seven guys, I’ve had some where we’ve played eight, some where we’ve played nine.
“ Eight guys, it’s really easy to give them enough playing time without anybody wanting more. … Nine guys I’ve been able to play before, and sometimes even 10. And last year, I’d get five guys, and if I didn’t like what they were doing, I’d put five more guys in there. To me, it depends on what your team is and their personalities.”
The most likely addition to the consistent rotation would be a post player, to help McAdoo spell Henson and Zeller. So far, 6-foot-5 senior Justin Watts has served some time in that role, averaging four minutes a game. But as 6-9 freshman Desmond Hubert and 6-7 freshman Jackson Simmons grow more comfortable with the system, they could end up on the court more often.
And for those who like to compare this team to 2005 and 2009: it should be noted that the magic number for players in double figures during those national title seasons was ... eight.
Robbi Pickeral can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @bylinerp.