On January 19th, North Carolina Tar Heels shooting guard Dexter Strickland went down with what would eventually be announced as a torn ACL. This was a big blow as Dexter Strickland had emerged as the team’s best perimeter defender and served as the North Carolina Tar Heels backup point guard whenever Kendall Marshall needed a brief breather. The injury also hurt in terms of depth for a squad that already lost shooting guard Leslie McDonald prior to the season. Still, with all of that said, I think the North Carolina Tar Heels are a more dangerous squad with Reggie Bullock in the starting lineup.
That stats won’t back this up necessarily. On the season, the Tar Heels average 82.9 points per game, but only 76 in the ten games since Strickland’s injury. Of course that can be misleading as each of those ten games came against ACC competition. Conversely, the Tar Heels had the luxury of notching triple digits against four opponents during their non-conference schedule. My reasoning behind this claim is based on the personnel and skill sets in the starting lineup.
As I mentioned above, Strickland was regarded as the team’s top perimeter defender. This is certainly valuable, but the downside was that he did not offer a developed offensive repertoire and was not a threat to score from the perimeter. On many North Carolina teams it was not a major problem to have a defensive specialist on the wing – think Jackie Manuel on their 2005 National Championship team. The thing that allowed it to work was the presence of other perimeter scoring threats – i.e. Rashad McCants and Raymond Felton. This Tar Heel team did not have that perimeter threat though. Neither Strickland nor Marshall shoot from beyond the arc with any frequency- let alone scare defenses from out there. Harrison Barnes, after only hitting 34% of his attempts from downtown his freshman year, has bumped that up to 42%, but he is (wisely) taking two fewer attempts from long range.
This is where Reggie Bullock comes in. Not only has shown that he is a very capable perimeter defender, but he also gives the offense a legit scoring threat on the perimeter. On the season Bullock is averaging almost two threes (1.8) per game at a 39% clip. It is very difficult to keep Carolina from scoring in general, but their inside threats are easier to contain when you don’t have to respect the three point shot – theoretically at least. Not only that, but Bullock has to give the Tar Heels one of the tallest starting lineups in the nation – if not the tallest. From 1-5 they measure 6’4″ (Marshall), 6’7″ (Bullock), 6’8″ (Barnes), 6’11″ (John Henson) and 7’0″ (Tyler Zeller). This has helped the Tar Heels lead the nation in rebounding in addition to fielding the nation’s No. 2 scoring offense.
As the calender approaches March, it is time to start thinking about running the six-game gauntlet en route to a National Title. The loss of depth is never ideal, but rotations typically shrink a bit during the NCAA Tournament anyway. If the North Carolina Tar Heels are going to hang a 2011 Championship banner, Reggie Bullock is going to be one of the main reasons why.
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