PJ Hairston Decision Could Make or Break North Carolina's Season

By Jeff Kelly
P.J. Hairston
Peter Casey-USA Today Sports

The North Carolina Tar Heels enter the 2013-14 season with plenty of expectations, ranked No. 11 in the nation and picked to finish third in the Atlantic Coast Conference preseason poll.

However, whether they live up to the hype or crash and burn this season depends largely on what becomes of junior swing man PJ Hairston, whose fate for the upcoming season is still up in the air as the season draws dangerously closer. We’re less than two weeks from the start of the season, and coach Roy Williams still does not know just how many games he’ll be without his star player.

Hairston had a tumultuous offseason, to say the least. Earlier this summer, Hairston was discovered driving cars that were connected to a criminal, and then toward the end of the summer he was pulled over for a third time after driving 90 miles per hour in a 65. Those three strikes have led to an expected suspension, but at this point it’s still unknown what that suspension will amount to.

Due to the fact that UNC has recently had some pretty serious issues with its football team, the NCAA is not treading lightly in taking part in this decision. Still, Hairston has been practicing with the team and was a full participant in the team’s Midnight Madness practice, and chances are pretty slim that he’ll miss any of the actual ACC schedule, instead sitting out during some or all of the non-conference schedule.

Of course that could play a huge role in where the Heels find themselves as they enter ACC play, because they’ve got a potentially brutal early season schedule with match-ups against LouisvilleMichigan State, and Kentucky. Without Hairston, it’s doubtful the Heels can pull an upset in any of those games. That obviously won’t look good on their March Madness resume.

Still, Hairston should be back in plenty of time for the conference schedule, and at the end of the day that’s the only part of the season that really matters. Sure, knocking off a top five team looks great for your RPI, but it’s in the conference season where you make your own destiny. Plus, it’s not like the Heels won’t have plenty of opportunities to pull off some high profile wins with schools like DukeSyracuseVirginia, and Notre Dame on their schedule.

Carolina fans would love to have Hairston throughout the year, of course. His absence could very well be the difference between a two seed and a six seed in the Big Dance.

Jeff is an ACC basketball writer on RantSports.com.  Follow him on Twitter @jekelish and “Like” him on Facebook.

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