Throughout the season thus far, the North Carolina Tar Heels have showed that they play best when every single player in the lineup contributes. They are not a team that relies on just one player throughout an entire game, but they have several players that can step up and provide a balanced attack. Head coach Roy Williams utilizes his bench more than any other team in the ACC, and if the Tar Heels plan on being successful in the conference, the bench players must continue to provide this efficient balance.
Although the team does not rely on just one player to carry the team, guard Marcus Paige has been the teams backbone thus far. He receives the most playing time on the team, with about 35 minutes per game. Paige is a prolific scorer and passer, but as seen in the game against Northern Kentucky, he cannot put up big numbers every single game. Unfortunately, besides Nate Britt, the Tar Heels do not have many other options at the guard position, so the bench must enter the game in a supporting role for the backcourt.
When starting center Joel James went down with a knee injury, sophomore forward Brice Johnson came off the bench and took the starting role. Johnson has been nothing short of terrific in his replacement, and he has shown that he can block shots, get the ball to the rim, and play a major role defensively. Even before James’ injury, Johnson received more minutes off the bench, and the Tar Heels need him to continue this surge even when James returns.
Due to James Michael McAdoo‘s inconsistency, Willams has been forced to play many young forwards off the bench. These players include Kennedy Meeks, Desmond Hubert, Isaiah Hicks, and Jackson Simmons. Meeks has shown toughness on the rebounding end thus far, and Hubert is another big body that can give opposing defenses a huge challenge. Although neither of them have much of an affect on the scoring end, they must be able to come in off the bench and grab key rebounds to kick out to the shooters. Speaking of shooters, now that Leslie McDonald is back in the lineup, his presence off the bench will be a huge factor as to whether or not the Tar Heels can have a solid three-point shooting game. His shooting game is improving with each game, and to have a prolific three-point shooter coming off the bench is a huge plus for the young Tar Heel team.
As for Simmons, he is only a walk-on but has been labeled as a “no mistake guy”. He plays very few minutes for the Tar Heels, but in the short amount of time that he is on the court, he is effective. Once in a while he will make a clutch layup or come down with a few rebounds, but the Tar Heels need him to come in and simply not make any mistakes. In the past against ACC opponents, the team has committed way too many stupid turnovers that have ultimately cost them the game. Many fans do not even know who Simmons is, and that is actually a good things. The Tar Heels do not need him to make a name for himself, but they need him to keep his name off of the foul log and keep the momentum of the game going.
The ACC is full of surprises and the winners of each game are usually the teams that can keep a balanced attack throughout. If the Tar Heels’ bench can continue to come in and make few mistakes, while maintaining the momentum of the game, then the team should have no problem being successful in the conference. In any sports, it takes a complete team effort to win, and the Tar Heels must utilize their entire team in order to have any chance of being crowned ACC champions.