North Carolina Tar Heels starting center Joel James went down with a sprained MCL in the team’s loss to Texas a few weeks ago and has missed every game since. In an interview conducted by ESPN.com’s C.L Brown, head coach Roy Williams said that he does believe James will be able to play in their upcoming ACC opener at Wake Forest. Although the Tar Heels have won three straight games without James in the lineup, it is vital that they have an extra big man in their lineup against a Wake Forest team out-rebounds its opponents by about seven per game.
In James’ replacement, Williams has started Brice Johnson for two of the games and Kennedy Meeks for one. Both players previously came off the bench and played quite well, but it seems that when they start, their production decreases. Johnson only has 11 combined points in his two starts, and Meeks was shutout in his only start of the season against North Carolina-Wilmington. Although both players are keys to the Tar Heels’ success, the team needs James back in the starting lineup in order to take the pressure off the two young forwards.
Luckily for the Tar Heels, James Michael McAdoo seems to be playing at the top of his game at a perfect time. He is gradually shooting better from the free-throw line, and in the game against UNC-Wilmington, he got his first double-double since the team’s loss against Texas. As said before, Wake Forest is a strong rebounding team, and if the Tar Heels plan on winning this game handily, McAdoo and the rest of the frontcourt must step up in this category. Marcus Paige needs to have the confidence to shoot the three-ball, and the only way this will be possible is if he knows his big men can come down with huge offensive rebounds. The same goes for Leslie McDonald coming in off the bench.
Williams is unsure who will start in James’ spot for the Wake Forest game, but it will be a tough decision considering both Johnson and Meeks have shown that they are solid bench players. If McAdoo can continue to play the way he has as of late, then the Tar Heels should survive despite who starts in James’ spot. Of course, Williams cannot rely on McAdoo to have this kind of game, so it will be interesting to see what he decides to do. In my opinion, Meeks should start because even when he and Johnson came off the bench, Johnson was a bigger factor in the game. Meeks does not even have to receive a lot of minutes, but it is just the idea of coming off the bench that will help Johnson shake off some pressure and have a solid game.
The team as a whole has a lot of momentum going into Wake Forest after winning their last three games, so hopefully they will be able to maintain it without James in the lineup once again. James has been able to practice this week, which is a good sign considering the Tar Heels have a huge game against No. 2 Syracuse on Jan. 11 that he should be ready for. The team has been successful thus far without James, and if they continue to play with this momentum and confidence, the game should be a walk in the forest (awful pun intended).