By R.L. Bynum
Through three games, one of the biggest differences under Coach Hubert Davis has been his tight rotation.
In past seasons, Coach Roy Williams frequently played 11 or 12 players early in the season to give more players experience and see how they react in games. Williams would eventually whittle his rotation down once the ACC season accelerated in January.
There could be a couple of unexpected early-season losses because so many players were playing but Williams seemed to be looking at the big picture without worrying about early stumbles.
For Davis, that progression could go in the opposite order. He’s used a seven-man rotation to win the first three games, the tightest for a Tar Heels team this early in the season for years.
“It’s gonna be a process,” Davis said Thursday. “The rotation is not set. I want to play more guys, and I’ve got to do a better job of finding minutes for those guys because I really believe that one of the strengths that we have is we have tremendous depth. And, if you have depth, it’s only good if you use it and I want to use it.”
The competition ramps up substantially this weekend as the No. 18 Tar Heels face No. 6 Purdue in a battle of 3–0 teams at 4 p.m. Saturday (ESPN News) in the first round of the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament in Uncasville, Conn. They then meet either No. 5 Villanova (2–1) or No. 17 Tennessee (2–0) on Sunday.
UNC may need to play more players this weekend with games on successive days.
Led by point guard Caleb Love’s 33.4 minutes per game, seven players are averaging more than 22 minutes per game and no other players are averaging more than Justin McKoy’s 8.2.
After Williams rarely played both Love and RJ Davis (27 minutes per game) together until late in the season, Hubert Davis’ preference for playing two ball-handlers at the same time has led them to dominate the backcourt playing time.
The rest of the rotation has included Brady Manek (27.5 minutes per game), Armando Bacot (26.6), Leaky Black (24.4), Kerwin Walton (23.6) and Dawson Garcia (22.8).
It was a mild surprise during the 94–83 road victory Tuesday against College of Charleston when Black took over at point guard when Love and Davis were battling foul trouble instead of Anthony Harris.
Not only was Harris not the third option at point guard in that game, he never got off the bench after playing nine total minutes in the first two games.
“I really believe that Anthony Harris can help us,” Hubert Davis said. “He has a lot of experience. He’s had some really high moments here at Carolina and I have to do a better job of getting him moments and time out there on the floor because I really believe he can really help us.”
Coach Davis says that Harris is capable of playing point guard, the two spot or at a wing position and sees him being a versatile player in that regard like Black.
“The reason I feel comfortable with that is how good he is on the defensive end,” said Davis, who expects most of Harris’ minutes to come at the two and three spots. “He can match up at any one of those positions.”
When Carolina was off to a slow starts and trailed by double-digits in the first half in past seasons, it was common for Williams to substitute five starters for five reserves. He did that to send a message to the starters and it all worked out on some nights. On other nights, the reserves created an even bigger deficit that was too much for the Tar Heels to overcome.
Davis didn’t do that when Carolina fell behind by 11 points with 11 minutes left in the first half. Instead, he continued to go with his seven-man rotation.
McKoy is one player who hasn’t been getting as much playing time as many expected. He’s been caught behind Manek and Garcia at the four spot and Black and Walton at the three spot. In just over 24½ minutes, McKoy has missed both of his shots and has more fouls (3) than points (1).
Some expected McKoy to get a lot of time at the three spot that has been heavily allocated to Black. Black has earned that time with good overall play and terrific defense. Black won UNC’s defensive player of the game award both times it’s been given out this season (Loyola Maryland and College of Charleston.)
“The way that he has defended the other team’s best player has just been off the chart, not only in terms of lowering their points per game,” Davis said. “It’s just his effort on the defensive end making them work hard.”
Black held forward John Meeks, Charleston’s leading scorer and a Bucknell transfer from Burlington, to seven points on 2 of 14 shooting. In the Cougars’ first three games, Meeks scored 19, 16 and 18 points.
“He’s got steals and deflections. He’s stayed out of foul trouble. He’s just made it hard for whoever he’s guarding to catch the ball, to score, to get good looks,” Davis said of Black. “He’s been relentless on the defensive end.”
Black has a team-leading plus/minus of +53 through three games and, along with Bacot, was +16 against Charleston.
“The way that Leaky is playing right now is the way that I thought and envisioned him playing the first time that he stepped foot on campus,” Davis said. “He’s always had tremendous length and athleticism, his versatility to be able to guard basically one through four, sometimes one through five, gives him an opportunity to be an elite defender. I’m so happy for him that, consistently, he’s been doing that this year and everybody’s noticing it.”
Black probably fits into the chemistry of the Tar Heels’ team better on the offensive end this season with so many more good shooters around him than there were last season. He’s averaging 4.3 points and four rebounds while collecting 10 assists, and three blocks in three games.
“He has a really clear understanding of what he can do on the offensive end and how he can help on the offensive end,” Davis said. “From an offensive standpoint, he can drive, he can finish, he can finish around the basket. I think he’s doing a really good job of driving, running in transition, because he’s somebody that can get easy baskets in transition. He’s attacking the offensive glass. He’s using his length and his athleticism. He’s a really good free-throw shooter. He’s being selective in terms of shooting the ball from outside.”
After playing only 16 minutes against Brown and combining for 16 points in the first two games, Walton got a season-high 28 minutes against Charleston. He scored 14 points and was 4 of 6 from 3-point range. Davis said that he called specific plays in the second half to get Walton in position to knock down shots.
Davis said that Walton was outstanding on defense against Charleston.
“One of the things that I’ve told Kerwin is he can be an elite defender and he’s somebody that can be a game-changer on both ends of the floor,” Davis said. “One of the things that we have talked about is for him to be more aggressive. Teams aren’t going to leave him like they were at the beginning of the year last year. He is known now and so he’s on the scouting report. And so [we need] him to be more aggressive coming off screens and looking for a shot.”
It will be interesting to follow how UNC’s rotation evolves this weekend and during the rest of the season.
|Date||Score, record/day, time, TV||Location||Opponent|
|5||83–55 exhibition win||Home||Elizabeth City State|
|9||83–67 win||Home||Loyola Maryland|
|16||94–83 win, 3–0||Road||College of Charleston|
|20||Saturday, 4, ESPN News||Uncasville, Conn.||Y — No. 6 Purdue|
|21||Sunday, 1, ABC with |
3:30, ESPN with
|Uncasville, Conn.||Y — No. 17 Tennessee or No. 5 Villanova|
|23||Tuesday, 7, RSN||Home||UNC Asheville|
|1||Wednesday, 9:15, ESPN||Home||X — No. 4 Michigan|
|5||Sunday, 3, ESPN||Road||Georgia Tech|
|11||Saturday, 8, ACCN||Home||Elon|
|14||Tuesday, 7, ESPN2||Home||Furman|
|18||Saturday, 3, CBS||Las Vegas||Z — No. 2 UCLA|
|21||Tuesday, 7, ACCN||Home||Appalachian State|
|29||Wednesday, 7, ESPN2||Home||Virginia Tech|
|1||Saturday, noon, ACCN||Road||Boston College|
|5||Wednesday, 9, ESPN2||Road||Notre Dame|
|8||Saturday, 1, ESPN||Home||Virginia|
|15||Saturday, 8, ACCN||Home||Georgia Tech|
|18||Tuesday, TBA, ESPN||Road||Miami|
|22||Saturday, 8, ACCN||Road||Wake Forest|
|26||Wednesday, RSN||Home||Boston College|
|29||Saturday, 2, ACCN||Home||N.C. State|
|31||Monday, 7, ESPN||Road||Louisville|
|5||Saturday, 6, ESPN||Home||No. 7 Duke|
|8||Tuesday, 9, ESPN or ESPN2||Road||Clemson|
|12||Saturday, 2, ESPN or ESPN2||Home||Florida State|
|16||Wednesday, 8, ACCN||Home||Pittsburgh|
|19||Saturday, 4, ESPN or ESPN2||Road||Virginia Tech|
|21||Monday, 7, ESPN||Home||Louisville|
|26||Saturday, 2 or 4, ESPN or ESPN2||Road||N.C. State|
|28||Monday, 7, ESPN||Home||Syracuse|
|5||Saturday, 6, ESPN||Road||No. 7 Duke|
Y — Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament; Z — CBS Sports Classic
Photo via @UNC_Basketball