Hoopsbag: North Carolina edition

Each week, I’ll try to answer your queries, comments, raves and rants about North Carolina hoops (and other related issues/teams). Send your interrogatives by visiting this page. You can also email me at bylinerp@gmail.com or contact me via Twitter at @bylinerp.

Lots of questions/comments about the starting lineup as the Tar Heels prepare to begin ACC play….

Wes from Palmyra, Va., writes: I know Roy mentioned today that P.J. [Hairston] has been playing well and that the starters haven't played their way out of their spot but do you feel like he should be getting the starting nod over Dex [Strickland]?

J. from Goldsboro, N.C.: I hate to sound like a broken record, but why is Coach Williams not giving Dex a chance at point guard? In his first start at point he had 11 points and 9 assists (and 4 turnovers), granted it was UAB but still the team looks better with him at point, and even though I still cringe when he shoots he's still shooting a high percentage overall, plus he's getting to the free throw line (even though he's only shooting 60 percent). Again this is nothing against Marcus Paige, but physically he just looks overwhelmed at times.

Bryan from Raleigh, N.C., writes: Oh how I wish Roy would quit asking which big man to start alongside [James Michael] McAdoo and that he would go small and experienced. Strickland at point, [Leslie] McDonald shooting guard, Hairston at the 4, [Reggie] Bullock at the 3, McAdoo in the middle. Let the freshmen serve support roles off the bench! This starting 5 would average double figures for each one!

Pickeral: First, for those who missed it, I’ll review what Roy Williams said about the starting lineup last Friday, the day before UNC's win over UNLV (and the comments were prior to the announcement that Bullock had suffered a concussion, would miss the game, and Hairston would start):

Asked if he had thought about making any lineup changes [at any position other than center], Williams said no.

“The other four guys haven’t done anything to play their way out, and nobody else has done anything to play their way in," he said. "P.J. has really done some good things off the bench, but who do you take out? Do you take out Reggie? I think Reggie has done some really good things. And I don’t want to go completely, five small guys out there. But the other four guys haven’t played their way out, and no one has outplayed them at the level that would make you want to make that kind of change.”

Second, you should know I believe that who starts a game doesn't really matter in the long run; it's who is on the floor when the final score is on the line, who plays the most minutes, that counts. I do believe that combinations matter; certain player-combos have better chemistry than others when it comes to playing styles, mentality, etc. Coaches tend to see that in day-to-day practice.

So, that said ...

Wes, I don’t really think it matters whether Hairston starts or comes off the bench, but I do think he has earned more minutes than the 17 or so he was averaging prior to the UNLV game. I don’t see Williams benching Strickland, the team’s only scholarship senior, unless the Tar Heels eventually need a bigger shake-up. I like the versatility and punch Hairston provides when he enters the game.

J, there’s no doubt Paige is going to have to spend some extra time in the weight room this summer, and it will be interesting to see how he fares during the ACC grind. Strickland, the starting shooting guard, is still playing about 10 minutes or so a game at point guard, and he likely would have contended for that starting spot at the beginning of the season if not for last season’s ACL surgery. But at this point in this season, it’s hard to make that change without eroding the freshman’s confidence; plus he’s come on pretty strong lately. In his past two games, Paige has posted 18 points, 13 assists and only two turnovers.

And Bryan, I agree that a “small” starting five might average double figures, but who’s your spark off the bench? I like the smaller line-up as an option, but with so many big-man foes in ACC play, I’d rather Williams pick one of his three centers as a starter, and give him a lengthy try.

Jeremy H from Minneapolis writes:Do you think Roy shortens his rotation once conference play rolls around? If yes, who is going to be the odd man out?

Pickeral: Frankly, I think it depends on the revolving door at center. If Williams eventually picks one (or two) out of Desmond Hubert, Brice Johnson and Joel James to play most of the minutes at the ‘5’, then one (or two) of them will continue sitting for longer stretches.

And of the 10 players currently averaging double-figure minutes, I would have predicted during the preseason that come conference play, freshman J.P. Tokoto might disappear a bit, since there are so many wings ahead of him in the rotation. But he’s earned a lot of his minutes while playing the ‘4’ in UNC’s four-guard lineup. Smartly, the athletic freshman has found a niche for himself. So the more UNC needs to go small, the more opportunities he’ll continue to have to play.

Anonymous from N.C. writes: Is Reggie Bullockgoing to be back for the start of ACC play?

Pickeral: A team spokesman said Thursday morning that Bullock, the UNC wing (and the team’s second-leading scorer) who sat out the win over UNLV with a mild concussion, is doing more each day, but hasn't yet been cleared to play. There should be another update during Williams’ weekly news conference on Friday.

If you’re looking for positives: The concussion was considered mild, and it occurred last Thursday. UNC plays again Sunday, at Virginia, and the team is hoping Bullock will be cleared in time.

Oh, and on that note: Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett told The Daily Progress on Wednesday that he probably won’t know until Saturday whether guard Jontel Evans -- who has missed the last four games, and nine overall because of a foot injury -- will be able to play against the Tar Heels.