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.

UNC has had an open week since winning at FSU last Saturday; the Tar Heels play Maryland on Saturday. Some recent questions ...

Isaac Schade from Webb City, Mo., writes: Despite all the other crazy talent last year, Kendall Marshall was the truly one "indispensable" player amongst the group (and probably least likely to leave of the group). How different does this year's UNC squad look if he's running the point with Paige as the back-up? Or does the lack of experience inside too far outweigh his playmaking ability? Thanks.

Pickeral: Hi, Isaac. No doubt this team would be different if Marshall was still in Chapel Hill. Not only would it have more on- and off-court leadership, but a guy who would know where and when to get each of his teammates the ball -- including those inexperienced big guys. Boasting the best point guard in college solves a lot of problems, and it would give freshman ballhandler Marcus Paige the best mentor from whom to learn.

I still argue that what this team is missing most, though, is a confident, well-rounded big man. For instance, put a Tyler Zeller -- even the equivalent of a sophomore Tyler Zeller -- on this team, and it opens things up more for forward James Michael McAdoo. It gives Paige a confident target in the post. It allows coach Roy Williams the more balanced inside-out game that he wants, and opens things up for all of the 3-point shooters that were dubbed the strength of this team (without putting pressure on them to be the strength of this team).

It’s an interesting ‘what-if’?

Jeremy from Minneapolis writes: This team needed some heart and Jackson Simmons plays with his. He may not be the most athletic player out there but he gets the job done. Do you think we see him being the first big off the bench going forward?

Brandon from Winston-Salem, NC writes: What do you think about the way Jackson Simmons played against FSU? It looked like someone finally claimed the 5 spot to me.

Pickeral: Guys, you’ve got to be happy for Simmons, who had eight points and four rebounds in 15 minutes to help UNC win at Florida State last Saturday (and on his birthday, no less). And you’ve got to be happy for the Tar Heels, to have a guy who doesn’t play all that much help them to a win when they really, really needed a win.

As Jeremy mentioned, he played with heart. But has he “claimed” the 5-spot? Doubtful.

Williams has said he doesn’t want to play “small” the majority of the time, and a 6-foot-7 center makes for a pretty short lineup. As Williams said on his Monday night radio show, Simmons earned his minutes by becoming the best screener in practice, and pulling down offensive rebound after offensive rebound. No doubt he could (and likely has) earned more opportunities -- especially if Williams isn’t getting what he wants out of centers Desmond Hubert, Joel James and Brice Johnson.

But the reality is, this team needs more out of Hubert and/or James and/or Johnson. Perhaps Simmons will serve as an inspiration.

Earl from NC writes: I read somewhere that Miami has an assistant coach for defense and one for offense. How does UNC split up its assistant coaching duties, especially with a new assistant [Hubert Davis] on the staff?

Pickeral: According to Williams on one of his recent radio shows: “Everybody’s involved in everything. I felt like when I left here to go to Kansas, Coach [Dean] Smith had prepared me every day to be a head coach, because I was involved in everything, and that’s the way I’ve run my staff for 25 years.”

On UNC’s staff, the assistants split up the scouting assignments -- Steve Robinson was responsible for Virginia this month, for instance, while C.B. McGrath had Miami -- and those assistants give the scouting report to the team prior to each game.

During practice, McGrath and Williams primarily coach the big guys during individual drills, while Robinson and Davis work with the perimeter players.

And during the course of a game, Williams said: “Coach Robinson has got fouls and timeouts; CB’s keeping more or less the time clock, how long a guy’s been in the game, when he came out, those kind of things. … Hubert, I say things to him and tell him to write things down to remind me at the timeouts. And then at every timeout, I say something to open the timeout, and then I give each assistant a chance to say something at that moment. And then we get out and I bring it all together.”

In addition, McGrath began the season coaching the junior varsity team, with the idea that Davis would eventually take over.

“I feel very fortunate to have the staff I do,’’ Williams said. “If I go in the tank one night, or get thrown out out of the game -- which is a possibility -- if that happens, our team will get be very well-coached.”

Anonymous from NC writes: Are you ready to concede yet that P.J. Hairston should be in the starting lineup?

Pickeral: As long as he's playing enough minutes -- and he's averaged 27 over the past four games -- then no, I still don't think it matters whether he starts or comes off the bench (although I know there are many fans with a very different opinion).

It's been impressive, the way Hairston has expanded his offensive game, improved his defense, and been able to play the '4' when UNC goes to a four-guard line-up. There are times when the sophomore wing been the best player on the floor -- starter or reserve. But it sounds as if he will keep his back-up role, at least for the time being. Williams said earlier this week that he thinks Hairston is more valuable coming off the bench.