Guarding against four-game fatigue

Four games in eight days.

That’s crazy considering it’s still the regular season and the games are all in conference.

But with the Duke game rescheduled for Thursday after inclement weather postponed the original date, it’s the challenge now facing the Tar Heels. Carolina can at least be grateful that three of the games are at home.

Make no mistake, the players love this kind of stuff. Similar to the ACC or NCAA tournament, they would much rather be playing games stacked close together than spending time in practice. That’s a universal truth for players no matter the school.

But UNC coach Roy Williams could have some serious concerns with fatigue -- both mental and physical -- by the end of the week. There isn’t an opponent during this stretch that Carolina can play a subpar game and still beat:

  • Pittsburgh is fourth in the standings, which holds the coveted final double-bye spot for the league tournament. (Besides, the Smith Center doesn’t “Stripe it out” for just anyone.

  • Florida State has been slipping of late, but Tallahassee has been a known trouble spot for the Heels.

  • Duke also has to tough out four games in eight days and will face Syracuse after the Heels.

  • Wake Forest already proved last month what happens when Carolina doesn’t play focused.

That’s just the mental part. Physically, the Heels’ perimeter players will especially be tested.

During their five-game win streak sophomore guard Marcus Paige has averaged 36.2 minutes per game, senior guard Leslie McDonald is at 31.2 minutes and sophomore small forward J.P. Tokoto is hovering at 29.6 minutes.

It could be difficult to maintain so many minutes over the course of eight days. That’s why freshman guard Nate Britt could be the single most important reserve during that span. Williams has a number of options to keep Tokoto from exhaustion, including using James Michael McAdoo, McDonald or freshman forward Isaiah Hicks.

Williams doesn’t have many options in the backcourt where Paige and McDonald also happen to be the team’s only 3-point threats.

Britt could again play a vital role in the rotation, if for no other reason than simply to give those guys a break. He has started 16 games, including the first nine while awaiting the status of McDonald and P.J. Hairston. Britt averaged 21.4 minutes per game overall, but his time has been slowly declining since McDonald’s return.

When Williams made McDonald a permanent fixture in the starting lineup, Britt has averaged just 16.6 minutes per game. Britt’s experience earlier in the season when he absolutely had to perform has prepared him for a situation like this.

“You can tell he’s a hard-nosed kid,” McDonald said. “When the pressure is on him, he’s not the type of kid who’s going to steer away from it. He’s going to go towards it, battle it and defeat it. That’s the type of players we need on this team.”

And that’s the type of response the Heels will need during this unprecedented stretch.