North Carolina coach Roy Williams has tinkered with five different starting lineups during the course of the season, mostly out of necessity, before finding what looks to be the five.
Actually it should be noted that really only two positions have been unsettled this year -- center and the guard spot opposite Marcus Paige that indicated whether he would be at point guard or shooting guard.
Williams started three different centers in Joel James, Brice Johnson and Jackson Simmons before settling on Kennedy Meeks. Williams started Nate Britt at point guard 16 games before settling on Leslie McDonald at shooting guard.
“When you’re building a team you have to adjust things around, maneuver it,” McDonald said. “Of course with me coming back to the team, it was a mysterious thing. You didn’t know what to do.”
The Tar Heels seem to have it figured out now. Their four-game winning streak coincides with both Meeks and McDonald joining the trio that has started every game in Paige, James Michael McAdoo and J.P. Tokoto.
It has allowed the Heels to get off to fast starts, punctuated by 19-6 and 18-4 starts against Maryland and NC State, respectively. They have averaged 35.5 points in the first half of the past four games compared to just 28.4 the first five games of ACC play.
“You see out on the floor we have a whole bunch of weapons as far as Mac, myself, Marcus, J.P. on the glass and Kennedy on the low post,” McDonald said. “We have a whole bunch of weapons and we’re just trying to convert that sense of urgency that he [Williams] is always talking about and just putting it out on the court.”
With Meeks and McDonald in the starting lineup, forward Brice Johnson is the only reserve who is a skilled scorer. Every night won’t be as perfect as his 8-for-8 night against Maryland, but Carolina needs some consistency from its bench.
The Heels initially had a huge drop-off against Maryland when Williams began substituting. Against better teams it could be a game changer.
“I told them at halftime [against Maryland] that the guys who came into the game didn’t give us anything,” Williams said. “When I put you in the game as a substitute, you have to give us something positive, whether it’s defense or rebounding or scoring -- it makes no difference.”
Carolina’s starting lineups and record
Paige, McDonald, Tokoto, McAdoo, Meeks 4-0
Paige, McDonald, Tokoto, McAdoo, James 0-1
Paige, McDonald, Tokoto, McAdoo, Simmons 1-0
Britt, Paige, Tokoto, McAdoo, Meeks 1-1
Britt, Paige, Tokoto, McAdoo, Johnson 2-0
Britt, Paige, Tokoto, McAdoo, James 7-5