Rob Dauster – who appears to be writing for just about everyone these days – penned a piece this morning titled “Replacing Kendall Marshall is North Carolina’s toughest task.” And while I think that Dauster is one of the better columnists going these days, and I was a convert to Kendall Marshall’s game, I have to say that Rob is wrong. It’s not their toughest task.
For evidence Dauster cites the following (to be fair, you should read the whole article):
Should I remind you of what North Carolina looked like when Marshall was playing behind Larry Drew as a freshman? Or what they looked like after he broke his wrist in the NCAA tournament?
First, Larry Drew was a cancer. He had far greater problems than failing to set up John Henson for dunks. Second, Marshall’s replacement in the NCAA Tourney wasn’t an ACC caliber player. He may become one – which is why Roy signed him – but the plan wasn’t to play him before he departed the team on his Mission. The reason Stilman White was playing was because of other, older injuries. Dexter Strickland – one of seven consensus top-30 players on UNC’s roster (as many as the rest of the conference combined) – should have been able to step into that role. Not an ideal role for Strickland, but he’s an exceptionally talented player, only he wasn’t available because he too was out with injury.
So replacing Kendall Marshall may be the toughest task, but only if you assume that the starting point guard and his replacement are both out with injuries. Next season UNC will have Dexter Strickland, and more importantly they will have yet another consensus top-30 player in point guard Marcus Paige. Paige could very likely join the list with Kendall Marshall and Ty Lawson as freshmen point guards running the show in Chapel Hill.
The problem for North Carolina will be replacing the production in the middle. Tyler Zeller’s junior and senior seasons were magnificent. In both seasons he had the highest offensive rating on the team. He was an elite rebounder, he drew 9% more fouls per 40 minutes than the next closest ACC player (making 81% when he got to the line), and provided a strong, physical presence which worked nicely alongside John Henson’s 140-pound frame and 19-foot wingspan.
Now UNC has 6-10 true freshman Joel James stepping in, the lone player on their roster who can legitimately be considered a center. Other than that, the only players on the roster taller than 6-7 are 6-9 James Michael McAdoo, 6-10 sophomore Desmond Hubert, and 6-9 true freshman Brice Johnson (who makes Henson look overweight). Hubert was last year’s version of Brice Johnson – long and bouncy, but significantly under-developed. Because of their shallow depth on the front line UNC will likely run a lot of four-guard sets (of course it helps when Reggie Bullock is 6-7), and having that many guards on the floor will mitigate for the loss of Marshall, even if Paige isn’t the freshman player that his predecessors were.
UNC is going to look very different next season – and yes, losing Marshall is a big deal – but after having arguably the best front line in college basketball (outside of Lexington), they’ve got much bigger issues than replacing Marshall.