CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina coach Roy Williams doesn't expect his bench to provide a lot of scoring, though he wouldn't complain if it did. But he does expect it to provide something - and perhaps something significantly more than it has provided to this point in the season.
No. 8 UNC will play Miami tonight at 8 (ESPN) for the second time, and when the Tar Heels take the court at the Hurricanes' BankUnited Center, Williams will be hoping for, among other things, greater production from his bench.
I'm "not saying our bench needs to score 35 points or anything, but when they come in, they have to help us, they have to rebound and they have to defend and they have to set screens," Williams said this week. "And yes, if they can score, there's no question we would like that as well."
When the Tar Heels (21-4, 8-2) and Hurricanes (15-8, 6-4) met for the first time in a 73-56 UNC victory on Jan. 10, depth was among the least of Williams' concerns.
Ten UNC players received at least five minutes of playing time that game, and none of them played more than point guard Kendall Marshall's 32 minutes.
Since then, injuries have shrunk UNC's bench. Junior guard Dexter Strickland, who started the first 19 games, suffered a season-ending knee injury in a victory at Virginia Tech on Jan. 19. That forced sophomore Reggie Bullock, who had been UNC's first and most reliable player off the bench, into the starting lineup.
In the meantime, freshman guard P.J. Hairston, nagged by an assortment of injuries throughout the second half of the season, suffered a foot injury that forced him to watch UNC's 70-52 victory against then-No. 19 Virginia from the bench Saturday. He has practiced on a limited basis this week, but his status for tonight was not decided Tuesday.
UNC's sudden lack of depth has forced the Tar Heels to rely upon the unproven and inexperienced. Senior Justin Watts and freshmen James Michael McAdoo and Stilman White had been averaging a combined 24 minutes of playing time before Saturday, when they combined to play 44 minutes against Virginia.
White, a point guard, played eight minutes against Virginia in relief of Marshall. Monday night during his weekly radio show, Williams said he was concerned about the possibility of Marshall wearing down late in the season. Marshall has averaged 32 minutes but has played nearly 35 per game since Strickland's injury.
Combined, McAdoo, Watts and White average 7.5 points.
McAdoo's role growing
If there has been a positive amid the depth woes, though, it's that McAdoo continues to become more comfortable on the court. His nine-point, seven-rebound performance against Virginia was among his most productive of the season.
"Night and day," McAdoo said of his confidence level now, compared to where it was. "That's what I would say. Even to games three weeks ago, before maybe the N.C. State game - (I am now) just being confident in myself and just feeling the faith that my teammates have in me.
"That's just really helped me on the court, and I feel like that's just translated into me being more productive."
Of course, Miami coach Jim Larranaga likely has little sympathy for the Tar Heels' relative lack of depth. The Hurricanes played earlier this season without center Reggie Johnson, whose return has been instrumental in Miami's surge to the top half of the ACC standings.
In preparing for the Heels this week, Larranaga said he didn't see too many weaknesses. And, he said, "Their bench had a great game the other day against Virginia."