On Thursday, it was announced that sophomore shooting guard Kenny Williams will undergo knee surgery and miss the rest of the season. It is a significant blow to North Carolina, one that comes days after junior guard Theo Pinson returned to the lineup from an ankle injury. The Tar Heels cannot seem to catch a break, as Joel Berry II, Isaiah Hicks, Theo Pinson, Kenny Williams and Tony Bradley have all missed games due to injuries. The void left by Williams’ loss is a large one, but it is one the Tar Heels can presumably fill.
With Williams out, Pinson becomes the obvious choice for starting shooting guard. Even if Williams was still healthy, Pinson would have eventually won the job back due to his tenacious defense and charisma he brings to the team. Pinson had an encouraging performance in the 97-73 win over North Carolina State, on Wednesday, posting 12 points on 6-8 shooting and adding four assists and two rebounds. It is hard to put into words just how much Pinson means to this North Carolina team. Not only is he a great perimeter defender, but he is also an adept ball handler, and a smart passer, two things the Tar Heels desperately need.
The two players that will need to step up in Williams’ absence are senior guard Nate Britt and freshman guard Seventh Woods. Britt, who is normally the backup point guard, might now be asked to play shooting guard as well. A scrappy four-year player, Britt brings valuable defense and composure to the lineup, but his three-point shooting leaves a lot to be desired. On the season Britt has hit 19-56 threes, good for 34 percent. Williams had hit the third-most threes for UNC on the season, with 27, and now it will be Britt’s responsibility to pick up some of that slack.
Seventh Woods will also be asked to carry a more significant role for the Tar Heels moving forward. A freshman guard out of Columbia, South Carolina, Woods was a heralded recruit due to his explosive hoops mixtape, which was made when Woods was 15 years old. Woods has struggled this season and has never looked comfortable for the Tar Heels. However, a good sign for the guard moving forward is that he has played well in the limited opportunity the past two games. In the two games, he has played 18 minutes, scoring eight points on 4-6 shooting, with six assists to only two turnovers. Woods has been used as the third point guard, as well as shooting guard and will likely be asked to pick up more of the slack at point if Britt is moved to shooting guard.
North Carolina still has all the components to make a deep postseason run, but their reserves must step up. Fortunately, this is one of the deepest squads in the nation and with Williams injured, still has ten players that play at least eight minutes a game. It does not get any easier for UNC, as they face
Virginia twice, and Louisville and Duke once each to end the regular season, not to mention a game at Pittsburgh. The next few weeks will show exactly what this team is made of, and if all goes well, the Tar Heels will be purchasing tickets for Phoenix.
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