UNC see Boston College for a second time in less than two weeks because Jim Boeheim is correct, the ACC schedule sucks. Here are the focal points.
It happened last season when the Tar Heels traveled to Boston College. Isaiah Hicks supplanted Kennedy Meeks in the starting lineup and promptly scored 21 points with Brice Johnson scoring 20 on the way to an 11 point win. With UNC looking to break a two game skid and an immeniently winnable game on the schedule, Roy Williams was asked last night during his radio program if a lineup change was in the offing. His answer? Maybe.
"I put some different guys out there with the starting five today, and I may change and start them tomorrow, or I may go back," Williams said.
He did not offer any further details on which players may enter the starting lineup or which ones may exit. All five Tar Heel starters currently average 11 or more points per game.
Williams has talked about lineup changes in the past and even after games said he planned to change a lineup but then decided against it. On one hand, doing it in practice might be sending enough of a message to the players. On the other hand there might actually be value in trying some different combinations. Williams did go on to say that UNC as a team "screwed up" so a lineup change may not be all it's cracked up to be.
At this stage, changing the lineup would be designed to impact 1-2 players who might need things shaken up a bit. Justin Jackson certainly fits that bill. Given his struggles one has to wonder if a stint off the bench might jump start him offensively. Kennedy Meeks sitting in favor of Isaiah Hicks is also a possibility which also brings up an odd occurrence. Kennedy Meeks has never started a game versus Boston College. He was not a regular starter when UNC played the Eagles during his freshman year. He did not start either game versus Boston College last season, one by coach's decision, the other due to illness. In the first game this season Meeks was late to shootaround so he did not start.
In recent years Williams has shown a willingness to shake up the lineup after famously being stubborn in this area. This would be a good game to do it just to see if it has a positive impact.
Missing: Justin Jackson
At this stage Justin Jackson is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Contrary to the perception Jackson hasn't been good this season, prior to ACC play he actually played well. The knock on him prior to January was he simply wasn't consistent at a high level. He struggled to open the season but during the three game midwest swing played up to all the preseason expectations. At that point the feeling was when Paige returned, putting him alongside UNI/Northwestern/Kansas St. Justin Jackson would make this team that started the season #1 look the part. When Paige returned, Jackson didn't quite hit those levels but he did score in double figures in 7 of the next 9 games and 8 of the next 11 culminating with 16 points on 8-10 shooting in the win over Syracuse.
Since then it has been more miss than hit. Over the past six games while much of the attention was on Paige's shooting slump, Jackson scored in double figures just once averaging 8.0 ppg and shooting 32% from the floor. He hasn't made a three since January 16th versus NC State making him 2-22 in ACC play. Jackson's offensive rating is now under 100 in 10 ACC games but still a decent 113.6 in all games.
Jackson is now facing a confidence battle. He simply isn't playing well and there is no clear indication as to why. Even when he is aggressive, the shots don't fall to the point he couldn't even put in a simple layup versus Notre Dame. His offense has always been predicated on hitting floaters and finding gaps in the defense to score. Those shots have always proven reliable for him but now they aren't. In theory Jackson should be a match-up problem for opposing teams but to this point it really hasn't manifested. Jackson's play against the backdrop of the preseason expectation and UNC's overall offensive woes can't be helping either.
Paige shook off his slump on Saturday, if Jackson can do the same, UNC might just be able to pull things together for the stretch run.
Everyone on the same page
There is a feeling that UNC's biggest issue is getting everyone playing well at the same time. If you have watched UNC under Roy Williams for the past 12 years you know this sort of thing is not uncommon. Despite the way the team has played recently, UNC isn't necessarily in any trouble. The Tar Heels still sit in first place in the ACC and there will be ample opportunities to validate the preseason hype over the final weeks of the regular season. Traditionally, UNC can be rough around the edges but starting with the first Duke game when the stakes are raised, the Tar Heels tend to respond.
To this point UNC's primary issue seems to be a lack of cohesion in the individual level of play. The Tar Heels have several good parts and those parts have performed well at times both on their on or in concert with one or two others. And that's a good thing since UNC has clearly shown it can can weather bad games from certain players. The catch is when facing really good teams, UNC needs all the cylinders engaged. You can get away with two players in double figures versus Wake Forest at home but when next week rolls around, UNC will need everyone on the same page or close to it.
Again, this type of game has value in getting the offense working again. While Boston College struggles on offense, the defense is good enough to make this a decent test.
UNC 88 Boston College 59