Just as John Henson returned from a wrist injury and brought the North Carolina Tar Heels back to full strength, Kendall Marshall went down with a broken wrist and put the Heels' title hopes in jeopardy.
Marshall’s loss should not cost the Heels in their Sweet 16 matchup against Ohio this weekend, but it will be a very different team that takes the floor against the Bobcats than Heels fans are accustomed to.
When I say that it should not cost the Heels, that is not a slight to the Bobcats, but simply an acknowledgment that Carolina’s superior size and depth should win the day. The Bobcats simply do not have the inside strength to negate Carolina’s post players.
However, if the Heels beat the Bobcats and move into the Elite Eight, that is where Marshall’s loss would really be felt, as the Heels entered the season undermanned at the guard position.
Marshall has played the vast majority of the minutes at the point, and right now the only viable options to replace him are Stillman White and Justin Watts. Both can play the position, but neither has been called upon to play big minutes there all year.
While many are focused on the loss of Marshall as a scoring option and his ability to rack up phenomenal assist numbers, my worry is what this will do to the Tar Heel transition attack.
We all know that Marshall is not the fleetest of foot, but he is still the key to the Heels' transition offense. Marshall advances the ball up the court with crisp passing, which is the key to getting easy baskets. He seems to have figured out long ago that no one can run faster than a good pass, so he advances the ball via the pass more often than not.
As solid as White and Watts are as backup point men, neither has that type of vision and ability. That is the loss that will hurt the Heels the most going forward.
All is not lost for Carolina, even though they will be without Marshall’s services for at least the Ohio game. This is where my earlier theory about Henson’s injury will be put to the test; this is the point where Carolina’s bench has to really take a step forward and lead.
All players can ask for is an opportunity to show what types of players they are and that opportunity is knocking right now for White and Watts. They just need to go open the door.