UNC's Strickland and McDonald's Recovery Critical to Tar Heels' 2012-13 Success

Doug BrodessCorrespondent IAugust 23, 2012

CHAPEL HILL, NC - DECEMBER 21:  Dexter Strickland #1 of the North Carolina Tar Heels celebrates after a dunk against the Texas Longhorns during their game at the Dean Smith Center on December 21, 2011 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

In a college basketball program like North Carolina, talented players come and go.

Even in Chapel Hill, though, the departures of Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, John Henson, and Kendall Marshall leave a canyon-sized hole to fill.

Fortunately for UNC head coach Roy Williams and his staff, they have recruited well for a number of years and will be able to reload on the fly like few teams could.

Two players who will be instrumental in establishing Carolina's 2012-13 backcourt are Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald.

Unfortunately, both players are recovering from serious knee injuries.

As starting SG last year, Strickland led the team in FG shooting (57 percent) and steals (1.3 spg) while averaging 7.5 ppg.

His biggest contribution was by being the best on-ball perimeter defender on the team.

North Carolina's 2012 title hopes were altered when Strickland went down by tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament in late January.

McDonald hasn't played an official game for UNC since the Tar Heels lost to Kentucky in the 2011 Elite Eight. Before last season began, McDonald tore his ACL in a N.C. Pro-Am summer league game.

As a sophomore, McDonald was a scoring spark off the Tar Heels' bench, scoring 7 points per game in less than 16 minutes of playing time.

As both Strickland and McDonald work toward returning for this coming season, they do so with the prospects of playing larger roles than before.

On a team that has talent but lacks significant experience, they will both be called on to provide leadership and consistency.

Earlier this summer, Williams projected that Strickland will be ready to go when the season's first practices begin in October.

From McDonald's performance this summer in the same league where he blew out his knee, he appears to be back to his old form.

Fellow UNC backcourt member P.J. Hairston said “Leslie’s playing like his knee didn’t even get hurt last year in this tournament.”

Sometime between Late Night with Roy on October 12th and when the Heels open up the ACC slate against Virginia on January 6, we will have a good idea where it all stands.

With both Strickland and McDonald on the court this coming season, the Tar Heels will be tough to handle.

If they re-establish themselves, then North Carolina will be in good shape for the regular season and beyond.

Last season, UNC could rely on Zeller, Henson and Barnes. This year, without Strickland and McDonald, the Heels would be scrambling to keep it all under control.

While Marcus Paige may be a PG wizard, he is recovering from his own injury after breaking his foot in the McDonalds All-American Game.

Though P.J. Hairston showed signs early last year that he can light it up from anywhere, his shooting accuracy dropped off the table as the 2011-12 season progressed.

In case either or both Strickland or McDonald have a setback in their recovery, Carolina will find themselves in a challenging situation.

While they may not be as desperate as last March when they were forced to throw Stilman White into emergency duty at the point, without Strickland and McDonald, the Heels will lack depth and experience in a big way.