UNC has gotten off to a good start this season, winning their first two games with ease.
The Tar Heels may have lost some players from last year's squad, but have still come back with a lot of talent, including Reggie Bullock and James Michael McAdoo.
But as good as Bullock and McAdoo are, and as much as they will rely on the contributions of a couple freshmen, UNC's season will be majorly impacted by the play of Dexter Strickland.
Strickland, the team's starting shooting guard, missed the second half of last season with a torn ACL, and there was a visible difference with him off the court.
Strickland has made strides as a scorer, but his real value is on the defensive side of the court.
He is counted on to shut down the opposition's best guard and his combination of strength and quickness makes him hard to beat off the dribble and even harder to get an open jump shot on.
The senior has a lot of experience now and will be counted on in a leadership role for the first time.
There's a lot of young, inexperienced, but talented, players on UNC's roster this year and Strickland will play a big role in developing them.
The New Jersey native isn't going to threaten from beyond the arc, but his quickness and basketball IQ allow him to find seams in the defense and get open looks.
He isn't big, and sometimes gets out of control when he drives, but has a good mid-range jump shot and almost always finds a way to make a play.
Before he got hurt last year, Strickland had a .570 shooting percentage from the field to go along with averages of 24.3 minutes per game and 2.1 assists per game.
While other defenses focus on shutting down Bullock and McAdoo, Strickland will get even more space to work with this season.
If he takes advantage of this and starts knocking down more jump shots, Strickland will force defenses to respect his offensive game and take pressure off his teammates, specifically Bullock, who has a great outside game.
With all that in mind, however, Strickland's knee is what will be the biggest part of his being the x-factor this season.
ACL surgeries are less serious than they used to be, but it's still a tough recovery and every player comes back differently.
If Strickland shows that he hasn't lost a step and has the confidence to play all-out on the knee, then it'll help maintain his value as a defender and give him the chance to contribute offensively.
For UNC's sake, they need that knee to be healthy and Strickland to be at full speed. It may not seem like it at the outset, but their season could depend on it.
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