Ty Lawson Update: The Real Story behind UNC's Strategy

Nathan BitnerSenior Analyst IMarch 18, 2009

The picture above is one that strikes fear into the hearts of Tar Heels fans and gives hope to every other team in the South Region and beyond.

However, a few brief statements and a little common sense should reassure fans of North Carolina and fans of one of the most exciting point guards in college basketball.

Lawson's complication of a simple jammed toe stems primarily from an aggravation of a previous fracture that he was unaware of and involves not another fracture but a significant swelling of tissue near the site of the old injury.

Despite Lawson's statements to the contrary, Roy Williams unequivocally stated on Tuesday that if Lawson did not practice on Tuesday and Wednesday that he would "not play on Thursday." Today, he reiterated that there was a "huge probability" that he would not play.

Sources (admittedly low-level) at the UNC Athletics Department verified that Lawson only participated in "shooting drills" during Tuesday's practice and "did not engage in a full practice session" on Wednesday.

These same sources verify that there is virtually no chance that Lawson will play against Radford on Thursday.

However, this should be understood as a tactical move by Williams as part of the larger strategic battle. First, several people (including Lawson himself) verified that his toe injury was far worse before (and after) the regular-season finale against Duke than it has been since.

It is my own assertion that Williams held out Lawson from the ACC Tournament because the coach accurately calculated that UNC had already secured a No. 1 seed and two games in Greensboro. Winning the ACC Tournament or losing to Florida State was not going to provide any additional advantage or disadvantage.

That brings us to the current situation. Lawson's toe will almost certainly swell after he plays in his next game back. If he was to play against Radford, he could potentially be in worse shape for the winner of LSU/Butler, a far more challenging game.

There is no need to play Lawson against Radford, as UNC should easily win that game without him.

Looking at Saturday's game, there is no doubt in my mind that Lawson will play, and he will then have five days to recover if there is any further aggravation (which, considering the nature of the injury, there is likely to be).

Williams stated that Lawson's recovery has been "slower than expected," but this also helps him deflect any criticism he might receive for sitting Lawson against the lesser opponent.

Fresh from five days' rest, Lawson should again be ready for the regional semifinal, but if his injury has lingered, the biggest potential roadblock will occur in the regional final, should UNC be fortunate enough to make it that far.

At that point, Lawson would be operating on two days' rest and if the injury has not significantly improved, he will be in significant pain. Unfortunately, that game is projected to be against either Syracuse (a team that matches up very well with the Tar Heels) or Oklahoma and soon-to-be-named Player of the Year Blake Griffin.

So, Lawson's jammed toe is not nearly the significant problem that some in the media have made it out to be, but it is the type of problem that can last for some time if the toe is placed under repeated stress.

If you would otherwise choose UNC in your bracket, you have nothing to worry about until the Elite Eight matchup. You may very well want to take the injury into account for any games beyond that point, however.

Lawson is the engine that drives the Tar Heels' train, and all North Carolina fans hope that locomotive is headed straight to the Motor City.