North Carolina basketball’s starting center position is still up for grabs after nine games, Roy Williams, said, according to Matt Hamm of KeepingItHeal.com.
Williams, the team’s head coach, has tried three different centers this season but hasn’t settled on the one who will be the starter in the middle moving forward.
The three who have had their shot to this point are sophomore Desmond Hubert, Brice Johnson and Joel James. Each has started at least once and played significant minutes off the bench in the other contests.
While center isn’t the sole reason for the Tar Heels' slide from their preseason ranking (No. 11 in AP; No. 12 in USA Today), some stability wouldn’t hurt the team as it progresses this season.
Let’s take a look at what each of the three centers brings to the table for the Heels.
The 6’9” sophomore has started six of the team’s nine games, but has played the least cumulative minutes of the bunch. He is averaging just 10 minutes per contest.
That’s reflected in his play. The upper-classman was initially afforded the starting spot but hasn’t been able to fend off the young and hungry freshmen who are clearly outplaying him to this point.
Hubert’s strength lies in his size and length. It gives him the ability to close down lanes, making his presence on the court felt.
However, he hasn’t excelled at that this season and needs more aggressiveness in order to become the dominant big man he could potentially be.
Johnson, a 6’9” freshman, has only had one shot at the starting job to this point, but more could be on the way. His minutes are increasing as his ability to score has been a welcome addition to the Tar Heels frontcourt.
Athleticism is what Johnson is all about, whether it’s getting to the rim on a fast break or sending back an opponent’s shot, he’s nothing but hustle.
It’s showing up on the stat sheet.
The freshman is playing 14.1 minutes per contest and averaging 9.4 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. His decent mid-range jumper also helps make him a must-use player off Williams’ bench.
Overall, Johnson makes the most logical choice at this time. If he’s inserted into the starting lineup, he may be able to help spark the Tar Heels earlier and help them get off to quicker starts.
The 6’10” freshman has started two games in the middle for North Carolina and has had mixed results. He’s a little heavy, but plays quick enough to make up for it. That weight helps give him a toughness that’s necessary down in the paint.
You could describe him best as a developmental defensive force down low. He might not be as polished as some freshman, but he certainly has a very high ceiling once he gets there.
Scoring comes at a premium for the big man, but he makes up for it with his shot-blocking and rebounding abilities.
James certainly makes a strong case to be in the game at times, but should be rotated in off the bench in order to help stop other team’s runs and give Johnson a breather.
The tandem would make a nice rotation with James coming off the bench and Johnson getting the starting nod.