UNC vs. Duke: North Carolina's New 4-Guard Lineup Will Propel Heels to Victory

Tim KeeneyContributor IMarch 8, 2013

CHAPEL HILL, NC - FEBRUARY 23:  P.J. Hairston #15 of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts as the North Carolin State Wolfpack calls a timout during play at the Dean Smith Center on February 23, 2013 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Better late than never, Roy Williams. 

As North Carolina's 2012-13 season wore on, it seemed more and more apparent with every game that this campaign would be labeled as a rebuilding one. 

Riddled with inconsistency, youth and no clear leader, the Heels lost to Butler, were embarrassed at Indiana, were destroyed by a Myck Kabongo-less Texas squad and lost four of their first 10 ACC games.

They went from preseason No. 11 to being either a lock for a first-round exit or a potential NIT favorite. 

But then—days after being humiliated by 26 at Miami and watching Shane Larkin throw an alley-oop off the backboard to Kenny Kadji to further twist the knife on the painful season—came the most important game of the season: a 73-68 loss at Duke. 

No, this loss didn't "wake North Carolina up." It didn't "inspire" the Heels. It wasn't any of the Bayless-ian cliches that you often might hear. 

Instead, it was Williams' "F It" moment. The moment he said, "Screw this, I'm playing my best players, regardless of position."

And it worked. 

Williams inserted super-talented sophomore wing P.J. Hairston into the starting lineup and was rewarded with a non-traditional yet effective four-guard lineup around "center" James Michael McAdoo.

The Heels lost that game to Duke, but it was an encouraging, closely-fought battle on the road, and it signaled an important time for change. 

Since that Duke game, only Joel James and Brice Johnson (once each) have hit double-digit minutes in six games (all wins). Former starter Desmond Hubert hasn't played more than nine. The three big men clearly have potential, but they aren't ready to make a significant impact.  

Meanwhile, Hairston has transformed into one of the best players in the ACC. Since entering the starting lineup, he has averaged 17.8 points per game. He's racking up steals, rebounding, scoring from inside and out and showing why he was a 5-star recruit out of Hargrave Military

The new rotation has had a solid impact on freshman point guard Marcus Paige, too. Once plagued with terrible decision-making, poor shooting and uneasy hesitation, Paige is averaging 11.6 points on a scorching 45.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc in his past five games.

With the exception of Wednesday night's ugly slip-up against Maryland, he's also distributing and taking better care of the rock. 

McAdoo and Bullock finally have some consistent offensive help. The Heels are more rounded on offense and more adept at causing turnovers on defense. In the six games since the Duke loss, they have forced a ridiculous 15.3 turnovers per night. 

Put it all together, and UNC has won six straight—including revenge victories over Virginia and NC State to go along with three impressive road wins—heading into a rematch with Duke, the team against which the major turnaround started. 

Williams' new lineup has its flaws. The Heels have been out-rebounded from a percentage standpoint in five of the last six games. 

That will allow Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly opportunities for big games. 

But Roy Williams has thrown away "the book." He has gone unconventional, saved what appeared to be a lost season and has his Tar Heels finally living up to their preseason status. 

In front of a home crowd on Saturday night, the new-look Heels will come full circle and complete the transformation with a resounding win over Duke.