P.J. Hairston: Season Scenarios for Suspended Tar Heel Star
P.J. Hairston's name made headlines this summer, but for all the wrong reasons. With college basketball season just around the corner, the extent of Hairston's suspension is still very much up in the air. Per usual, the Tar Heels are expected to contend in the ACC, though they will have competition with Duke and Virginia, while also being challenged by new members Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh.
As a sophomore, Hairston averaged 14.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists, while playing 23.6 minutes per contest. Hairston shot from behind the arc at a 39.6 percent clip as well. His role had greatly increased from his freshman season, when he averaged 5.7 points and 2.2 rebounds in 13 minutes of play, while being overshadowed by Kendall Marshall, Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller.
As a junior, Hairston should continue to be a focal point of the offense, forming a nice inside-out duo with fellow junior James Michael McAdoo. At 6'6" and 220 pounds, the Greensboro, N.C. native can score from the outside or get to the hoop and draw fouls. Until Hairston's suspension length is announced, everything else will be speculation.
Here are three possible scenarios for Hairston's third collegiate season:
Best-Case Scenario: Suspended for 3 Games, 20 PPG, 5 RPG, 2 APG, 48% 3PT
On Friday, the Tar Heels play their first exhibition contest against UNC Pembroke before opening their regular season one week later at home against Oakland. UNC then should notch two more home W's in preliminary contests for the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament, playing both Holy Cross and Belmont.
The best-case scenario for Hairston would be to return for that very same Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament in Uncasville, Conn. The Tar Heels will face Richmond in the semifinal contest, while Fairfield or Louisville would be the opponent the following night.
Without Hairston, UNC may not stand a chance against the defending champion Cardinals.
If he were to only miss three contests, Carolina should still go 3-0, while allowing younger players to gain some experience. It would also be a rather light punishment given the trouble Hairston's found.
Hairston's minutes should take an increase as a junior, potentially approaching 30 MPG. With increased playing time and shot attempts, Hairston could inflate his scoring even up to 20 points per game. He could also become more well-rounded and slightly up his rebounds, assists and shooting percentage.
In this case, Hairston would be an All-ACC performer and potential Player of the Year candidate in the league. The Tar Heels would exceed preseason expectations, reaching another Final Four, while Hairston impresses enough people to leave for the NBA.
Middle Scenario: Suspended for 6 Games, 15 PPG, 4 RPG, 1 APG, 40% 3PT
Should Hairston not be back for the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament, he would miss the team's first five contests. The Heels then face off with UAB in Birmingham, Ala. as their sixth game of the 2013-14. The team's second major challenge of the year should follow that, in a game at Michigan State.
The Tar Heels and Spartans will face off as part of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge on Wednesday, December 4 in East Lansing. Tom Izzo's team is one of my early picks for the 2014 Final Four and should be able to knock off Roy Williams' squad with or without Hairston, though having him there would certainly help.
Ten days later, UNC hosts rival Kentucky, another Final Four favorite with a loaded youthful roster. In between MSU and UK, the Tar Heels also play host to UNCG, where Hairston is from. UNC should have a better shot to beat Kentucky than Michigan State, in my opinion.
First, Michigan State is very much experienced, where as Kentucky will not be accustomed to the big stage by that point. Also, having the home crowd in Chapel Hill, could put the Heels over the top in upsetting the Wildcats, though they will probably need Hairston there.
A good, but not great, scenario for Hairston and the Heels would be to start 5-1 with a loss to Louisville but having him available for these other two prime-time matchups.
If Hairston can reproduce his sophomore year statistics, following a rough offseason, that should be considered a success still. Hairston would then decide to come back for his senior season, along with McAdoo, forming one of the nation's best and most experienced duos.
Worst-Case Scenario: Suspended for 13 Games, 10 PPG, 3 RPG, 0 APG, 30% 3PT
Though another negative headline due to a run-in with law enforcement would surely be the worst-case scenario, I'm going to go ahead and assume Hairston gets his act together and realizes he is lucky to be getting another chance from both coach Williams and the NCAA.
For this article's sake, the worst potential scenario would be for Hairston to miss all 13 nonconference games and not become eligible to play until the team's ACC opener at Wake Forest on January 5. This would ensure Hairston becomes rusty on the court, despite continuing to practice all this time.
North Carolina should still finish 10-3, losing to Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky, while opponents like Belmont, Texas and Davidson could pose upset potential. Should Hairston miss the first two months of the season, he could even lose his job as a starting wing and wouldn't be an immediate impact.
In this case, Hairston could still show promise but would shows signs of inconsistency the remainder of the season and never get into a real groove all season. The Tar Heels would limp their way into another tough opening-round matchup in the NCAA tournament and not make it past the first weekend.
Still, Hairston decides his time in Chapel Hill is done, leaves for the NBA draft but is not selected.
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