Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
Losing two premier defenders like Strickland and Reggie Bullock could prove to be extremely difficult to overcome. The Tar Heels didn't play that well defensively last season with them, so it's hard to believe they could possible be better this season without them.
Well, maybe not.
Strickland never really was the defender we were used to after his ACL tear, so even he didn't play that well last season. Paige struggled all over the court but when it finally clicked for the then-freshman, he became arguably the best defender on the squad.
He won the team award for it.
Undersized at 157 pounds, he had his share of troubles on the ball, but he was extremely sneaky and quick. Nobody poked more balls out from behind than Paige, and he was always making hustle plays defensively in transition.
Now, Paige is up to 175 pounds and spent the majority of the summer going up against Cousy Award winners Kendall Marshall, Ty Lawson and Raymond Felton. He should be much better in year two.
And as good as Bullock was, I would submit that Tokoto was the best on-ball defender and should only get better this season. He struggled a bit with team defense in his limited minutes as a freshman, but that shouldn't be an issue after a year to learn the system and develop chemistry with his teammates.
That goes for the entire team, too. With all the freshmen and sophomores on the court, there was very little chemistry—and that just doesn't cut it in a hedge-and-recover scheme.
Hairston probably isn't the best pure defender, but he has a way of making a huge play just when the Tar Heels need it the most, whether it's a steal, a block or a charge. He just appears with the ball sometimes.
With the new rules this season, officials will be less likely to blow the whistle on charges, which should force McAdoo to contest shots the way he should. He is a good defender, but he was found sprawled on the floor without a whistle way too often last year.
If Coach Williams can find a true center to eat up space with McAdoo, the team defense should be much stronger. There won't be as much need for help from the wings, so they shouldn't lose the opposing shooters as often as they did last season.
Opponents will sneak in some frustrating threes that will make everyone think the defense is sucking it up, but that's going to happen on a hedge. It seems fans complain about the defense every year, but UNC has been a top defense for most of Coach Williams' time in Chapel Hill.
Perception is not always reality. Pay attention to turnovers and transition points.
The Tar Heels' struggles last season had more to do with the lack of a center, poor half-court offense and chemistry issues than the actual personnel.
Will Coach Williams be able to find the right combinations to put all of these concerns to rest? It won't be long before we find out.