UNC Basketball: Has Kennedy Meeks Earned a Spot in Tar Heels' Starting Lineup?

Doug Brodess@DougbrodessCorrespondent IDecember 13, 2013

Dec 4, 2013; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans guard Denzel Valentine (45) looks to pass the ball against North Carolina Tar Heels forward Kennedy Meeks (3) during the 2nd half a game at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

North Carolina's Kennedy Meeks is getting a lot done for the Tar Heels in a short amount of time.

Even though the 6'9" freshman is only playing 14.4 minutes per game, he is UNC's No. 2 rebounder (6.6 RPG).

To put that in perspective, starting power forward James Michael McAdoo is on the court more than twice as much per game (30.4 minutes per game) and is only pulling down 5.9 boards per outing.

In fact, when you start to evaluate Meeks' early-season production alongside McAdoo's and starting center Joel James' output over 40 minutes, you find that there is a huge gap:

Comparing UNC Post Players' Stats (per 40 minutes)
Player (Average Minutes per Game)PPGPoints/40RPGRebounds/40
James Michael McAdoo (30.4 MPG)1317.15.97.8
Joel James (14 MPG)411.44.813.7
Kennedy Meeks (14.4 MPG)8.523.66.618.3

After eight games into the 2013-14 season, the question needs to be asked: Has Kennedy Meeks earned a spot in the Tar Heels' starting five?

This is not supposed to be a divisive question. It is not intended to cause ripples on a Tar Heel team that may be starting to come together. They have won four of their last five games, including a neutral-court victory against defending NCAA champs Louisville and a road triumph at then-No. 1 Michigan State.

Not so coincidentally, Meeks had big games in these big games. Against the Cardinals, he scored 13 points (on 5-of-6 shooting) and pulled down 12 boards. When he faced the Spartans, he dropped in 15 points (shooting 6-of-8 from the field) and grabbed seven rebounds.

Inserting Meeks into the starting lineup would not only leverage his rebounding and scoring skills, but also help the Heels take full advantage of his undervalued passing abilities.

He takes care of the ball exceptionally well for a young post player. He has the best assist-to-turnover ratio (4:1; 12 assists, 3 turnovers) on the team.

Along with his double-double against Louisville, Meeks handed out seven (yes, seven) assists.

The Charlotte native is also an outlet-passing prodigy, able to send a strike with a flip of his wrists to a streaking Marcus Paige or a sprinting Nate Britt.

ESPN's C.L. Brown says that Meeks is "ahead of schedule," but he discloses one of the areas that Carolina coach Roy Williams is concerned about:

He's got to keep working on his body, because he needs to be explosive, and he's not explosive in there. He's tipping the ball a couple of times, and if you're more explosive, you go up and get it with two hands and follow or dunk something like that. But offensively he really helps us.

It was not that long ago when another exceptional Tar Heel freshman, Marvin Williams, was more than good enough to crack the Carolina starting five. He averaged 11.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, but remained the sixth man the entire 2004-05 season.

Rather than becoming focused on himself, Williams was determined to make the most of every opportunity he was given. In doing so, he won the ACC Rookie of the Year.

More than that, Williams played a major role in North Carolina's run to the 2005 NCAA championship. Still, as a sixth man, he was selected as the USBWA and Sporting News Freshman of the Year. Impressive.


Looking Ahead

Maybe the focus shouldn't be on who is in the Tar Heels' starting lineup this season.

Possibly the emphasis should be on who is on the court at the end of the game.

Either way, the bigger issue is that Meeks definitely deserves to get more minutes and play an expanded role in the Heels' plans as they move toward their ACC slate.


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