Going into the 2013-14 season, both Carolina and Duke appear to have 10-11 players who could conceivably see major minutes--Duke is characteristically heavy on the perimeter, the Heels likewise in the post.
All of these guys will get a chance to prove themselves at the outset of the season, but if the past is any indication, both clubs will want to whittle their rotations down to seven or eight players as we hit tournament time. (The Heels had 10 players seeing double-digit minutes at one point last season. That dwindled to six during conference play.)
So, working with the (perhaps aggressive) assumption that a similar paring down will take place this year, and with such a variety of possible lineups for both squads--bigger or smaller? shooters or bangers? offense or defense?--who do we see getting left out come March 2014?
Aside from some debate at their respective center positions, the starting lineups for both teams appear set:
So, here's a bit on the three reserves most likely to make each team's final cut, and a bit on why the others will miss it.
Tyler Thornton--As the only non-starter to average more than 13 mpg last season (22.0), Thornton is probably the unanimous pick for first backcourt sub. He's a defensive irritant who can hit the three, and that will always get you playing time with K.
Amile Jefferson--With Parker likely seeing LARGE minutes, and with Duke being Duke (i.e. perimeter-strong), that probably leaves room for one other post player to get significant time off the bench. For both UNC and Duke, experience will curry favor, and with both UNC and Duke, "sophomore" will count as "experienced." Jefferson started 7 games for the Devils last year, and his production was on par or better than Hairston's in most categories.
Matt Jones--Tough call here between Jones and Dawkins. Common sense says go with the senior, but my gut says Jones ends up being the better player. The eighth guy will need to be a shooter, but something tells me Jones will bring some defense along with the offense as well.
Andre Dawkins--Make no mistake, the guy can flat out shoot. But if there are two things that stand out about Dawkins, they are streakiness and a failure to stand out defensively. I don't know that a year off the court will have tempered that unreliability.
Semi Ojeleye--My "out" bias here is purely because I don't know much about him. But Ojeleye feels like a Gbinije, and the wings are pretty crowded on this squad. Still, I like his chances better than Alex Murphy's.
Alex Murphy--If it hasn't clicked yet, it isn't going to.
Marshall Plumlee--Aside from being 6-11, there's just no evidence supporting MPIII as a major contributor. But, who knows? K has worked magic with plumbers in the past.
Isaiah Hicks--If we base playing time on talent alone, Hicks is going to be right up there. He'll be a great asset when McAdoo needs a breather or when a foul-laden and oxygen-deficient Joel James heads to the sideline.
J. P. Tokoto--Tough call between Tokoto and Britt here, seeing as they're our only perimeter bench players. Tokoto only put in 8.6 mpg last year, but in the absence of Bullock and a lost Wiggins, we absolutely need him to be a major contributor this season. Here's to willing a player to make a leap.
Brice Johnson--Like Duke on the perimeter, Carolina is loaded this year underneath, increasing the likelihood of another big being the eighth man. Johnson saw the seventh-most minutes on the team as a freshman (10.6), and was one of only four Tar Heels to play in all 36 games. Don't rule out the periodic EXTRA large lineup this year, with Johnson, Hicks, or even McAdoo at the three.
Nate Britt--I'd like to think there's some Nate Robinson in Nate Britt, but his precipitous drop in the recruiting rankings ever since committing to the Heels is a bit worrisome. Whether it's due to injury or complacency, it's not encouraging. Although, Roy's dual-point guard talk has me wondering....
Kennedy Meeks--Meeks may very well end up being one of our better players in a year or two, but much like James this past year, the conditioning probably just won't be there yet as a freshman.
Desmond Hubert--Like Murphy for Duke, things just haven't clicked. He'll be a very valuable spot and practice player.
Jackson Simmons--Simmons will give us the most efficient 5 mpg of any player on the team.
The short of it is, both squads have four guys they'll probably want logging major (30+) minutes by season's end. For Carolina, that's Paige, McDonald, and Hairston (due to a shallow perimeter), as well as McAdoo (due to being our most talented and one of our most experienced players). For Duke, it's Cook, Sulaimon, Hood, and Parker (with Cook and Hood providing possible give).
Which leaves two legendary coaches with some tough decisions to make regarding their eight other scholarship talents.