Injury Update: Strickland out for year, McDonald unlikely to return

We got the news late Friday night that starting shooting guard Dexter Strickland tore his ACL against Virginia Tech and won’t be able to return this season — very bad news considering that Strickland was having a great year. Strickland was one of the most efficient players on the floor. His 7.5 ppg were achieved on around five shots or so per game. He also had backed up Kendall Marshall at the point in the brief stints that Marshall was not on the floor. Not only was Strickland probably UNC’s best on-ball defender, he was probably its best perimeter defender, something the Heels have struggled with all season.

By now the blueprint is out there. If you want to beat UNC, hit a shit-ton of 3-pointers. UNLV hit 13 in it’s win earlier this year, while FSU’s Deividas Dulkys managed 8 all by himself and his team hit 12 on the game. Perimeter defense will be a sticking point if Carolina wants to make it to New Orleans — aka one Rafters editor’s bachelor party weekend, but also a reference to something called the Final Four. The immediate question is, of course, who will replace Strickland in the starting line-up.

Possible replacements:

  • Reggie Bullock: Reggie’s minutes have been creeping up recently and his status as a great defender likely puts him in the conversation as the most likely replacement. Bullock has more length than Dex, and as we mentioned before, he’s the Nnamdi Asomugha to Dex’s Darrelle Revis. Bullock is a better shooter as well, which could insert some more firepower into the starting five, giving it an extra body that can drain the trey besides Barnes. I’m not counting Marshall as a threat from three just yet. Reggie’s ball-handling is not on Strickland’s level, however, and it’s likely he wouldn’t be asked to fill the back-up PG role.
  • P.J. Hairston: P.J. has been scoring at a slightly higher clip than Bullock, so his name must also be in the pictures for Strick’s minutes. Although both Bullock and Hairston have been cold as of late, Hairston’s points-per-minute still rate higher than Reggie’s. His defense is nowhere close, however. Hairston is a freshman and hasn’t picked up the tenacity to play defense in the ACC. He’s getting there, but while his shooting is cold, Bullock is going to be the better choice as a starter. Also, Hairston hasn’t shown anything to lead us to believe that he’s a decidedly better ball-handler than Bullock.
  • Stilman White: White has seen about four minutes per game so far in his freshman season, but that number is about to get a spike. White is one of the more capable ball-handlers left on the roster after Strickland’s injury. He is actually listed as a PG, and has played the position when he comes in. At times he reminds you of Adam Morrison — the Doherty era, UNC PG that would erratically sprint down the court and have a turnover — then at times he’s more confident. Most of White’s minutes come with his 2nd-team practice mates, so it’s true we haven’t seen much of what he can do with the starters. Look for White to spell Marshall particularly in blowout games.
  • Justin Watts: Watts will see more time because of this injury as well. Watts usually comes in at the 4 or the 3, but with all the variations Roy has toyed with in games like BC, we could see him anywhere. Be on the look out.

The verdict: We think Bullock will get the nod as a starter. Roy is typically pretty loyal to upperclassmen and Reggie is more experienced than Hairston, who we think will get the second largest chunk of PT. Bullock’s defensive ability is what separates him from the pack of suitors. Needless to say, Bullock and Hairston will both be getting some quality tick in the ACC. White will spell Marshall a bit earlier in the game than usual, but Marshall’s minutes might creep up a bit, too. As Mike DeCourcy points out, Raymond Felton played 35 minutes in the 2005 title game, and Marshall will play close to that in any tight game in the conference. Watts will see an uptick based on the fact that Roy subs so many players already, and now he has one less on his roster.

In other injury news….

Leslie McDonald, who had considered coming back this season after tearing his ACL over the summer, will likely not come back, according to the News and Observer’s Andrew Carter. With all the question marks surrounding his ability to integrate into this year’s squad and the value that his skill set would add, this is a good decision. McDonald plays the same position and has a similar game to both Hairston and Bullock. Considering he doesn’t bring any additional ball-handling ability, this is a no-brainer. No need to rush him back only to muddle up the shooting guard spot. Now if he were a natural PG, we’d reconsider.