Tar Heels show lineup flexibility in exhibition

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UNC Notebook

Roy Williams continued his preseason mad scientist routine, experimenting with numerous lineup combinations throughout each of North Carolina’s three periods in Sunday’s Tar Heel Jamboree.

Perhaps no combination was more interesting than the starting five for the UNC’s third and final period of play (against UNC-Wilmington), a four-guard unit featuring Jalek Felton, Kenny Williams, Theo Pinson, Cameron Johnson and Luke Maye.

Another interesting unit went the opposite direction, going big with Theo Pinson at point guard together with Williams, Johnson, Maye, and freshman big man Garrison Brooks.

Such lineup flexibility should give Carolina lots of options to create mismatches regardless of opponent — especially once All-American candidate Joel Berry (still out with a broken hand) returns. Felton in particular has flashed electric potential (along with plenty of inconsistency) as a playmaker, and the thought of small lineups late in the year with Felton running the point and Berry at the shooting guard spot should be exciting to Tar Heel fans.

Pinson’s defensive flexibility and ball-handling ability is instrumental to Carolina’s lineup flexibility. That said, the smaller lineups will depend heavily on 6-foot-8 forward Maye’s ability to rebound and defend significantly bigger players at the “5” position much like Draymond Green’s ability to handle bigger players defensively is what enables the NBA’s Golden State Warriors to employ their infamous “Death Lineup.”

Whether Carolina can have small-ball success reminiscent of Golden State remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt that the frenetic pace should be entertaining to watch.


Normally a bye week provides an opportunity for a team to get healthy from the bumps and bruises that collect over the course of a season, but North Carolina’s injury woes continue to surpass anything that could be solved by a week off, with the Tar Heels still projecting to have around twenty players out for Thursday’s contest at Pittsburgh (including 15 out for the season).

Nevertheless, the bye does give a coaching staff extra opportunities to hit the recruiting trail, and that was a point of emphasis for the Tar Heel staff (and its helicopter) throughout the week off.

The staff received pledges from two highly touted high school prospects over the past week. The first came from Nick Fulwider, a defensive lineman from Tyrone (Georgia) Sandy Creek, who chose the Tar Heels over Arkansas and Vanderbilt. Although he is listed by most recruiting services as a defensive end, Fulwider has a huge frame at 6-7, 250 pounds and will likely wind up fitting best in a “three-technique” defensive tackle role similar to that played by current Tar Heel Jalen Dalton.

The second was from standout Wake Forest High running back Devon Lawrence (the younger brother of Clemson defensive tackle Dexter), who chose North Carolina over UCLA. Lawrence announced on the field after posting a game-high 105 yards on 16 carries and a TD in Wake Forest’s 38–14 victory Friday night over rival Heritage in a contest featuring several other highly-regarded FBS recruits.

If nothing else, these two commitments should encourage fans that the on-field difficulties of the 2017 season has not prevented the Heels from continuing to upgrade the talent level on the roster.

Dr. Jason Staples has covered college football since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter @DocStaples and check out more of his work at InsideCarolina.com.