Lineups in Motion

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – There’s only been one constant in North Carolina’s lineups through three practices, according to Roy Williams, and that’s junior guard Marcus Paige’s permanent residence on the white team.

Williams provided the same answer, albeit with a slightly different phrasing, to lineup questions during UNC’s media day on Wednesday.

“I don’t know.”

“I have no idea.”

Williams said he could play all three of his point guards – Paige, sophomore Nate Britt and freshman Joel Berry – at the same time. And although he hasn’t used that rotation yet, he said it’s going to happen.

Williams also said he’s not against playing freshman wing Justin Jackson at the four if he’s more effective than the other post options, although Britt confirmed that the 6-foot-8 rookie hasn’t practiced at the four to date.

Aside from Paige running with the white team, Williams said possibly junior wing J.P. Tokoto was the only other player to have joined his preseason All-America guard with the first team.

If Paige and Tokoto can be penciled in as locks in the starting rotation, the third perimeter spot becomes the most intriguing opening in the lineup.

During the Bahamas trip in August, Britt joined Paige and Tokoto in the backcourt with Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson in the post. The latter two would seem to be solid bets to secure starting spots, although sophomore Isaiah Hicks and senior Desmond Hubert will challenge for significant playing time.

The available wing spot, however, provides Williams with plenty of options. If two point guards are on the floor together, either has the ability to push the ball in transition.

“For our set plays, if there’s a point guard in, I’ll be the two,” Paige said. “If Joel or Nate are in, I’ll be the two just to make it easier for them. You want your better shooter running off the screens.”

It’s when Paige is the lone point guard on the floor that things get interesting.

“Theo [Pinson] could play the two,” Williams said. “J.P. could play the two and not have but one little guy in there. I don’t see a lineup without any of the three little guys in there, but that’s a question that’s not even close to be answered because we’ve got a lot of time left.”

Williams was then asked if Jackson was an option at the two.

“Not at the two, no,” Williams said, before giving his standard explanation that the two and three spots in his offense are mirrored and interchangeable.

During the player interviews, Jackson and Pinson kept coming up as primary options when Paige is manning the point.

“It’s between Theo and Justin,” Tokoto said. “If I’m out there with Marcus, there’s only one more spot. We have Justin, who can score, and we have Theo, who can score, and they both are good defensive players. It’s going to come down to who runs the floor the best, who’s giving the best effort and who’s doing what Coach wants, basically.”

Paige went a step further in naming a potential frontrunner.

“That’s a great question,” Paige said. “Obviously J.P. will be one of the wings. Our wings are pretty interchangeable with our offense, but Theo and Justin have both looked really good so far. But right now, I’d probably say Justin just because of the way he’s been rebounding the ball offensively. He’s just more of a consistent shooter.”

Paige then followed his head coach’s lead in clarifying the fluidity of the lineup.

“We’re three practices in,” Paige said. “It’s hard to say.”

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