CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Kennedy Meeks had been dealing with pain in his left knee associated with a bone bruise for several weeks before UNC decided to pull the junior big man out of the lineup on Monday, according to Roy Williams.
“He’s been fighting it a little bit for awhile, and it just got to a point that it didn’t make sense to keep trying to fight it,” Williams said during his weekly radio show at Top of the Hill on Monday night. “We’ll sit him down, and hopefully after a couple weeks it’ll be a heck of a lot better. I think taking this precaution right now protects him more, us more, and everything later on in the year.
“I think it’s something that’s very upsetting to Kennedy, to say the least, very upsetting to me, and the coaches and his teammates, but I do think it’s the best thing to do for the young man. We saw doctors off and on for the last couple of weeks, did a MRI last night, and the decision was made today.”
Meeks has started all nine of UNC’s games, averaging 12.3 points and 7.4 rebounds in 24.4 minutes per contest. According to Williams, the void in the post will be filled by a committee of big men, or even perhaps by going small.
Senior center Joel James (2.2 ppg, 2.2 rpg) and junior forward Isaiah Hicks (7.9 ppg, 3.9 ppg) both started twice in place of Meeks alongside of Brice Johnson in 2014-15. True freshman forward Luke Maye (0.5 ppg, 1.8 rpg) is averaging 5.0 minutes per game in a limited role.
“At this position right now, it means Isaiah’s going to play more minutes, Joel’s going to play more minutes, Luke’s going to play more minutes,” Williams said. “We could shift Justin Jackson down and play him at the four spot and go smaller against everybody.”
Hicks is the primary backup in the post, although his play mirrors Johnson’s with quality offense and questionable defense. While Hicks has graded out as UNC’s best big offensively (his offensive efficiency rating of 145.9 points per 100 possessions is the highest among Carolina’s power forwards), the defensive drop-off between him and Meeks is noticeable.
With Meeks on the floor, UNC gave up 90 points per 100 possessions. With Hicks in the game, that number jumps up to 102 points. Meeks has been the Tar Heels’ best post defender this season, and whoever starts in his place will have to elevate his play on that end of the floor.
How much of a focal point was rebounding in Monday’s practice?
“It was a big point for us. I told them sometimes in coaching you just threaten people, and that’s what it is. I asked Joel (James), I said ‘Do you remember your freshman year, I got mad at Miami, and we came home and took the big guys out of the lineup and went small? If big guys aren’t going rebound the ball, I can go small again.’ I also said it’s not just big guys.
“Justin Jackson plays 30 minutes, only had one rebound. Joel Berry had the same number of rebounds as Wanda had, and he played 30 minutes. So it’s big guys and little guys, but there’s no question that the biggest failure of our team in the course of the game on the defensive end was getting good box-outs and getting the basketball.
“And it was a weird game. One time, a guy drives down the middle and Justin Jackson steals the ball from him. A split second later, a guy steals it back and throws it back, and they make the three. Justin Jackson’s going out of bounds and saves it back in. What happens? They make one pass and make a three. The other time that the ball was shot from the corner, it grazes the rim and takes a weird bounce off Kennedy’s hands, goes out of bounds, they get it in and make the three. It’s almost like, I know God’s got more things, more important things to worry about, but the leprechaun, if there was a leprechaun, was on Texas’ side Saturday.”
If you’re in Texas’ position at the end of the game on Saturday (you have the ball in a tie game with time winding down), what’s your coaching strategy?
“It’s really the same thing as Texas’ was. I didn’t ask Shaka (Smart) after the game… If it’s below seven seconds and the game is tied, we’re going call timeout. If it’s above seven seconds, then we’re going try and go the length of the court, because your defense is not set. So what Texas did was exactly what we would have done. The only thing I can say is that I would have hoped that my guy would have driven the ball to the basket as opposed to stepping up and shooting the three, but, you know, he missed it badly, and Marcus [Paige] was the only guy on that side and he was out of bounds and on the floor, and it bounces right to their guy.
“I think if it’s us, the cut-off is seven seconds. If it’s less than seven seconds, then we’re going to call timeout, because you can advance the ball in the air and the clock not start until you get it to the center line. But if it’s seven seconds or more, then we’re just going to attack, and hopefully we can attack against your defense before it can get set. Even when it happened, I said, ‘Where’s Marcus?’ Because that’s his guy. And he was on the floor. We would have liked for him not to have been laying on the floor. But that’s not what happened.”
Was that a situation where everybody, officials included, was fixated on the ball instead of what was happening under the basket?
“Well, that’s not their job. I can’t say anything about the officiating because I’m not supposed to say anything. But the guy’s on the floor, and he didn’t jump down there and roll over and start barking like a dog. He got there by a reason.”
Why is Brice Johnson getting into foul trouble early?
“This is one of those good answers where if I knew how to cure it, I would have cured it a heck of a long time ago. Brice, last year, at one point in the season, was making the most fouls per minute of anybody in the ACC, and Isaiah was second. And it’s a little bit better, but it’s just carelessness, whatever it is, but so far, Roy Williams hasn’t been intelligent enough to get it calmed down.”