Senior guard Leslie McDonald entered the starting lineup following UNC’s 0-3 start in conference play. Freshman forward Kennedy Meeks joined McDonald and mainstays Marcus Paige, James Michael McAdoo and J.P. Tokoto after the Tar Heels split the next two games.
The most recent starting lineup’s play has added post scoring and passing along with perimeter shooting during UNC’s 4-0 stretch since Jan. 26.
The Tar Heel quintet is shooting 47.8 percent (87-of-182) over the last four games, including a 37.3 percent effort (19-of-51) from 3-point range.
When asked on Friday what he liked most about the current starting lineup, Williams replied that the group has “scored more points.”
“Kennedy’s been our best true inside low post scorer,” Williams continued. “Leslie has an ability to shoot the ball so it gives us another shooter on the perimeter.”
Eight different players have started during ACC play, highlighting the difficulty that Williams had in settling on one particular grouping. After the 1-4 start, he asked his coaching staff for opinions on whom to start the next game against Clemson.
Despite a variety of suggestions, Williams didn’t choose any of the ones presented to him. The lineup he ultimately selected, however, has spurred UNC’s ascension from last place in the ACC to sixth in a matter of weeks.
The 11th-year UNC head coach has consistently said it’s the players, not him, who determines the rotation. Not just the starting lineup, but playing time in general.
And so it’s telling that as the starting lineup has apparently solidified, so to has the rotation whittled down to seven players getting increasing minutes with Brice Johnson and Nate Britt coming off the bench.
That group of seven accounts for 83 percent of the minutes played on the season, 88.6 percent in conference play and 89.5 percent during the current four-game winning streak.
Williams indicated on Friday that such shrinking was not intentional or more dependent upon how the games play out.
“Maryland the other night, think about their lineup, they went really small for a long time,” he said. “North Carolina State went really small for a long time. I think that probably has more to do with it than anything else.”
It’s important to note that Williams has never placed much of an emphasis on starting lineups, either.
“Other guys are still playing a lot,” he said. “We really are still playing several people. Kennedy started the other night but down the stretch, the whole second half I went with Brice.”
The level of competition has played a role in North Carolina’s winning streak – Clemson is the only team of the four with a winning record in conference play – and that quality of opponent will ratchet up over the next two weeks with road games at Notre Dame and Florida State and home tilts with Duke and Pittsburgh.
Continued success throughout that impending stretch would seemingly cement the current starting five for the remainder of the season.