For example, as a result of Berry’s minutes steadily ticking up, the senior guard’s efficiency has gone down. Berry is averaging career highs in points (17), rebounds (3.5) and free-throw percentage (88.9 percent), but he is shooting a career-low 37.7 percent from the field. In addition to his low field goal percentage, his 3-point percentage is the worst of his career (35.3). These numbers show the massive strain being placed on Berry as of late.
It's also affecting UNC's other starters. First-year forward Garrison Brooks began the season in the starting lineup while Johnson nursed an injury. Due to Brooks' inexperience and ineffective play, his minutes have gone down drastically. On the season, the forward is averaging 17 minutes a contest, but he has played just 14.6 minutes a game in conference play. Despite his minutes going down, Brooks is the only reserve who Williams feels confident to play even 10 minutes per game in conference play.
All team statistics indicate the team is tired. The team is 194th in scoring defense in the NCAA at 72.7 points allowed. Even more troubling, the team's 3-point defense: UNC ranks 316th out of 351 Division 1 schools in opponent 3-point percentage at 37.9 percent. In fact, the Tar Heels have been so bad against the three, that the team has allowed 10.2 threes a game — the most in school history.
With the same five players asked to play around 75 percent of the game, the starters are spent come crunch time. With the game on the line and the team needing to make big shots and big stops, it becomes much harder to deliver without proper rest. Due to the lack of efficiency from the reserves, Williams has not had a choice but to continue deploying these five players.
The results from the last two games are troubling, and they seem to show the toll the fatigue is taking on the team. Against Virginia Tech on Monday night in Blacksburg, the Tar Heels were upset 80-69, allowing 12 3-pointers against the Hokies.
Against N.C. State on Saturday, the team was even worse, giving up 15 3-pointers in an overtime loss. Berry played a team-high 41 minutes and failed to hit a 3-pointer for the first time in 16 games — a stat that evidences his exhaustion.
The starters are tired. Time is running out for reserves to step in and provide the starters with much-needed breaks.
It's a perennial dilemma that coaches have to deal with sometime or other. Boost your starters' minutes and risk their endurance come March, or continue developing your team while some regular season games are squandered.
It's clear what Roy Williams' approach has been up until now.
The difference is, though, these Tar Heels are already feeling the effects of a Roy Williams' narrowed rotation — with the NCAA tournament over a month away.
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