The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday January 23rd

Column: Coby White starting was inevitable

To anyone familiar with Coby White’s game, his place in the starting lineup wasn’t merely a matter of if, but when. On Friday, in a final exhibition game against Mount Olive, head coach Roy Williams seemingly answered that question: He’s ready now. 

What Williams saw from White against Mount Olive — 10 points, seven rebounds and six assists — was nothing that the Hall of Fame coach hadn’t seen from the Goldsboro, N.C. native before. The 6-foot-5 combo guard dominated at the high school level, finishing as the all-time leading scorer in North Carolina state history with 3,573 points at the prep level.

The last first-year point guard to immediately step in as a starter was Marcus Paige in 2012, and his role was more so the result of necessity and not one of luxury. The Iowa native was thrust into a starting lineup after Kendall Marshall, who declared for the draft in the offseason, left Paige as the only viable point guard on the roster.

Coach Williams is facing a similar predicament this year with Seventh Woods as the only other lead guard remaining from last year’s active roster. The most impressive aspect of Woods’ defense is his knack for poking the ball loose and forcing turnovers, an aspect of the game that Williams desperately needs from his team.

Offensively, he’s even worse. The kindest way to describe his contributions is to simply say that, well, he doesn’t contribute at all. Woods ranked dead-last among players with significant minutes last season in both offensive rating (77.4) and offensive box plus/minus (-4.3), signaling that whenever he’s on the court, he’s doing far more harm than good on the offensive end. 

Although White isn’t the defender that Woods is, his fiery competitive spirit helps him at least stay competent on that end, even with all of the physical and instinctual shortcomings. 

In a matter of months, White showed significant improvement between high school and FIBA when it came to maneuvering the pick-and-roll as both a scorer and passer. 

Even though he sports a narrow frame (185 pounds), White isn’t afraid to barrel into opponents, and he’ll assuredly draw several fouls per game due to his relentless attacking mentality. 

While playing for Team USA in the U-18 Championship tournament semifinals against Team Ecuador, during a primary break, White slowed down just enough to let a trailing defender catch up before using his body to shield his layup attempt from getting blocked, both making his shot and drawing a foul in the process. 

Even with the aforementioned holes in his game, White has definitively established himself as the superior guard talent on this Carolina roster. 

This analysis isn’t flawless, of course. Statistical providers such as Synergy Sports Technology, Basketball-Reference and KenPom all have their limitations and flaws, as statistics can only tell part of the story.

None of this is set in stone: White could very well be pulled from the starting lineup following a string of subpar performances, an outcome that is certainly in the realm of possibilities considering that he’s only a first year. He could be supplanted by Seventh Woods in a matter of days or weeks, and could be relegated to manning the bench unit instead. 

@twmarks_

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