UNC's thin lineup allows coach Bill Guthridge to use an unusual rotation.
Vince Carter won't start for third-ranked North Carolina tonight. Not that he's been a miscreant or anything. It's just that his number is up. Actually, his letter is up.
To prove his point that he has six worthy starters, coach Bill Guthridge is using the half-dozen in a rotation based on alphabetical order. When the Heels (7-0) play Chattanooga at 9 tonight in the Harris Teeter Pepsi Challenge, the rotation will be back to the top, which means Carter will watch at first. In subsequent contests, Ed Cota, Antawn Jamison, Makhtar Ndiaye, Ademola Okulaja and Shammond Williams will receive the gentle but mandated ``benching.'``I asked these six how they wanted to handle it,' Guthridge said. ``I was hoping for suggestions. Mainly, I decided that because they didn't have a strong feeling on it and neither did I, I would settle on doing it alphabetically. Everybody's going to play the same amount of time, anyway.'
That's true. The sixth man normally enters after two or three minutes no matter who he is and the rotation of players ensues.
Even though Guthridge has been around college basketball for 40 years and is a well respected fellow, he has no pull with the rules committee, which apparently remains intent on limiting the number of players to five a side. So the new head coach had to get creative when seeking to illustrate the value of Carter, Cota, Jamison, Ndiaye, Okulaja and Williams. He approached the men with the concept before the Nov. 14 season-opener and nobody balked.
``That's coach Guthridge's whole philosophy on the thing,' Jamison said. ``I think it's a good idea because there are six who can start on any night. It's something we've got to accept and something I know we're going to accept.'
The idea has been muddied by a couple of factors, namely a season-opening injury to Jamison and Cota's academically related suspension at Richmond five days later. And it is subject to revocation. But for now, it looks like a way to deal with a pleasant problem.
``It was a surprise,' Cota said. ``I could never think of somebody saying they have six starters. But everybody agreed to it.'
The way the Heels in general and the top six are going, why change? Entering tonight's contest in Charlotte, the members of the rotation have accounted for 90.4 percent of the Heels' points, 92.5 percent of their rebounds and 84.4 percent of their total minutes.
And that's a good thing because the club is shooting 57 percent from the floor.
``I feel we can always shoot 50 percent as long as we take the shots we want and don't worry about who's going to score,' Cota said.
Jamison is 58-for-88 (.659) from the floor and has scored 21 or more points in five of the six games he has played.
Cota is shooting 68 percent from the field, an absurd figure for a point guard, and has 30 assists to only 13 turnovers.
Carter has turned the ball over six times in 214 minutes of play and is also flirting with the 60-percent accuracy rate (.575).
Ndiaye, who scored 61 points all of last season, has 51 in seven contests this year.
Williams leads the ACC in assists with 50, has committed only 19 turnovers and has scored 20 or more points in six of his past 14 games dating back to last year. Before that scoring run, he had only five 20-point performances in 88 appearances.
Okulaja looks the only man who's struggling these days, having missed 16 of his past 18 shots.
The next challenge is the event in Charlotte, which has gone to predetermined pairings for the first time in its 10-year history. UNC and South Carolina, the main draws, won't meet one another.
What was once called the Tournament of Champions can now be designated the Tournament of Recently Promoted Coaches. Guthridge will face Chattanooga's Henry Dickerson, who replaced Mack McCarthy, in tonight's tilt, and Saturday pairs UNC with Virginia Tech and Bobby Hussey, moved up when Bill Foster retired.
The Mocs (4-1) have three new starters after last year's Southern Conference championship and run to the NCAA tournament's third round. They lost 19 to Middle Tennessee State at home and barely escaped with a two-point win over Presbyterian.
The difficulty compelled Dickerson to remove one of his big men and go to a three-guard lineup with the insertion of leading scorer Chuck Barker, and the club has played better since.
The Hokies (3-0) haven't played a great team yet but have received outstanding play from freshman point guard Jenis Grindstaff.
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