Things looked pretty gloomy for Jim Christian’s Eagles when Teddy Hawkins went down with a season ending knee injury in the Nebraska game. Hawkins had been not only a starter and major contributor in the frontcourt but a leader who brought maturity and experience to the team. Remarkably, the Eagles have since been undefeated without him; they sandwiched a stunning takedown of #1 Duke between two non-conference victories. If the Duke game showed anything it’s that they can compete with anyone. The rest of the season is looking a lot more interesting.
This all raises the question of how Jim Christian will replace Hawkins and use his bench as the rest of the ACC schedule gets underway? Steffon Mitchell has proven himself a capable starter in Hawkins absence, particularly on the defensive end. Johncarlos Reyes has also been earning consistent minutes when he’s able to stay out of foul trouble, replacing Popovic at the 5 or playing the 4 to rest Mitchell. Apart from the five starters and Reyes, it seems like the coaching staff is reluctant to trust the rest of the bench against top tier teams.
Christian basically went with six players (Robinson, Bowman, Chatman, Popovic, Mitchell, and Reyes) for the entire game against Duke, with Vin Baker Jr. chipping in 4 minutes. The guys were able to push through on adrenaline and grit, but it seems more than likely that fatigue will start affecting their legs and ability to finish games in the future. Still, I think Christian will probably stick with a similar limited roster against highly ranked opponents like Virginia and UNC. BC has some OOC games left that they’ll be heavily favored in. Those games will likely see more playing time for Baker, Luka Kraljevic, and Avery Wilson. But what about the bottom to middle of the pack ACC opponents? How much time is Christian willing to dish out to the guys outside of the starters and Reyes?
Wilson hasn’t seen much of the floor, and Baker and Kraljevic both look like they need a year of development. Still, I think Christian is going to need one or two of them to chip in some minutes consistently. He appears most confident in Baker, who is athletic and brings good energy but looks raw. Wilson adds value as the only true guard sub, but he has looked the least ready of the freshman so far, turning the ball over twice in the few minutes he replaced Bowman in the first half against Columbia. It seems out of the realm of possibility that Ervin Meznieks could return to the substantial minutes he played is freshman year, but could the junior forward rise from the dead to add some depth behind Mitchell or Chatman? Is Kraljevic ready to take that step forward? Who do you think deserves a chance to contribute? Let us know in the comments.