North Carolina fans knew this was coming.
Sure, some still hoped for Marcus Ginyard's healthy return, but knew the chances were slim. Tuesday's announcement that the UNC senior swingman would miss the rest of the season because his left foot still hasn't healed from offseason surgery was just a confirmation of nagging doubts.
After all, Ginyard was supposed to have originally returned in December. When he did later that month, it was just for three games. And now, more than a month later and the foot hasn't healed? Time for Plan B.
Only problem is, the Heels don't have many options.
"It's frustrating because in the course of the offseason, we talked about that, and I said our greatest strength was our seventh, eighth and ninth man being better than the other team's seventh, eighth and ninth man,'' coach Roy Williams said Tuesday. "Well, we've lost three of our top nine guys now [including forward Tyler Zeller, who broke a wrist during the second game of the season], so the depth is not there."
Ginyard was their top defender – by far. He could cover guards, swingmen and some power forwards, which was crucial to a team that's never been known as a first-rate defensive team. Underrated, maybe, but UNC focuses on offense. Now who's their perimeter defender for guys like Gerald Henderson, Sam Young or James Harden?
"Right now, it's me, and that's the bad thing,'' Williams told the News & Observer. "... We don't have a lock-down guy, but we didn't have that, haven't had it for 22 games. But we keep trying to get better defensively, and I think we have gotten better defensively."
Zeller, a freshman who broke his wrist during the second game of the season, was having his wrist examined Wednesday. Just last week Zeller said he was "definitely done for the year." Williams admitted there was a chance the freshman forward could play, but it could be "awfully stupid," because if Zeller isn't healthy, he'll have burned a year of eligibility.
But without Ginyard and the dismissal of forward Will Graves, some of the Heels want Zeller to return.
Even if he doesn't, the Heels (20-2) remain a Final Four contender and a good bet to win it all. How many 20-2 teams with a three-time All-America and a handful of lottery picks are out there, anyway? UNC has its issues, but who doesn't?
No, the Heels don't have a shut-down defense, but they're among the Top 25 in adjusted defensive efficiency according to kenpom.com. (They've been bad the last three games, which does raise some concerns, especially when teams hit their threes.)
That's my prevailing thought from Ginyard's absence. It officially makes the Big Dance's field a little more level. Bad for UNC, good for everyone else.