Return of Jeremiah Francis and Anthony Harris Could Benefit Cole Anthony, Tar Heels

Brant Wilkerson-New

Trailing by double-digits late at Virginia on Sunday, Roy Williams looked down his bench at two freshman guards that had yet to make their on-court debuts at North Carolina.

“I'm sitting over there and we're getting our butts kicked,” he said after the game. “Let's at least give them some time on the court."

So, with 7:42 remaining against the best defensive team in the nation, Jeremiah Francis and Anthony Harris checked in for their first action as Tar Heels, and while they weren’t able to help lead a comeback, their play was intriguing for a few reasons.

Cole off the Ball?

Most noticeably, Williams shuffled the lineup around the two guards, moving Cole Anthony out of the point guard spot to the wing, and playing them alongside Armando Bacot and Garrison Brooks.

Maybe it was just a garbage-time experiment or maybe it was hint of something to come, as taking the ball out of Anthony’s hands could lead to better results for both the star freshman and the Tar Heels as a whole.

To this point, Anthony’s workload has been enormous, ranking 29 nationally in usage rate at 32.1 percent. That means on nearly one-third of Carolina’s possessions, Anthony is shooting the ball, turning it over or getting to the free throw line. All of that in addition to being the primary ballhandler, while averaging 6.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists and playing 33 minutes per game.

If Williams can feel good about Francis operating as the primary ballhandler alongside Anthony, that could lead to a more efficient overall attack, as Anthony will be free to work for good shots set up by the offense rather than creating them himself.

Additionally, it could reduce the “watching” effect that several players have mentioned this season, as the offense tends to get stagnant as teammates catch themselves standing around and waiting for Anthony to break down a defense.

An Efficient Start

Not much went well for Carolina in Charlottesville, but both Francis and Harris made quick contributions on offense.

Francis, who missed two years while dealing with knee injuries, drove the lane and nearly converted a layup, but instead got fouled and made one free throw in three minutes. He committed a turnover, but it came on a forced entry pass, which is forgivable, given the emphasis that needs to be put on getting post touches.

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Harris, who suffered a torn ACL just over a year ago, showed the ability to create his own shot, and made both of his attempts to finish with four points in six minutes.

With the potential to create shots and play faster, both will become serious options for the rotation as they get healthier.

“Hopefully they will do some things that'll help us and get a little more into what we're trying to do,” Williams said.

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A Little Competition

Across campus, Mack Brown has consistently mentioned the idea of the bench being the best motivator in sports, and in this case, he’s got a point.

Christian Keelng and Andrew Platek haven’t gotten it done on the offensive end this season, but due to the depth issues Carolina had in the backcourt, they were the only options Williams had aside from playing his starters 40 minutes.

It’s a little easier to have your players doing what you want when there’s a serious threat of losing time on the court, and now, that’s an option for the Tar Heels.

All along, both Francis and Harris have earned respect from their teammates for their work in the weight room and in rebab to get back from their injuries.

That’s something Williams hopes can rub off.

“I do think they're tough kids,” he said. “I'd like for us to be tougher there's no question about that. I'm hoping that it'll help us a great deal.”