Nassir Little (illness) uncertain for Friday; Heels could need help from Robinson, Manley and Black

As multiple media folks out in Kansas City have tweeted out, North Carolina freshman forward Nassir Little — suffering from flu-like symptoms — will not practice with the team on Thursday. According to head coach Roy Williams, there’s “no way” Little could play today if UNC was in action on Thursday.

North Carolina and 5-seed Auburn tip-off Friday night at 7:29 p.m. (EST) from Kansas City.

It’s been up-and-down — yet productive — season for Little (55.7 percent true shooting, 25 percent usage rate), a former 5-star recruit. He’s averages 10 points and 4.7 rebounds per game — mostly working as a super-sub in transition and on the offensive glass (9.3 percent offensive rebound rate).

However, in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, Little’s play seemed to hit another notch, especially against Washington’s zone — working the slot and hitting the glass: 19.5 points (71 FG%) and 5.5 rebounds per game.


Who could step up?

If Nassir Little were to actually miss the game, North Carolina’s rotation would be without a key piece: the sixth man and top frontcourt reserve. He’s likely UNC’s most-versatile athlete, too. However, if Roy Williams needed to readjust his bench, he has options. Those options start with Brandon Robinson.

Robinson is one of the league’s more fun player development stories in the 2018-19 season; it’s obvious he put a lot of work in over the 2018 offseason. The junior wing has reduced his turnover rate (1.7 per 40 minutes) and focused on catching and shooting from deep.

When Robinson has subbed in for Kenny Williams and played with North Carolina’s other four starters — Coby White, Cameron Johnson, Luke Maye and Garrison Brooks — the Heels have been rather good.

After attempting 53 3-pointers across his first two seasons (71 games, 30.2 3P%), Robinson has splashed 21-of-46 3-point attempts this year (45.7 3P%). Over 58 percent of Robinson’s attempts from the floor this season have come from beyond the arc, and all but four of his 3-pointers have been assisted on, too.

And when Robinson subs for Johnson and plays with the other four starters, North Carolina has found some success as well. It certainly helps that Maye and Johnson can both play up or down a position — like Little. That helps North Carolina’s positional flexibility.

According to Synergy Sports, Robinson has scored 1.22 points per possession (61.7 eFG%) on spot-ups this season.


What about Manley and Black?

As enjoyable as Robinson’s success has been this season, it’s been equally frustrating for sophomore big Sterling Manley, who simply hasn’t been able to get right in terms of his health.

After a solid freshman season — 5.4 points per game (21.7 points per 40 minutes, 56.6 FG%), 14.4 percent offensive rebound rate, Manley has played in just 17 games as a sophomore (148 minutes). His usage, block and rebound rates have all dipped, too.

Manley didn’t play a single minute of basketball during a game for all of January and February. However, over the last few weeks, he’s gotten up and down the court a few times: five games, eight minutes of action.

That’s not much, obviously, but it’s better than nothing. In a pinch without Little, could he be called upon to help — at least for a few possessions?

Leaky Black, on the other hand, missed the entire month of February after a nasty-looking (high) ankle injury at Georgia Tech. Black reappeared in the rotation for March Madness — playing a total of 10 minutes against Iona and Washington.

Save for grabbing a couple of rebounds, he didn’t do too much in those limited minutes; however, when he’s right, Black is a super-appealing two-way wing prospect who can do a little bit of everything.


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