by David Cassilo / @dcassilo

North Carolina was the No. 1 team to start the year but has yet to play at the expected level that landed them on our cover. Accomplishing that got a little more difficult on Friday when it learned that junior guard Dexter Strickland is out for the season with a torn ACL.

In the Tar Heels’ last game, a win against Virginia Tech, Strickland injured his right knee on a drive to the basket in the second half. He didn’t return and now the full diagnosis has the team’s top defender sidelined for the rest of the season. He was averaging 7.5 ppg and started all 19 games for North Carolina.

Sophomore Reggie Bullock or freshman P.J. Hairston will take Strickland’s spot in the starting five, but it will be harder to replace the depth North Carolina had at guard.

From The Charlotte Observer:

They now basically have a seven-man rotation, unless Watts or White takes on a larger role. And among UNC’s top seven players, freshman James Michael McAdoo is still very much finding his way. The loss of Strickland hurts UNC’s defense, and also makes Marshall more valuable than ever, given that he’s now without a backup.

The only break North Carolina did get with the injury is timing. The Tar Heels are off this week and will have until Thursday to figure out how to shuffle their lineup.