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McDonald’s injury an important factor to Heels’ season

North Carolina will open the 2011-12 season as the team to beat. But a knee injury to Leslie McDonald creates a small sliver of doubt. The junior wing is out indefinitely after tearing the ACL in his right knee while playing pick-up hoops Thursday night.

McDonald was primed for a solid sixth-man type season thanks to his versatility and outside shooting. He was the team’s top outside shooter last season. Reggie Bullock is coming off an injury and P.J. Hairston is talented, but still a freshman.

Somebody needs to stretch opposing defenses. McDonald was a pretty fair option for that. And sometimes backup-guard injuries create matchup issues in March.

“I just hate this for Leslie and his family,” coach Roy Williams said in a release. “He’s worked so hard this off-season and he told me he was really playing well. We’ll certainly support him as he works to get back on the floor, but we will miss his play on both ends of the court.”

It’s not a major hit to the Heels, who’ll still have all five starters back from a 29-8 squad. And if Hairston’s as good as advertised or if Harrison Barnes is even better than last year – both seem likely – or if Bullock’s shooting stroke emerges, they’ll be fine without McDonald.

But it’s something to watch and certainly something Williams will fret about until everything sorts itself out in mid-February.

(Thanks to Tar Heel Fan for the video tip)

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.