The Tar Heels. The Champs. The only school in the country that can tell the NCAA to go fuck itself and the NCAA complies. Like a pussy whipped husband told to come home early from poker, the NCAA just said, “Ok.” UNC is the Breaking Bad of the ACC. They’re great, all the time, and the ratings are great.You think AMC suspended Vince Gilligan while he was winning Emmys? Please… They are what most programs strive to be with the exception that most schools insist you actually go to classes that actually exist.
If UNC could have volunteered a season in which to take their medicine it might have been this one. They will be fine in the ACC I think, they still have one of the best point guards in the country, a great versatile glue guy and perimeter defender as well as one of the best freshman in the country. They also lost a ton in the front court. Well, a little less than half a ton actually, Meeks, Bradley, Jackson and Hicks weighed out at a combined 953 lbs. This team could be really good, but a post championship let down is a possibility.
That said, Roy is no slouch. He really isn’t. One of the biggest misconceptions in all of college basketball is that Roy Williams is a bad coach. You know who is a bad coach? Kim Anderson. Lorenzo Romar. Johnny Jones. You don’t luck your way into 816 wins. To those that say “who can’t win and recruit at blue blood schools.?” Matt Doherty and Billy Gillespie.
Let’s take a look at the boys from Chapel Hill.
As mentioned above, the Heels lost almost all of their front court muscle. The past couple tournament runs have been anchored by dominant front courts. Bryce Johnson, Kennedy Meeks, and Isaiah Hicks the runner-up year and then Meeks, Hicks and Bradley last year when they won the title. All of those big men have since moved on and Williams is left with former #4 big man Luke Maye (14 mpg), who is best remembered for his great play in the tournament last year against Butler, and then hitting the game winner against Kentucky. Maye is backed up by a couple guys who have exactly zero college basketball experience.
- Bradley, Meeks and Hicks combined to give the Heels 31.5 points 20 rebounds per game. None were exactly rim protectors, but Meeks did average a block per game and together the trio did collect 98 blocks over the course of the season. This group had talent, leadership and experience in the battles fought in the ACC. You can’t easily replace that, especially in road games and the boys in powder blue have some tough ones this year traveling to Stanford, Tennessee, FSU, UVA, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Louisville and Duke.
- Also lost was ACC POTY, Justin Jackson. The 6’8 swing man became a hell of a sniper in his final season. After shooting around 28% for his career in the first two years, Jackson shot 37% on a whopping 284 attempts during his junior campaign. He declared early and is now playing for the Sacramento Kings.
- Nate Britt also graduated after what seemed like a decade. Britt never really broke out like some expected over his 4 years in Chapel Hill, but he was a steady handed back up over his career with a near 2 A/TO.
So the losses are substantial. Basically the entire front court is toast along with a steady hand in the back court. But, who are we kidding? This is Carolina…
- If I were making a short list of point guards I would want to run my program this year, Joel Berry would be on that list. He can shoot the shit out of the ball (48%/38%/77%), he rebounds the ball (3.1), he plays D (1.4 spg) and he shows up on the biggest stage, making the All-Tournament team two consecutive years. If he can get his FT% back up to the mid 80’s he can be an 18-20ppg scorer, and UNC is probably going to need that.
- The perimeter play on this team is going to remain very good despite the loss of Jackson. Theo Pinson is a really good defender and a great do-it-all player. He is bookended by Kenny Williams (6.3 ppg last year) and free agent acquisition Cameron Johnson (11.9 ppg last season at Pitt). Williams is one of my favorites in the league to break out this season and Johnson is an underrated player that can score on all three levels. Expect Williams to be the first man off the bench, and look for him to continue to improve his perimeter shooting.
- One of the things that may be overlooked is the 2016 recruiting class for UNC. Brandon Robinson and Seventh Woods were both 4 star guys coming out of high school and both can score the ball. Both were also buried behind the crazy depth UNC had last year. Look for Robinson, a 6-5 guard, to come alive at some point this season.
- The front court is obviously a point of concern for me, but the cupboard isn’t exactly bare. Luke Maye played well during the tournament for the Heels and if he can give them 25 mpg of solid production it would certainly go a long way to filling the huge void left by the departed. Garrison Brooks should get a ton of run and is a freshman that I really like. I wonder about his ability to post up in the ACC and he may have to put on some weight but ultimately he will be fine. He can step out a bit and is a really good help side defender. I am also higher on Brandon Huffman than most. He is a big man who is somewhat limited on the offensive end but he has a college ready body, can get after it on the glass and he can get out and run. He won’t hurt you outside of about 5 feet, but he is a prototypical dump and dunk kind of player.
- Simply put, Jalek Felton is the next great North Carolina point guard. The nephew of Carolina legend Raymond Felton, Jalek is a long lead guard at 6’3, and has a 6’8 wingspan that will no doubt come in handy in Roy’s in your face defense. I’ll let video speak for itself.
Williams crew is going to look a little bit different than the last few years, and this may be a bit of a valley, but I still think this team is better than 66% of the league. In college basketball it’s all about guard play and this is now Joel Berry’s team. Johnson is a hell of a player and should fill some of the void from Justin Jackson’s early departure. I don’t think Theo Pinson is going to step in and be an offensive force, but he is a guy every team needs and certainly fits the Jordan Bell type mold of a player that can impact the game in every facet. If Maye can actually perform as he did in the tourney, and one of either Brooks or Huffman can provide some type of consistency on the interior this team may be even better than this prediction.
Projected Starting 5: Berry, Felton, Johnson, Pinson, Maye