Here is a look back at the 2014-15 season for the returning Tar Heels. Today we look at freshman Joel Berry
Joel Berry entered the season with the expectation that he would be able to play important minutes at point guard and permit Marcus Paige to be more of a scorer. In the end, Berry sort of got there but not without a rough road. Like fellow freshman Theo Pinson, Berry went through a midseason injury that cost him eight games. As such Berry's progress to the player everyone saw over the final nine games of the season was delayed. Had Berry been healthy for the full slate of games, it stands to reason he perhaps hits his stride sooner.
When Berry did find his groove, he showed flashes why he was a three time player of the year in the state of Florida. Berry posted a career high 15 points and drained a trio of threes against Georgia Tech in early March. His two threes and eight points in the first half of the ACC Quarterfinal game against Louisville kept the Tar Heels within striking distance while the remainder of the offense struggled. Overall, Berry ended up hitting 35.4% of his threes(17-48). Over the final nine games of the season Berry was 9-for-18 from beyond the arc. His offensive efficiency of 111.2 along with Justin Jackson's 114.0 marked the 7th and 8th time a Tar Heel has posted an OE over 110 in their rookie campaign.
What to expect next season
Like Pinson, Berry's role could be that of starter or spark off the bench. If Roy Williams opts for Berry as the starting point guard, he will play with two wings in Marcus Paige and Justin Jackson who will carry the bulk of the perimeter scoring. Berry will be in a pass first mode but since he has shown the ability to hit threes and should be a capable driver, he will also be an offensive threat. Berry's presence as a starter and also off the bench will be more offensive in nature. When he is on the floor with Paige and Jackson, that is a team built to score but may struggle defensively.
The defense is an area of concern for UNC. The Tar Heels are coming off the worst defensive efficiency of the Williams era and a season where Tar Heel fouls were far too plentiful. Berry could be a key to solving those problems if he can show himself to be a capable defender of the opposing team's point guard. UNC's defense is one that invests in helping on the drive and foul trouble for Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks is partly to blame for failures to stop penetration. If Berry can be a stopper at the top of the defense, it helps in various areas.
The other area of focus for Berry will be finishing at the rim. There is little doubt Berry has the strength and ability to get into the lane, absorb contact and score. Last season he managed the first two but the third was lacking at times. It would be a huge help to UNC's free throw rate if Berry and Paige both can get into the lane and hopefully get a little Tyus Jones/Jerian Grant treatment from the referees resulting in more shots at the line. A Joel Berry that can penetrate the lane opens up Paige and Jackson on the wings and also draws interior defenders off Meeks and Johnson.
Whether Berry is starting or not, he will be a key piece to UNC's potential run for a Final Four, especially if he makes the customary freshman to sophomore jump in his development.