The days following the national championship game have been nothing short of interesting for the Tar Heels. Following the big win, there have been a lot of questions as to who is returning and who is staying, who might commit to starting at UNC in the fall, and most recently, who will be able to transfer to UNC as a graduate transfer. Now that (most of) the smoke has cleared, we can begin to look at the roster and get an idea of what to expect for the 2017-18 season.
PG Joel Berry
UNC will be returning one of their best and most decorated players this year, Joel Berry II. The Final Four Most Outstanding Player is coming off of another big season, destroyed ankles and all, and plans to help get his team to a third straight Final Four appearance. Berry will undoubtedly be the most important player on the court for both on-court abilities and leadership, and if he manages to stay healthy he will certainly continue his upward trajectory in the college ranks as well as the NBA Draft boards.
SG Kenny Williams
Unless a certain relative of a former Tar Heel manages to convince Roy Williams otherwise, we can plan on seeing Kenny Williams playing at the shooting guard position. Last year Williams was off to a great start, and was the best perimeter defender on the team. On top of great defense, Williams began finding his stroke outside the arc, making 33% of his 3-point attempts. Unfortunately we saw Kenny’s season come to an end after suffering an ankle injury during practice back in February. If he can manage to stay healthy this coming year, we will finally get to see what he can do down the stretch of the ACC / NCAA tournament schedule as a major role-player for the Heels.
G/F Theo Pinson
Another player that was marred by injuries last year was Theo Pinson. Suffering injuries periodically during the season, Pinson could never really get a rhythm going until late into the season and into the NCAA Tournament. The funny thing is that while it sounds like this means Theo didn’t do much until tournament time, he managed to show up in big and various ways throughout the course of the season. One game in particular was the game against Florida State, where he went off for 12 points, 10 rebounds and three assists. The most consistent aspect of Pinson’s game was that he was a stat stuffer all year, so if he can consistently begin to score on top of that he’s in for a strong senior year.
F Luke Maye
When thinking about Luke Maye following the NCAA Tournament, it’s a lot to process. Luke Maye was supposed to be a walk-on freshman when he was initially recruited, and things ended up working out in his favor as Roy Williams managed to work out a scholarship for him. Not a lot of fanfare was involved in him being recruited, and he came to UNC during a year where it was seemingly a huge letdown as far as recruiting goes.
Now, Luke Maye is a hero.
Luke Maye’s huge shot against Kentucky during the Elite Eight game was the cherry on top of what was a great year. He was a solid defender, his shot began to fall quite a bit, and he was just...good. In fact, Luke Maye also had the best 3-point shooting percentage on the team at 40% (obviously a lot fewer attempts than Berry and Jackson, but still). His post play will also be sorely needed with Hicks, Bradley, and Meeks gone, and those are shoes that he’s more than capable of filling at the 4-spot.
F/C Brandon Huffman
With Tony Bradley making an early exit to the NBA Draft, there have been a lot of questions about the depth of UNC’s post positions. These concerns are very much warranted to say the least, but that is not to say that there aren’t enough bodies at the position in general. Quality, however, will very much depend on how quickly the freshman can adapt to the things that Roy Williams demands of his big men. Out of all three freshman, the one with the best shot of doing enough in the post is Brandon Huffman.
During his senior year of high school, Huffman averaged 16.1 points and 14.2 rebounds per game. At 6’9, this Raleigh native managed to climb up the 247 Sports rankings from initially being No. 204 to No. 84 by the time he capped off his senior year. Huffman will be someone who can crash the boards and bang down low, but will likely go through some growing pains adjusting to the college game that UNC hasn’t had to go through in quite a while at the five spot. While the production on the level of Hicks and Meeks scoring-wise may not happen right away, it’s not unrealistic for Huffman to be a solid rebounder which is ultimately what will be needed the most from anybody in the post for this UNC squad.
What to expect
This year will be a trying year for UNC in a way that, at any other school, may not be that big of a problem at all. Roy Williams preaches the inside-out game religiously, and this year there is a huge question mark hovering over anything beyond what Luke Maye can do in the post. A lot of whether or not we will see an adjustment in scheme will be dependent on what Roy sees once workouts/practices start, and it is extremely likely he will play with the lineups often as he usually does during the early games in the season.
The comforting news is: if he decides to switch to a perimeter-based scheme, UNC should not find themselves short of shooters. Joel Berry shot for 38% this past season, one percent better than ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson. As mentioned before, Kenny Williams began to shoot better before going down to an injury, and Luke Maye shot really well from deep when he did shoot from long-range.
Outside of the starting lineup, incoming freshman Jalek Felton is another guy who is a capable shooter from just about anywhere on the floor. He isn’t exactly a sharp-shooter from behind the arc, but it is definitely a part of his game that defenses will have to respect when he’s on the floor. Also coming in is Andrew Platek, a 6’4 shooting guard from Schenectady, N.Y who Roy recruited as a capable shooter. Lastly, there is still a chance that UNC may get Cameron Johnson from Pitt. Whether or not any progress was made remains to be seen, but if they manage to get Pitt to cave Roy will be getting another strong shooter.
When it comes down to it, we should expect that Roy is going to want things to be business as usual. That is not to say that along the way he might not adjust, it is very possible that he might, but if we know anything about him it’s that he doesn’t shy away from what he always does with personnel very often. Rebounding and defense are a constant, and he will make those of highest priority no matter what.
In terms of the offense, it will be interesting to see what he can get out of his big men. This past season UNC saw a lot of zone, which was primarily because UNC was just destroying teams in the post and creating holes in defenses whenever teams tried double-teaming whoever had the ball down low. This likely won’t be as prevalent this coming season (obviously not counting Syracuse), so it may be slightly easier on the freshmen to adapt a bit to the size and strength of players at the college level. It also doesn’t hurt that with so many capable perimeter players, they should be able to space out the floor to create more opportunities in the post as well.
There’s no real other way to put it, this coming season is going to be interesting. UNC will be a good team, I think that is something that can be said comfortably. How good really depends on player development, player health, and maybe more luck than usual. In an age where teams like Syracuse and South Carolina can sneak into the Final Four, there’s just no telling what will happen by the time the NCAA tournament rolls around. As far as the ACC goes, UNC will be in the usual dog fight with the usual suspects. There will be a lot of tough sledding, but there’s no doubt this will be a fun team to watch.