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UNC Tar Heels Basketball: Sophomore class preview

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The largest class on the team will play an important role in how the season goes.

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NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Miami vs North Carolina Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

One week from tonight, the University of North Carolina Tar Heels will open up their basketball season against Wofford. If it feels like it’s been forever since meaningful basketball has been played, it’s likely due to the frustrating second round exit. Almost eight months have separated their last game from this one.

Today we take a look at the (Woody Durham voice) soph-o-mores. This class is seven players deep and is loaded with players who will be fighting for their role as the season goes on. We’ll look at each by jersey numbers, and all stats and nuggets are via GoHeels.com

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Miami vs North Carolina Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

#3-Andrew Platek

On the season he averaged 7.5 minutes a game, but played in 35 of 37 games, which meant he showed Roy something even as his minutes decreased.

Platek never made more than one three per game except against his (close to) hometown Syracuse Orange, but he did shoot at a 37% clip. He only got in double figures once with 12 against Portland.

Of the regulars from last year’s class, Platek is the one who could see his minutes significantly suffer as the year goes on. With the additions of Coby White, Nassir Little, and Leaky Black, plus Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams, it’s going to be tough for Platek to find minutes at the two guard, which is about the only position he can play. He’ll probably see the floor more in the beginning as someone who knows Roy Williams’ system and what he’s trying to accomplish, but if he’s seeing more than five minutes a game deep in the ACC season it’ll be a surprise.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Duke vs North Carolina Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

#15-Garrison Brooks

The first of the big man trio who are looking to bring Roy back to his preferred style of inside-out basketball. Brooks was the starter at the five, playing out of his natural four position mostly due to the fact you have Luke (expletive) Maye playing the four. As the team and Brooks started to struggle, he saw his role reduced as the year went on to be the second big off the bench.

Still, the Lafayette, AL kid didn’t outwardly show signs he was upset at the demotion, a great sign for his continued improvement. He’s going to be facing a lot of the same issues this year: there’s a big man ahead of him that is more of a natural at the five, and you have a preseason All-American playing your natural position.

With Manley passing his conditioning test and mile (more on that later), many expect Brooks to start the season from the bench. This may not be a bad thing, because from that position he still won multiple defensive player of the game awards from Coach Williams. He also earned Williams’ trust at the end of the season, averaging 12.6 mins/game in the last seven after only going 6.4 the five before.

Whether he starts or not, a Brooks that takes a step up from last year will be a valuable asset, especially as he comes in fresh against tired teams. If the Heels go far, Brooks will be a low-key reason why.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Miami vs North Carolina Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

#21-Sterling Manley

If there is one guy that will let Roy play the style he wants, it’ll be Manley. He famously never started last season because he wasn’t 100% in the pre-season, meaning he didn’t pass all of Roy’s tests required for a player to start. He only averaged about ten minutes a game, and his season high was twenty against Clemson. His minutes felt high-impact, but it’s clear that there was a reason that he hadn’t passed all the tests required for someone to earn a starting spot. He usually couldn’t be relied on to play more than a few minutes at a time.

That came back to bite Carolina in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year. In retrospect, fans should have been a lot more scared of Texas A&M because they were stacked in the one area where Carolina was clearly the weakest last year: down low. The good news is that Manley has had a full offseason to improve, and word is that he passed all of his tests.

If Manley can play more to his Clemson totals he has a real chance to have a break out season. There aren’t many in the league who can hang with him, and with the other talent Carolina will have on the floor teams won’t be able to bombard him down low.

NCAA Basketball: Northern Iowa at North Carolina Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

#22-Walker Miller

It’s got to be tough for Walker as every first sentence to describe him will be “the younger brother of Wes.” If I told you he got into 20 games last year, would you be surprised? I know I was.

It would be a shock if Miller moved beyond Blue Steel. There’s just a ton of talent ahead of him, but with experience in Roy’s system, don’t be surprised if you see him pop in a time or two early in the season, especially if some of the other bigs struggle.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina Midnight Madness Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

#30-K.J. Smith

The son of the Carolina legend is eligible to play this year after sitting out his mandated transfer year. If you haven’t read it and are a subscriber, check out CL Brown’s article on Smith and what led him to Chapel Hill, it’s a great read.

Smith is under no illusion that he will play meaningful minutes as Roy Williams was upfront about that before he came. That said, with the uncertainty at point guard there’s at least the possibility that Smith may see the floor early on, especially if Coby White or Seventh Woods struggles. Smith has a full year of practice at the position under his belt, and if he’s shown that he understand what Williams wants to do, the coach will not hesitate to play him.

#35-Ryan McAdoo

Ryan will sit out this year after playing at FGCU last year. His situation is similar to K.J. Smith as he’s the son of a former Tar Heel great (Bob McAdoo), and after playing elsewhere last season decided to come to Chapel Hill. There’s also some irony that Ryan comes to Carolina via transfer, as his father was Dean Smith’s first transfer.

NCAA Basketball: Tulane at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

#42-Brandon Huffman

The third of the trio of big men to come to Carolina last year, and Huffman was the rawest of the three. He didn’t see much action overall last season due to this, and there’s a decent chance he won’t see much this season, either. Accoring to R.L. Bynum, who was at Roy’s media session for the ACC Kickoff, Huffman has only been at two full practices as of last Wednesday. That’s not a recipe for a lot of playing time.

Still, the attitude of Huffman is one that the team needs. He seems set to take over the Joel James Memorial “Bench Celebration Leader” mantle. Hopefully he can get healthy so he can see some action before the ACC season begins, because any quality depth down low would be good.