Going into the 2017-2018 UNC basketball season, all off the attention was rightfully on the seniors Joel Berry and Theo Pinson. When previewing the season, however, a certain author made a rather astute observation:
For this Carolina team to even have a chance at making another deep NCAA run, however, these two juniors will be the key.
Man, that guy is kinda smart.
Almost none of us saw this season from Luke Maye coming. When Jake decided that Luke making All-ACC was a hot take, that let you know what most of us thought the ceiling of the junior was going to be.
Maye not only made that All-ACC, he made the first team. For good measure, he also made third-team All-American. He also adds another prestigious award, as he was the unanimous choice for most-improved player by the Tar Heel Blog staff.
The unlikely hero of the 2017 South Regional title game...wait, let’s see that again:
...Luke entered the season coming off season averages of 5.5 points a game and 3.9 rebounds while playing 14 minutes. It was known that his role was going to increase, and it did to the tune of 32.2 minutes a contest. The big question was how he’d respond to the increased pressure. The answer was that he’d thrive, to the tune of 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds per game while shooting 43% from behind the arc. He was the only Tar Heel to average double digits in rebounding for one of the best rebounding teams in the country, and his shooting forced defenses to stretch, opening up the court for the rest of the team.
Maye’s best game was the second game against NC State. After being called out by State on the floor, Maye scored 27 of his game high 33 points in the second half, hitting from all over the court, and pulled down an amazing 17 rebounds. It was a feather in his cap after a steady season.
Unfortunately, this would prove to be Maye’s last stand in a lot of ways, as it appeared the increased minutes and attention finally caught up to him and wore him down by the end of the year. He would struggle to put up anything close to those same numbers, but just the fact that defenders had to account for him kept the train rolling for the rest of the season. In short: Carolina would have had anywhere near as good a season if Maye had not made this leap.
With a killer class coming in for 2018 plus the expected improvement of the freshman big men, the hope here is that Maye will have a chance to get his jersey in the rafters. Defenders will have a lot more to worry about, and its possible Maye won’t have to play so much with the talent coming in.
All-ACC won’t be a hot take next year, it’ll be expected. That alone makes this an easy award to give. Congrats, Luke, we can’t wait until next season!