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UNC basketball: Carolina lands at number five in way-too-early AP college basketball rankings

The Heels should have the tools to get back to the final four.

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

The AP dropped its way-too-early rankings for the 2018-2019 college basketball season and has the North Carolina Tar Heels slotted at fifth. The Heels round out a top five that includes Duke, Kansas, Villanova, and Kentucky.

It should probably go without saying, but take these rankings with a grain of salt, because a lot is subject to change between now and the start of the regular season in November. Still, November is a long ways away, and it doesn’t hurt to speculate between now and then.

Moreover, Carolina is one of the few potential top teams that isn’t facing many question marks about its roster next season. We are still waiting to see if Cameron Johnson decides to test the draft waters, and there’s an outside chance Roy Williams makes a late addition to his 2018 class. For most part, however, we know what things will look like. With that being said, let’s look at why the Tar Heels are ranked here.

For starters, the recent play of Nassir Little has turned some heads. Little, who will arrive in Chapel Hill this summer, doubled up on MVP awards at the McDonald’s All-American game and the Jordan Brand Classic. Over both contests, he tallied 52 points on 21-31 shooting. Coming into these games, Little wasn’t receiving quite the attention nationally that Duke’s trio of R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, and Zion Williamson was getting. That is all changing now, though, as some believe Little has established himself as the best player in his class.

The Tar Heels will also welcome in Coby White and Rechon Black next season. White participated alongside Little in the McDonald’s All-American and Jordan Brand Classic games. He has shown off great quickness and shooting ability, and is expected to contend for the starting point guard position next season. Meanwhile, Black, who is maybe a bit overlooked because of the hype surrounding his fellow signees, will bring some versatility to the roster. At 6’7”, he is an excellent ball-handler and distributor, and he too could find himself competing for the point guard position.

In terms of what they bring back, the Tar Heels return two battle-tested seniors in Luke Maye and Kenny Williams, and potentially a third if Johnson returns. The losses of Joel Berry and Theo Pinson definitely sting, but they can manage to soften the blow if guys continue to develop. Sterling Manley and Garrison Brooks are both candidates to make big jumps next year if they can have productive offseasons. Seventh Woods could also make a leap if he can finally get healthy.

After earning first-team All-ACC honors this past season, expectations will be very high for Maye. He’ll likely be the centerpiece of the offense next year, and while it’s possible his numbers aren’t as gaudy, it’s imperative that he continues to improve his game over the summer, particularly in the low post.

Overall, the pieces are there for the Tar Heels. Some things may need to happen in order for them to be true contenders, but in regard to where they fall in these rankings, don’t expect things to change too much in the coming months.