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Friday Food for Thought: Summer excitement around basketball

Is this a more exciting offseason than last year?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Charlotte Practice Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Friday Food For Thought, the weekend conversation starter. Each week, this article presents a topic for debate. Whether in the comments section, on the golf course, or around the weekend game table, the goal is to provide enough background that either side could be a winner. In order to facilitate the discourse, a suggested beverage pairing is also be included. So speak up, mix it up, and drink up.

This Carolina basketball offseason feels very different than last year. One year ago, the team was coming off of a redemption National Championship. There were questions about the inside play going into the 2017-18 season, but a tremendous amount of confidence in the guards and particularly the ball handlers. The incoming freshmen offered the promise of development but no assurances of first year contributions.

This summer, the role is flipped. The anticipated strength of the team has moved from ball handling to perimeter scoring. There is significantly more confidence in the interior play (including a possible pre-season All-American) although the primary ball-handling duties will be from largely unproven players. The freshmen class has highly rated prospects.

So the question is, are you more excited about the team now then you were a year ago? Note that this is not a comparison of which team will have the better season. It is simply a gauge of excitement in mid-May.

1. Point

The excitement for this year’s team is far more palpable than what occurred last year. Much of that view comes from the fact that Carolina fans were just starting a long summer of celebration. There was a view that any respectable results for the season would be accepted considering the team just won the National Championship.

It was also clear that the talent on the team would not be quite what had just won the title. Graduated were Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks. Gone to the NBA was Justin Jackson. Some hope returned with Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson. Rumors of a potential Cameron Johnson transfer also started swirling a bit and the incoming freshmen seemed to be potentially valuable role players.

Aside from Berry, however, there did not seem to be a dominant pre-season force on the floor. Looking ahead to a lineup that featured only one big man, who preferred to play on the perimeter, left a general feeling of unease among fans.

This summer’s version offers a much more prototypical Tar Heel lineup. The team will start three seniors (one of whom is a five year player), one junior (likely Seventh Woods) and an underclassman center. That final spot will either be filled by the well-established interior defender, Garrison Brooks, the lengthy yet developing force oozing with potential, Sterling Manley, or the top five ranked freshman phenom, Nassir Little.

The biggest question mark is at point guard where Seventh Woods will try to continue to grow into the role with the flashes that he demonstrated in tournament play at the end of the year. Behind him will be Coby White, who was just invited to the U-18 USA team. It will be a challenge to keep Rechon “Leaky” Black on the bench for long and he will certainly push the wings for minutes.

This is a team that will go at least 10 deep. There is a capable bench player at every position. Carolina will be a national force in 2018-19 and fans should be very excited.

2. Counterpoint

By May, 2017, Carolina fans were realizing that the multi-year build from competitor, to National Runner-Up, to National Champion may only be the beginning. College basketball is a game of guards and it was evident that Carolina would have one of the best in the country. Add in the sweet shooting Kenny Williams, a possible Cameron Johnson transfer, a healthy Theo Pinson, and the very capable Luke Maye and the Final Four seemed a real possibility. Sure there was a perceived weak point at center, but the quality perimeter play would be enough to hold the team up while the freshmen bigs developed. The possibility of three consecutive Championship Game appearances seemed realistic.

Fast forward one year and the position that was viewed to the most important on the floor is the one that has the biggest question mark. Point guard play is critically important to the fast paced Carolina offense and Seventh Woods has looked over-matched at times. Relying on a freshman point guard has not been a historically good bet under Roy Williams.

While there is still a lot of upper classman leadership on this team, it is simply difficult to picture who is going to have the ball in his hands as the shot clock or game clock winds down. Who can create for himself and others? Who will keep the fluid offense from falling stagnant? Even with quality guards, the offense still fell quiet for prolonged periods of time last year. Without Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson, that problem seems worse this year.

Last held the possibility of a high ceiling with the confidence that the floor could not be but so and so long. There is another high ceiling this year, but the downside risk for this team seems sizable.

Drink Pairing

In need of encouragement to debate – The best deal for a good bourbon at a reasonable price is Larceny. Good enough to comfortably sip on the rocks, it also pairs well with ginger ale (or diet ginger ale if you are a Philadelphia fan).

Can debate without assistance – The kids love Huggies. You can buy them by the case, drink one in about 5 gulps, and you always have plenty of little straws left over. Great for a sugary blast.