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UNC Basketball: Predicting the 2018-19 starting lineup

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Questions in the post, a young star, and health questions are the storylines in determining this year’s starting five.

Notre Dame v North Carolina Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

We have officially hit that sweet spot in the summer where the complete focus on the 2018-19 sports season can begin. All of UNC sports are over for 2017-18 following the Diamond Heels’ loss to Oregon State in the College World Series, football activities are assuredly underway, and the incoming freshmen for Roy Williams have arrived on campus. With Theo Pinson and Joel Berry II off to pursue their NBA careers, these freshmen likely got down to business after arriving on campus in hopes of maybe securing a spot in the starting lineup.

Needless to say, folks out there in the twitterverse have been trying their hands at predicting who the starters for the North Carolina Tar Heels will be come November. One could give the quick, easy, Roy Williams-type answer and say that everything is wide-open and that the best players out of the practices this fall will start. Though, what’s the fun in that? With that said, I am going to go through each position and predict what we should expect as the starting lineup for the Heels’ first tip-off.

Point Guard

Seventh Woods has had a rough UNC career so far, though I for one believe a lot of that is just bad luck. We never saw a 100% healthy Seventh Woods during his first two years, and honestly, I have no idea what the college version of a healthy Seventh Woods looks like. Now granted, he has shown flashes of what he can do before, with a few nice passes as well as some athletic plays at the rim. However, even the little bit we’ve seen has been hampered by the injury bug. One can only imagine how frustrating it’s been for him, and now he has to figure out a way to prove that he deserves to be a starter over incoming freshman Coby White.

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Coby White play a few times in person now, and I will be the first to tell you that this kid is the real deal. Forget what you saw during the McDonald’s All-American game, because there’s nothing that happened in that game that is an accurate representation of just how good this kid is. He has good vision, he’s one of the taller point guards UNC has had in years, he knows how to attack the basket in traffic, his shot is polished, and he knows how to take command of the court. If Seventh Woods can’t find a way to show that he’s ready to take control of this team, I expect Roy to not hesitate plugging Coby White in and letting the kid go to work.

Prediction: Seventh Woods if he’s 100% healthy, any less than that and Coby White will be your starter.

Shooting Guard

Kenny Williams had quite the breakout season during his 2017-18 campaign. He has always been known for his tough defense and solid three-point shooting, but this time Williams wanted to prove he could take his game up to another level and succeeded. After averaging 7.4 more minutes per game than the year of UNC’s championship run, Williams finished the season with 11.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 2.4 points per game. He was very efficient from the field, shooting at a .486% clip and drained 40% of his three-pointers. Bundle that all together with his stingy defense, and what you have is the starting shooting guard for November.

Prediction: Kenny Williams

Small Forward

Here is where things get really interesting. This past season, Roy Williams brought Cameron Johnson over from Pitt to help the Tar Heels attempt to reach their third Final Four in a row. When he arrived on campus, just about everyone expected him to be a three-point specialist that would be able to provide some consistent shooting to what was otherwise an OK perimeter shooting team. Johnson did end up doing pretty well, averaging more points per game with less minutes on the court than his junior year at Pitt (12.4 ppg vs. 11.9ppg). However, his shooting from the perimeter suffered, as he only shot 34.1% from three compared to the 41.5% clip he shot at the previous year. I would anticipate that his efficiency will increase during his final year at UNC, but it just might increase coming off of the bench.

Let’s get this out of the way right now: Nassir Little is a future NBA player. He’s athletic, he makes good moves in the paint, he can hit shots from three, and oh yeah....he can finish at the rim. Boy, can he ever finish at the rim.

As athletically gifted as Little is, I think the battle for the small forward spot is going to come down to defense. If you consider the way that Little shut down both Zion Williamson and Cameron Reddish during both the All-American game and the Jordan Brand Classic, then one has to feel good about his abilities in that department. However, the college game isn’t a showcase, and Little will have to prove his abilities to Roy if he wants to see valuable time on the court.

Prediction: Nassir Little. It will be hard to ignore how gifted he is, and Cameron Johnson will have to have put in a lot of work this summer to show Little up. The key here is defense, and Little has all of the tools to be a really good defender. If he can prove it, then it’s a done deal.

Power Forward

Roy Williams has already voiced that this coming season he will go back to a traditional lineup before considering going small like he did this previous year. With that in mind, there’s only one right answer at this spot: Luke Maye.

Maye gained a lot of national attention during the 2017 championship run with his buzzer-beater against Kentucky, and since then he has been on a mission to prove that he wasn’t a one hit wonder. Not only did he prove it this past season, but he very much looked like a player out to become a first-team All-American during the first few games. Ultimately Maye ran into some consistency issues, but a lot of players across the country would probably take his production in a heartbeat. He averaged 16.9 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game. Looking at his efficiency, you wouldn’t think he was inconsistent at all as he shot 48.6% from the field, and 43.1% from three.

The biggest question involving Maye will be whether or not his production improves after moving back to the four spot. This offseason Maye voiced that he prefers the power forward spot, but has no issues playing the five. At 6’8 the four I think just naturally suits him better, and he may have less of a difficult time dealing with the opposition at that position rather than at the five. I expect Maye to have a fantastic year, and maybe even get the attention of some NBA scouts in the process. Reminder: he did go through the draft process, and we saw how that worked out for Justin Jackson. To quote the little kid from Angels in the Outfield:

Prediction: Luke Maye

Center

When looking at the five spot for the Heels, I think this really only comes down to Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley. Brandon Huffman is constantly mentioned when predicting who Roy will start, but I have come to terms with the fact that Brandon Huffman may be more of a Joel James-type player and that is perfectly OK. Huffman can give good minutes during foul trouble situations, make a few plays, and if we’re lucky we may even get to see a broken rim before this year is over. Between him and Nas, I would actually be surprised if it didn’t happen.

The tough thing when it comes to Sterling Manley and Garrison Brooks, is that these players have strengths that would basically make a great starter. Brooks has exceptional defense, having won defensive player of the week multiple times during his freshman season. Manley on the other hand, has proven to be really good offensively and had identical production on the boards to his fellow teammate. Rebounding would definitely be the tie-breaker here, since Roy Williams places a strong emphasis on getting to the boards when it comes to his big men.

What this will really come down to is who worked harder this offseason. There’s really no other metric or attribute to look at — someone is going to have to do something to separate themselves from the pack and prove that they are ready to start. If I had to guess right now, Sterling Manley will probably get the nod.

Prediction: Sterling Manley