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UNC basketball: Luke Maye enters the 2018-2019 season with high expectations

Can the senior replicate and/or expand upon an extraordinary junior season?

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

We are nearing the end of our player previews for the Carolina basketball team, who recently completed its two-game excursion in the Bahamas. The Heels won both games by a combined 106 points, capping off the trip with a 130-45 beatdown over the Starsports.

For the sake of consistency with these pieces, I won’t be analyzing these games too much, but if we’re being honest, it would be silly to put a whole lot of stock into a couple of August exhibition games against inferior competition. With that being said, the next player we’ll look at is Luke Maye.

We have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Maye this upcoming season. A breakout junior campaign left no doubt in his ability to be a go-to scoring option and a team leader. His 16.9 ppg and 10.1 rpg earned him the Most Improved Player award in the ACC as well as first-team All-ACC honors. He even got national attention, landing on the AP All-America third team.

Now, Maye enters his senior season with as much hype as anyone in the country. Andy Katz has him as the second-ranked returning player in all of college basketball, and many believe he’s a prime candidate for Player of the Year in not only the ACC but also nationally.

The attention Maye is getting and has gotten is not without cause, of course. He has made strides every year, going from being a very low-usage player his freshman year to a really solid role player and NCAA tournament hero his second season to an All-ACC stud as a junior.

Maye made it apparent right off the bat last season how hard he had been working on his jumper and all-around game. Once relegated to simply being a spot-up shooter, he was hitting shots all over the floor and in all different types of ways. He proved that getting boards isn’t all about size and athleticism by becoming one of the most dominant rebounders in the country, a critical aspect for a team that lacked experience in the frontcourt.

Maye also managed to find ways to score in the paint despite his height disadvantage. He rolled out an abundance of crafty moves to get the ball in the bucket over taller defenders. Then, when the Heels went small and put him at the five, Maye was able to draw opposing team’s centers away from the hoop and attack from the outside. His overall propensity for scoring became a huge asset for the team.

Believe it or not, though, there are ways in which Maye can improve. For starters, he had a tendency to disappear in big games. This problem became less pressing as Maye got more acquainted with high-level competition, but it’s still not something you want to see out of one of your best players. His humility and tendency to deflect all the shine onto his teammates is an excellent leadership quality, but it doesn’t mean he can’t still be aggressive.

Maye also had some difficulty with the physicality of the ACC big men. Going to the small lineup didn’t help in this regard, but he seemed to struggle getting good positioning around the basket and finishing through contact. His strong rebounding presence suggests that it’s not necessarily an issue of strength, so it may be just a matter of adjusting and knowing when to attack. Improvement from the young bigs, especially Sterling Manley, could go a long way in resolving this issue.

The bottom line here is the floor is very high for Luke Maye. He now has three years under his belt, he knows the system, and there’s little doubt that he’ll be the hardest working player throughout the rest of the offseason and on into the regular season. With plenty of playmakers around him he may not put up the same numbers, but I expect he’ll once again be a leader and top scoring option for the Heels.