The North Carolina Tar Heels are about to enter what is turning out to be a rather unpredictable basketball season. After losing Coby White, Nassir Little, Cameron Johnson, Kenny Williams, Luke Maye, and Seventh Woods following the conclusion of the 2018-19 season, the Heels are forced to roll out a team that will more than likely have at least three starters who have never played valuable minutes for Roy Williams. Perhaps even more jarring is the fact that this team also has a few injured players who could arguably play a fair amount of minutes if they ever get healthy.
With that said, expectations for this team could be considered to be non-existent depending on who you ask. I for one have no idea what to expect, but there’s no reason that this team shouldn’t be a serious contender for the ACC title. As far as the NCAA Tournament goes, there’s no feasible way of predicting how far this team can go until we at least get through the first month of games. Getting to the Final Four is going to be a tough task, but if the Tar Heels are serious about being national title contenders, there are a few things that need to go right for it to be a serious thought. Let’s take a look at what this team has to do to make their path to Atlanta as easy as they possibly can.
Finding help for Cole Anthony
It’s no secret that Cole Anthony will likely be the best player for the Heels this year. The freshman point guard is a projected lottery pick in the NBA Draft, and from what we’ve heard so far from Roy Williams and some of Anthony’s teammates, all of the hype surrounding him is well-deserved. While he could potentially match or exceed Coby White’s production from last season, one thing is abundantly clear: he can’t do it by himself, and he’s going to need some help on offense if this team is going to get where they want to go.
During ACC Media Day this week, Roy Williams shared one of his biggest concerns going into the season:
“The biggest thing is we’re going to struggle scoring,” Williams said Tuesday at ACC Basketball Media Day in Charlotte. “Like I said, Cam and Luke and Kenny (Williams) aren’t there so we’d better be a little bit better in every other area, run it a little bit better, get more action around the rim because we don’t have the 3-point shooting.”
If there’s one thing that is 100% true in Williams’ statement, it’s that Cameron Johnson’s production from last year is going to be sorely missed. He finished the season averaging 16.9 points per game and shot a ridiculous 45.7% from three-point range. That type of production is almost impossible to replace, especially when you factor Coby White’s missing production into the mix.
If the Heels want any chance of getting deep into the NCAA Tournament they will have to turn to players like Leaky Black, Brandon Robinson, Andrew Platek, Justin Pierce, and Christian Keeling for some help on the perimeter. Keeling is likely the best option out of the players named, as he finished his final year at Charleston Southern shooting 38% from the field and averaged 18.7 points per game. He should be a capable option so long as he is able to adapt to the increased difficulty of the ACC. Brandon Robinson could also solidify his status as a shooter if he manages to follow up his 46% three-point efficiency from last year, but we will have to see if he is able to remain efficient with a potentially higher volume of shots.
No matter who you look to for perimeter production it’s clear that this year’s team will not be the same shooting team that we got to enjoy last year. For this team to succeed, Cole Anthony is going to need help stretching the court as well as producing on offense overall. Here’s hoping that help arrives.
Returning to post play glory
While it’s unclear who will be able to help make shots away from the rim, the primary production at the rim must come from Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot. Brooks is going into his junior year at Carolina and is finally able to slide into his native power forward spot on the floor. Last year he was one of the Heels’ best defenders and this year should be no different. The main goal for him this year will be to add some offense into the equation, as he finished last season with just 7.9 points per game. He showed flashes of being able to get the job done last year, and now he will be even more critical for a team that will look to return to Roy Williams’ trademark style of play and get the ball into the paint at a higher frequency.
Freshman center Armando Bacot will also be crucial in helping the Heels do a lot of damage down low. Going into the start of practice, Bacot impressed many with his conditioning, as typically UNC has struggled with the conditioning of their first-year big men. This doesn’t appear to be the case with Bacot, so he should be able to play longer minutes than those before him have been able to. He’s going to need every bit of his conditioning because Sterling Manley still hasn’t managed to recover from his injury issues. It’s likely that we will see some Brandon Huffman enter the mix to spell Bacot and Brooks, and hopefully he will help bring some energy with him whenever he enters the game.
The combination of Brooks and Bacot on paper is a good situation for Roy Williams to have, and it should be exciting to see what damage these two can do in the paint. Both big men will need to make a big impact this year in the post as well as cleaning the boards, and if they do that, this team should be in pretty good shape.
Keep everyone healthy
As was already mentioned, the Tar Heels are already dealing with a number of injury issues. Sterling Manley had surgery this summer with hopes of finally getting healthy but is still dealing with knee injuries. Freshmen guards Anthony Harris and Jeremiah Francis are suffering from knee injuries as well with no real timetable being mentioned as to when these players will be able to return to action. Roy Williams had to call up a JV player to practice with the team due to how thin they are at guard.
Manley, Harris, and Francis are all sorely needed for the Heels in order to remedy the current depth issue. Manley may be the most important of the three to get healthy, as this team is likely going to lean heavily on the big men. If these players aren’t able to return and/or stay healthy, the ability for this team to make a deep tournament run become questionable.
Should Carolina manage to accomplish these three things, it’s reasonable to believe that they could make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament and possibly punch their ticket to Atlanta. Their first major test will be against Notre Dame in the first game of the year, so this team will have to hit the ground running or get trampled.