With the official start of the 2019-20 UNC basketball season being just two days(!!!) away, fans and analysts alike are likely to get louder and louder about how they think this year’s team will do. In my season preview, I discussed how it was difficult for myself to really form any strong opinions about what this team has the capabilities of doing. After seeing the exhibition game this past Friday against Winston Salem State, I finished watching the game not finding myself even a little bit closer to finding an answer.
Despite my struggles, I am going to take my best shot at articulating what I think are the best and worst-case scenarios for the Tar Heels. Before I begin, I want to give this very important disclaimer: these opinions aren’t set in stone, and it’s likely that I will feel much better (or worse) about this team if you were to ask me this question in December or January. WIth that said, let’s get started.
It cannot be understated how massive it was for Roy Williams to land Cole Anthony for the 2019 class. After losing such a huge chunk of the team’s scoring production, and also losing two of the three point guards utilized last year, there is no question that Anthony’s presence is extremely crucial in any and everything this team wants to do this year. If he plays to his potential, it’s scary to think of what type of freshman school records may be broken by the time this season is over.
Looking at the rest of the roster, specifically at what I think will be the starting lineup, Christian Keeling, Brandon Robinson, Garrison Brooks, and Armando Bacot can all be really good players for UNC. In an ideal world, Brooks and Bacot are being fed in the post regularly, with Robinson, Keeling, and Anthony being able to get some good looks from the perimeter after the defense starts crashing in. Roy Williams-style basketball could make a reappearance in the program, and it’s reasonable to predict that Brooks and Bacot will be a good duo. To discuss the unfamiliar player in this equation, Christian Keeling looks like he’s just really good at basketball. The little bit that I’ve seen of him has looked smooth, and he doesn’t look like someone that is prone to make a lot of mistakes. If my gut feeling is correct, I expect him to be one of the better players on this year’s team.
Because this is a best-case scenario, the Tar Heels would have all of their players healthy and ready to contribute. The point guard depth would grow drastically from what it is now, as Anthony Harris and Jeremiah Francis would be added to the equation. Sterling Manley would also be able to come off of the bench, and Brandon Huffman will have gotten enough minutes to remain a regular rotational player. Graduate transfer Justin Pierce has had a good amount of hype around him, and for this team to reach their highest potential he will need to live up to his billing. Finally, Andrew Platek will have finally had his coming out party, and will be a valuable sharpshooter off the bench if everything were to go just right.
Should all of these things happen, this team absolutely could win the ACC. Louisville in my opinion is the only team in the conference that the Heels should be concerned about, and that’s mostly due to their experience and the great job that Chris Mack has done with the program so far. Should they win the ACC regular season, and maybe even the ACC Tournament title, there’s no reason to believe that this team couldn’t get to the Final Four. My shred of pessimism kicks in when thinking beyond just getting to Atlanta, as I don’t know that this team is a national championship team. Ask me again in December, but for right now this team’s ceiling is winning the ACC, getting to the Final Four, and failing to get to the national championship game.
Going into the first game of the year against Notre Dame, this team will already have a depth issue. Brandon Robinson, Jeremiah Francis, Sterling Manley, and Anthony Harris will all be out, and it will be up to some players that likely wouldn’t get as many minutes otherwise to step up. Robinson will definitely be back this season, but there’s some question marks around the other three players, if for no other reason than there hasn’t been a great deal of information provided to the masses. If they don’t come back, depth will be a big issue for this team.
Beyond that, there’s always room for the “poor defense, poor post play, and mysterious shooting woes” shenanigans that smack the Tar Heels across the face periodically. Thinking about how something like what happened with Kenny Williams’ shot could happen to Cole Anthony makes me cringe, but basketball can be very cruel. If this team wants to get where they want to go, luck will be a strong factor of the equation, and they will need it to be on their side.
With these things considered, the worst-case scenario for this team is getting passed up by Louisville, Duke, and Virginia in the ACC standings. I am not too high on Duke and Virginia this year, but ignoring the fact that both teams always have the potential to ruin a Carolina fans’ day is silly and irresponsible. After finishing in fourth place in the ACC, the Heels would then go on to lose in the round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament. Roy Williams avoids the dreaded round of 64 loss yet again, but in the end a team that the Heels have no business being matched up against would demoralize them the same way Texas A&M did in Joel Berry and Theo Pinson’s final season.
What do you think are the best-case/worst-case scenarios for this year’s team? Do you think I am too high on their ceiling/floor? Too low? Let us know in the comments below.