Top five scorers gone. Four starters lost. Three indefinite injuries. Two graduate transfers. The opportunities are bountiful for some breakout candidates for the North Carolina Tar Heels this season.
At first, it seems as though Cole Anthony is the obvious choice for breakout candidate. But when you are the second-highest rated recruit in the modern era at UNC, the Preseason ACC Freshman of the Year, and the undisputed floor general for the Heels, the bar is already set pretty high. Plus, with his talent and projected minutes, the ceiling is the roof for Anthony.
So who will get it done? Here are three names to watch as breakout candidates.
Based on a small sample size from last Friday against Winston-Salem State, the addition of Armando Bacot will allow Brooks to settle in at the four and be much more effective this season once the pair gets comfortable working with each other.
By moving to the four, Brooks will be better on both offense and defense. His scoring ability, especially around the basket and getting to the rim, has been lacking. If this pressure is lifted with the scoring touch of Bacot, Brooks can make better offensive decisions.
On the defensive end, Brooks will return as the best defensive player on the team, garnering the most Defensive Player of the Game nods by the UNC coaching staff. With his superb quickness for a big man, shot blocking improvements, and another effective body in the post, expect Brooks to be considered for ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
Black’s ankle injury last season came at the most critical stretch of the regular season in February and resulted in limited action in the NCAA Tournament for the freshman. Now, injuries at the guard position have presented Black a great opportunity to be the breakout star for UNC.
Injuries to freshman guards Anthony Harris, Jeremiah Francis, along with senior Brandon Robinson during the exhibition of WSSU, and the transfer of Seventh Woods has left Carolina with fewer bodies than expected at guard. This season, expect Black to be at the two and three with junior Andrew Platek and grad transfers Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce.
However, his most important role will be the primary backup to Anthony at the point. Head coach Roy Williams underscored how important of a player Black will be this season after the WSSU exhibition:
For us to be a really good basketball team, Leaky’s got to stay healthy and play and not make the silly mistakes he made today.
Black will need to be assertive on the offensive end, especially with his jump shots. Yet, when handling the ball, limiting turnovers must be the top priority and he has done a good job in a small sample.
The biggest hole on this UNC team is scoring on the wing. Pierce, the grad transfer from William and Mary, has just one year in Chapel Hill to make a difference.
Pierce is a versatile player and his ability to score inside and from beyond the arc will allow him to play at the three or four.
He has the quickness and skill on paper. There is a need for this 6-7 player in the lineup. The biggest question is how will he handle the jump to ACC competition.
Pierce has a lot to gain with the current makeup of the UNC lineup. If successful, he can be a valuable member of a team with their eyes to Atlanta in April.
Who is your breakout candidate for this season? Let us know in the comments below.