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UNC Basketball: Can the healthier Tar Heels finish non-conference play strong?

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With only one player still on the injury list, things are looking up attrition-wise for Roy Williams’s team.

NCAA Basketball: Battle 4 Atlantis-Oregon vs North Carolina Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

It was about this time last week when Tar Heel Nation had very loud discussions about the condition of this team, both in play and in health. Armando Bacot went down with what a nasty ankle sprain, and there had still been no signs of Anthony Harris, Jeremiah Francis, and Sterling Manley being 100% cleared to play. Fast forward to now, and time does miraculous things as Armando Bacot, Anthony Harris, and Jeremiah Francis played in the Virginia game this past weekend, leaving the Heels with just one key injury on the entire roster.

It goes without saying that he Heels have had some issues as of late, primarily in the offense department. It doesn’t help that two of their three losses came from the top two defensive teams in the country according to Kenpom, so it’s likely to get easier for the rest of non-conference in that regard. Still, this team has to figure out a way to get some consistent offense going, and now the question is: will this version of the Tar Heels be able to right the sinking offensive ship?

When pondering this question, the two players that deserve the most attention from a pure shooting perspective are Anthony Harris and Jeremiah Francis. Seeing how we have only gotten a quick glimpse of both players in a poor situation, let’s take a look at what both players are able to bring to the table.

Anthony Harris

If fans are to hope that either of the two guards are able to do anything outside of the paint for the Heels, Anthony Harris may be the first guy that you look at. The 6’3 combo guard out of Virginia committed to UNC not long after Cole Anthony announced his decision. He was a four-star player coming out of high school according to the 247Sports Composite, and was the 10th best combo guard in the 2019 class.

Before we dive into some scouting reports, let’s see what Roy Williams had to say on his radio show this week about Harris:

“Anthony, for example, is a tough, tough kid. He’s not a great shooter, not a great scorer and all this kind of stuff, but he’s a dog. He really gets after you and competes his tail off, and I love that.”

Williams’ sentiments on Harris echo what he said when he first committed but also echoes what many scouting reports have stated as well. Harris by virtue of his combo guard status can play at point or shooting guard on the floor, and he is one of the best on-ball defenders in the class. When looking at what he’s able to do offensively, there is a healthy mix of question marks as well as signs of promise in terms of what to expect. His last bit of action before his injury was on the 2018 Team Takeover AAU team, and during their Peach Jam title run he averaged 8.6 points per game, make 47.8% of his field goal attempts, and was 43.8% from three. While this is a really good statistic, the combination of Harris’ injury lasting so long and also having seen alleged shooters like Andrew Platek, Justin Pierce, and Christian Keeling struggle this season makes this a cautiously optimistic piece of info when looking for someone to help stretch the floor.

Anthony Harris should be a positive addition for the Tar Heels not matter what. As this team is going to have to prove they are tougher than the other team night in and night out, they need someone like him that is willing to play as hard as he can and contribute in any way possible. Hopefully the shots will also arrive with everything else.

Jeremiah Francis

While Anthony Harris shows potential promise in the shooting department, Jeremiah Francis shows promise in being a strong, downhill point guard. The Pickerington, OH native is finally getting to return to the basketball court after suffering injuries that had him sidelined since his sophomore year of high school. Prior to suffering his injury, Francis was a four-star prospect according to Scout, and was the 11th best point guard in the country.

Here’s what Roy Williams had to say about Francis during his radio show:

“Jeremiah, two and a half years ago, the summer after his sophomore year, I thought he was one of the top two or three point guards in the country and just loved what he was doing. We offered him and very fortunately he committed to us that summer, but I think he is one of the... potentially, because you don’t know. The guy hasn’t played in two-and-a-half years, but hopefully he’ll show that same kind of promise as a point guard for us.”

As far as scouting reports go, the first thing that is consistent in his evaluations is how strong he is. He is one of the more powerful point guards we’ve seen come through Chapel Hill that is known for his toughness when attacking off the dribble. He has good vision on the floor, and is comfortable with attacking bigger players, which will be key now that he will run into college-level big men when getting to the rim. He has the potential to be a really good defender, but when looking at his ability to knock down shots, it is definitely one of the weaker parts of his game. It will be really interesting to see what kind of work he was able to do on his jumper when he was mainly able to do stationary shooting and ball-handling workouts during his rehab.

All in all, Jeremiah Francis has the potential to be a positive addition to the team this year, but it’s been so long since he’s played competitively that expectations should be kept at a minimum for the time being. Hopefully we will see more of him during the Wofford game, and perhaps in a comfortable lead situation he will be able to get out there and get the reps he needs to acclimate to the college game.

In closing, both Anthony Harris and Jeremiah Francis will add nothing but positives to this team, but some of the larger struggles that UNC has aren’t necessarily remedied by their return. It’s very possible that a player like Harris will be able to knock down some shots and give both himself and his team some confidence, but unfortunately not even he is a proven shooter to such a degree that it’s something we should expect right out of the gate. The level of toughness both players bring will still be a huge addition, and undoubtedly the Heels will need every bit of it as they try to shake off their three losses in the past four games.