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UNC Basketball: Predicting the 2019-20 starting lineup

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With four starters from last year’s team moving on, here’s an early look at what next season’s starting lineup might look like.

NCAA Basketball: Western Carolina at North Carolina Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

A couple of weeks ago, the Tar Heels went from having two signees for their 2019 class to having six, with two of those commits being graduate transfers. Roy Williams’ hard work to replenish his roster is now complete (unless anybody out there is still hoping Precious Achiuwa surprises everyone), and we can now look ahead to what this roster is composed of, and what some of the lineups may look like.

For those that would like to get caught up on each player on the roster, I recommend checking out Al Hood’s introduction to the 2018-19 team, as he covers both returning players and newcomers. With a huge amount of the scoring production from the 2018-19 season gone, and some quality players arriving on campus in their place, what exactly will the starting lineup look like? It’s a question that’s tricky to tackle, as things aren’t nearly as clear as last year. However, we are going to do our best to predict what the starting lineup will look like come the first non-exhibition game of the year.

Point Guard

At the beginning of the 2018-19 basketball season, the general consensus of those that were around the program was that at worst UNC would at least have Seventh Woods going into the 2019-20 season. Coby White proved early in the season that he very well could be a one-and-done player, and as the season progressed it became more and more obvious that he was destined to enter the NBA Draft following what was a very strong freshman campaign. With Coby White gone, Seventh Woods also decided that it was time to leave Chapel Hill in pursuit of opportunities elsewhere. Why? Well, it may have something to do with Roy’s prized signee.

Five-star combo guard Cole Anthony is regarded by Roy Williams as potentially the most complete guard that he has ever recruited. The strong praise from UNC’s Hall of Fame head coach may not be an exaggeration — Anthony is the third-highest ranked incoming freshman in the country, and the highest-ranked guard that Williams has ever received a commitment from during his tenure at UNC. He finished his senior year at Oak Hill averaging 18 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 9.5 rebounds per game, and had an assist-to-turnover ratio of +3.46. Largely considered an alpha dog, it was no secret that wherever Anthony ended up he was going to be an immediate starter. He will unquestionably win the starting job, and honestly, I don’t know that it’s even close.

Prediction: Cole Anthony

Shooting Guard

While in recent years figuring out the starting lineup wasn’t quite as tricky, everything after the point guard position for this version of the Tar Heels could go a couple of different ways. With the shooting guard spot specifically, there’s going to be a lot of potential for mixing and matching, as Williams will go into the season with quite a few guards at his disposal. Brandon Robinson, Leaky Black, Anthony Harris, and Christian Keeling are all candidates to start at the two, and honestly, I will have to give the nod to Christian Keeling.

The 6’4 grad transfer from Charleston Southern has had a big-time college career, and has also had some success playing against ACC teams as well. He finished his junior year shooting 38% from the three-point line off of 213 attempts, and only missed one of his six three-point attempts against Clemson back in December. After losing an unheard of amount of their scoring production, the Heels will need a threat on the perimeter to take some heat off of Anthony, and Keeling is likely the best candidate for the job.

Prediction: Christian Keeling

Small Forward

For the readers that found themselves to be upset with the decision to start Keeling at the shooting guard position, this next pick may make things a bit better. Much like this past season, the team doesn’t really have a true small forward, and so there’s a very good chance that Roy Williams will utilize three guards in the starting lineup. Brandon Robinson and Leaky Black are arguably the best options, with Justin Pierce being a player that may or may not surprise everyone once practices begin.

When looking at Robinson and Black, it’s really tough to figure out which skill set is going to be more beneficial. With Robinson, you get a guy that is perhaps a little undersized in that particular spot, but he shot 49.4% from the field this past season, and plays as hard as anybody else on the roster. With Black, you get a 6’7 player that has point guard skills but can play four different spots on the floor. It’s also worth noting that he too was pretty efficient this past season — he finished the season shooting at a 46.9% clip, and knocked down 41.7% of his three-point attempts. My gut tells me that Leaky Black would get the nod between the two, but Robinson’s strong close to the NCAA Tournament and overall seniority make things really complicated.

Prediction: Brandon Robinson, but Leaky Black winning the job wouldn’t be a huge surprise

Power Forward

Just as Cole Anthony was an easy choice for the point guard starting job, junior forward Garrison Brooks is the obvious choice to start at the power forward position. Finally returning to his native position, Brooks has a chance to go up against players closer to his size, which may make things a bit easier for him. What is worth noting, however, is that Brooks had far from a bad season offensively — he finished his sophomore year shooting 57.4% from the field, which is the type of efficiency that the Heels will need in the paint.

Perhaps more important than his offensive efficiency, Brooks will return as arguably the best defensive player on the team. It will be really interesting to see what Cole Anthony & Co. will be able to bring to the table in that department, but let’s be honest: topping Brooks’ ability to lock down players like Zion Williamson will be very, very difficult to accomplish. When taking a look at who could take a big leap this year, Brooks’ name may belong in the conversation, but at the very least he will return as a dominant defender and someone that can be relied upon to get some high-percentage buckets for the Tar Heels.

Prediction: Garrison Brooks

Center

The good news for the Tar Heels is that they have two strong candidates for the center position that aren’t named Garrison Brooks or Luke Maye. While both players were fairly good supplements for a true center, it’s clear that Roy Williams’ teams are at their best when he has a player at the five that can both dominate the glass and get to the rim at will. Coming off of an injury suffered during this past season, we never really saw what we needed to see from Sterling Manley. Now five-star center Armando Bacot is in town, which means Manley has some tough competition.

Bacot is a five-star center and McDonald’s All-American that won the Geico Nationals Championship with IMG Academy. On paper, Bacot has every attribute that Roy Williams could ask for out of a big man: a 7’1 wingspan, good feet, elite hands, a soft touch around the rim, and knows how to get to the boards. However, one thing that I noticed when I watched his team play against Oak Hill this past season was that his motor doesn’t always run as high as it could. If he plans on finding consistent playing time, he will have to learn how to stay active for 40 minutes on both sides of the floor and not take plays off. However, I don’t see this being a huge concern, as it is something that should be addressed on day one.

As far as Manley goes, it is really difficult to figure out what type of player he will be his junior year. During his freshman year, he had a big issue with his conditioning. This past season, we couldn’t even see if that issue was fixed, as he was playing injured in pretty much every game that he participated in until Williams pulled the plug. Manley should make this a close competition between the two big men, but right now it’s hard for me to trust that he will be up to speed, let alone improved.

Prediction: Armando Bacot