When it comes to Carolina basketball, it’s almost never too early to start looking ahead to next year. After the Heels’ season ended in a disappointing loss to Auburn in the Sweet Sixteen, focus immediately shifted to what was then a very uncertain future. Luke Maye, Kenny Williams, and Cameron Johnson, all starters and vital pieces to a team that won a share of the ACC regular season crown, exhausted their eligibility. Moreover, Coby White and Nassir Little declared for the NBA draft, leaving Carolina without a single one of its five leading scorers.
At that time, optimism levels were low, and understandably so — this is arguably the biggest roster turnover a Tar Heel team has experienced since the 2004-05 team lost each of its top seven scorers. It wasn’t long, though, before we were all reminded of a phrase that, at this point, should be hammered into every tenured Carolina fan’s head: Never doubt Ol’ Roy. In a span of less than two weeks, Coach Williams landed consensus top-3 recruit Cole Anthony, two reliable graduate transfers in Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce, and another top-100 recruit in Anthony Harris.
All of a sudden, a backcourt that appeared sparse after the losses of White, Williams, Johnson, and Little will feature a bevy of solid guards/wings competing for minutes. Not only that, but these additions have taken the Heels from a team potentially in rebuild mode to a team that could conceivably compete for a national championship. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the betting odds for the 2020 title recently released by Bleacher Report:
As it stands now, UNC is considered one of six teams with the best odds to take home the trophy. I know it’s probably too early to be discussing this team’s title aspirations given that half of the scholarship players on the roster have yet to even play a game in Carolina blue. Still, this is a major turnaround from how the Heels were being evaluated in early April.
The other teams with the best odds to win the 2020 championship are, in order, Michigan State, Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, and Memphis.
The Spartans return reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Cassius Winston and talented forward Xavier Tillman from a team that reached the final four. Additionally, they will get Joshua Langford back, a guy that was averaging 15 points per contest before suffering an ankle injury that caused him to miss the majority of the season.
Unsurprisingly, Kentucky loses four of its starters but will reload with another top-2 recruiting class while also adding coveted Bucknell grad transfer Nate Sestina. EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards are poised to take on larger roles after removing their names from the NBA draft, and incoming freshmen Tyrese Maxey and Kahlil Whitney figure to be instant-impact players.
Kansas also benefitted from a couple draft decisions when Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike decided to return to Lawrence. Now that Silvio De Sousa has been cleared to play by the NCAA, the Jayhawks are in position to reclaim their status as Big 12 Champions.
For the first time since 2015, Duke failed to obtain the top recruiting class. With the talented trio of Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, and Cam Reddish off to the NBA, the Blue Devils will look for incoming five-stars Vernon Carey Jr. and Matthew Hurt to shoulder much of the load. The return of Tre Jones provides a nice foundation for a team that otherwise loses the vast majority of its production from last season.
The aforementioned Duke recruiting streak was broken by none other than the Memphis Tigers. Penny Hardaway managed to snag the top player in the class in James Wiseman as well as five-star Precious Achiuwa and talented four-stars Boogie Ellis and DJ Jeffries. It remains to be seen if Hardaway can get all of this talent to mesh, but at the very least he boasts one of the most intimidating rosters in the country.
Though Kentucky and Duke have become accustomed to relying on freshmen, this year’s top teams will feature more inexperience than usual, and Carolina is no exception. Can the Tar Heels make a push for Roy Williams’ fourth national title with essentially a whole new cast of characters running the show?