It’s almost here, folks. We are now just one day away from the North Carolina basketball team tipping off its season, as they get set to face College of Charleston in the Dean Dome tomorrow night. Tar Heel players, coaches, and fans alike have been eager to get this year underway so they can forget about the disaster that was last season.
The Tar Heels lost a couple key players in Cole Anthony and Brandon Robinson. Additionally, graduate transfers Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce obviously exhausted their eligibility and Roy Williams also had a pair of players, Jeremiah Francis and Brandon Huffman, transfer out of the program. Factor that in with the fact that Williams is expected to rely heavily on his heralded freshman class, and there are lots of questions to be answered about this team. Without further ado, here are three things to watch tomorrow night.
Dominating the Paint
During the two seasons after Carolina won the 2017 national championship, the Tar Heels didn’t quite have the size we’ve grown accustomed to seeing, oftentimes forced to roll out smaller lineups. Last season, the arrival of Armando Bacot enabled the Heels to move back to a more traditional two-big lineup. The problem was that team struggled mightily to make shots beyond fifteen feet which allowed defenses to hone in on Bacot and projected ACC player of the year Garrison Brooks.
With perhaps a little more optimism about the shooting threats on this team, this could be a Tar Heel frontcourt that imposes its will on teams. In addition to the aforementioned Brooks and Bacot, Coach Williams signed two five-star centers in Day’Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler. It’s been a while since the Heels have had this kind of depth with their big men.
That being said, the number one goal tomorrow will be to feed the ball inside. Garrison Brooks is not only the leader of this team but he’s also its best player. The offense should go through him until further notice. Moreover, Bacot was inconsistent at times last season but there’s no reason to think he won’t take a leap forward this year. Look for those two to get their work done early so the talented freshmen can come in as the proverbial back-breakers.
How will the Freshmen perform?
It’s already been mentioned but the freshmen on this team are set to play a big role. I talked about Sharpe and Kessler and where they’ll fit in with the bigs but Tar Heel fans are probably most curious about Caleb Love. Love is a 6-3, 190-pound point guard from Saint Louis. He was a five-star and slotted 14th overall in the 2020 class according to 247sports composite rankings.
Love is a quick athlete, natural scorer, and overall pretty nice fit for Roy Williams’ transition offense. He’s essentially expected to receive the torch from Cole Anthony as the third consecutive freshman to start at point guard for the Heels. It’ll be interesting how Love handles the duty as we all know it’s not easy to be a freshman learning how to run Williams’ offense. Carolina will need him to figure it out pretty fast, especially with the condensed schedule.
R.J. Davis is another newcomer that fans will be looking for. Davis is a 6-0, 160-pound combo guard from White Plains, New York. He’s exceptionally quick, crafty with the ball, and simply has a knack for making plays. Davis, like Love, was a prolific scorer in high school, notching 2,446 career points. Now at the college level, these two will once again be called upon for their ability to put the ball in the hoop.
Lastly, there’s Puff Johnson and Kerwin Walton. Both players were known in high school for their outside shooting ability. Neither is expected to serve a major role in the rotation this season, but that could easily change if one or both of them is able to come off the bench and hit shots.
One of the worst aspects of last season’s debacle was watching players give everything they had on the court only to come up short over and over again. Brandon Robinson and Garrison Brooks were two guys that brought it every single game and you could see the losses start to wear on them mentally. As a fan, that’s a hard thing to watch.
So let’s get back to having fun, shall we? It’s a brand new season, and the Tar Heels still have everything in front of them. I’m not worried right now about the team’s chances in the ACC or potential NCAA tournament seeding or anything like that. Tomorrow, Carolina basketball returns, and I don’t know about y’all, but I’m going to enjoy it.