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UNC Basketball: Strengths and weaknesses of the 2020-21 Tar Heels roster

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Now that the roster is likely complete, it’s safe to say that this team may have the legs to avoid another 2019-20 catastrophe.

NCAA Basketball: N.C. State at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

As many of you know, things have gotten a little more exciting in Tar Heel Nation than they had been since COVID-19 shut down everything. Cole Anthony announced he was entering the NBA Draft, Brandon Huffman and Jeremiah Francis announced that they were transferring, and just yesterday four-star shooting guard Kerwin Walton committed to UNC to likely complete the 2020-21 roster. The good news? We can all exhale after Roy Williams managed to add a little bit more depth to the backcourt. The somewhat bad news? I’d be very surprised if the final scholarship is taken by anybody outside of the program. In short, this is (probably) it.

November is quite a ways away, and for once that is probably a good thing. Right now sports are still canceled, and there are a lot of questions about what it’ll take for it to be safe enough for sports teams to play their respective games with no crowds, let alone in front of the masses. College basketball is somewhat blessed to have this much time before it matters too much, so it’s not a complete reach to assume that we will get some version of it in November. With that said, let’s take a look at the 2020-21 North Carolina Tar Heels roster, and break down some strengths and weaknesses.

Key Departures

PG - Cole Anthony

PG - Jeremiah Francis

Key Additions

PG - Caleb Love

PG - R.J. Davis

C - Day’ron Sharpe

C - Walker Kessler

SF - Puff Johnson

SG - Kerwin Walton

Biggest Strength

What stands out to me about this particular Carolina roster is that it’s a little bit hard to figure out what will be the biggest strength on this team if you’re looking at one specific part of the court. I spent a good amount of time believing that the frontcourt would be the highlight of this team, as it’s almost unfair that Garrison Brooks, Armando Bacot, Walker Kessler, Day’Ron Sharpe, and Sterling Manley are the players that opponents will have to deal with in the paint. However, the guard situation also makes a strong argument for the biggest strength despite the group being very young. Caleb Love, R.J. Davis, and Kerwin Walton are the newcomers and are known as high-level shooters, and perhaps what I will be the most interested in seeing from them is how they adapt to the college game on the defensive side of the ball. For that reason, I have to give an edge to the bigs.

Garrison Brooks is coming off of a highly productive season, as he finished his junior campaign averaging 16.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. He’s always been a brick wall on defense, and I think Armando Bacot is a good compliment to the things he does on the floor. Speaking of Bacot, despite talk that he was a one-and-done player, he will be returning for his sophomore season. I feel like he is a good complimentary piece to what Brooks is able to do on the floor, and his 9.6 points and 8.3 rebounds per game this past season were pretty reflective of growing pains and actual pains alike. We should see a respectable jump from Bacot in 2020 should he manage to stay healthy and work on some of his foul issues before November.

When factoring in all of the hype that surrounds Day’Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler, I really do think that this unit will be the most important for UNC. Would it surprise me if the guards steal the spotlight? Not at all, but I have a feeling that Roy Williams is going to have a field day torturing opposing coaches with his bigs, and I personally can’t wait to see it.

Biggest Weakness

The small forward spot has been a bit of an issue for Roy Williams ever since Cam Johnson graduated. During the 2019-20 season, Brandon Robinson and Leaky Black filled that particular spot to some degree, but Black specifically ended up having to play a lot of point guard due to injuries, and Brandon Robinson spent a lot of the season injured. Things are a little different for this roster, but it’s not much different, and who knows at this point if it will be enough.

Unless something miraculous happens, Leaky Black and Puff Johnson will be the only small forwards on the roster. Black is coming off of a bit of a turbulent sophomore season, as he finished averaging 6.5 points, 5 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game while shooting 35.9% from the field. His three-point percentage took a nose dive from his freshman year, as he only knocked down 25.4% of his three-point attempts as opposed to the 41.7% that he shot in 2018-19. The good news is that I’d expect to see improvement in 2020 under the assumption that he gets to focus more on that particular position, and health will also be a major factor in what we see from him.

When looking at Puff Johnson, what UNC is getting is someone that shows flashes of what his brother could do but ultimately is a different player. To get the obvious similarity out of the way, Johnson is known to be a long-range shooter that teams are going to have to respect whenever he’s on the floor. However, Puff seems to be more willing to do some damage near the rim than his brother, and he also seems to be more comfortable in the open court than even his brother was when he first arrived in Chapel Hill. Like small forwards before him, he’ll need some conditioning to improve his strength/explosiveness, but ultimately Johnson was a clutch commitment for the Tar Heels.

What scares me about this particular unit is depth, and I think the reasons why are obvious. We don’t know how healthy Leaky Black will be throughout the season, and Puff Johnson will likely not be able to play massive minutes unless he undergoes some impressive self-quarantined conditioning. I feel like this may open the door for Roy Williams to play three bigs with two guards, or vice versa occasionally, and in a three-bigs set I’d expect Kessler to fill in and give teams a headache with his ability to stretch the floor. Maybe it’s a non-issue, but I personally have never been a fan of this position lacking depth.

And there you have it. These are the 2020-21 North Carolina Tar Heels. What do you think of what is likely the final roster? What areas of concerns do you have, and what are you excited for? Let us know in the comments below.