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UNC Basketball: Predicting the 2020-21 starting lineup

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How this year’s team responds to last year will be really important, and these five players will be crucial pieces.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

This week the North Carolina Tar Heels officially unveiled their roster for the 2020-21 season. By now Carolina fans likely know the drill — many of the pieces from last year’s team will be returning with the addition of newcomers Caleb Love, RJ Davis, Walker Kessler, Day’Ron Sharpe, Puff Johnson, Kerwin Walton, and walk-on Creighton Lebo. It is also worth noting that Sterling Manley and Anthony Harris will both return as well after redshirting last season with injuries.

With official practices beginning October 14th, we do not yet have a whole lot of intel on what to expect in terms of lineups for the Heels. However, as we have done the last couple of years we will try to do our best to predict what the starting lineup will look like for the 2020-21 season. The big difference for this team compared to the last two teams? It’s not that hard to figure out most of the starters. Let’s go ahead and dive into each position, starting with the point guard spot.

Point Guard

With Cole Anthony leaving early for the NBA Draft after a devastating and bizarre loss to Syracuse in the ACC Tournament, Roy Williams had to find yet another highly-talented point guard to bring to campus and throw into the fire. This year it is Caleb Love, who is a five-star guard out of St. Louis, MO. He is coming out of Christian Brothers College as the 15th-best player in the country, and the second-best point guard in the country according to the 247Sports Composite.

Caleb Love has qualities that both Cole Anthony and Coby White had during their one year stays at UNC — he is a scoring point guard that will need time to develop into a true floor general during what is likely his only year in college. His ability to put points on the board was on full display his senior year, as he finished the season averaging 26.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game, and scored a career-high 42 points against East St. Louis High School. Love will be an immediate impact player for the Tar Heels, and he may just be an All-ACC player should he manage to stay healthy.

Prediction: Caleb Love

Shooting Guard

The Tar Heels have some interesting choices when it comes to who will start in the shooting guard spot this season. On one hand, we have Andrew Platek — a senior who by now knows Roy Williams’ system well and helped provide the team with some great hustle plays throughout the 2019-20 season. He finished out his junior year averaging 3.9 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game. The downside? His shooting percentage fell off a cliff from his first two seasons, averaging only 36.6% from the field and 22.8% from three. It would of course be understandable if someone wanted to be an apologist for any returning player’s shooting percentage from last season, but the truth remains that Platek has taken a couple of steps back during his tenure and I don’t know that he can do enough to earn the starting spot.

Then there is RJ Davis — a speedy four-star freshman that is known as a walking bucket. The fellow New Yorker finished his senior season averaging 26.5 points, 8 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 2.1 steals per game. He destroyed the Westchester County career scoring record, as he finished his career with 2,446 total points.

What this position will come down to is what does Roy Williams value more: senior leadership or pure talent. Considering what happened last season, I would be shocked if Williams passes on the chance to have Love and Davis on the floor together as much as he can, and at worst one of them has a bad night while the other one cooks. RJ Davis, welcome to the starting lineup.

Prediction: RJ Davis

Small Forward

While many of the returning players from last year’s team struggled quite a bit, there may not have been a bigger disappointment than Leaky Black. This sounds like a dig, but the fact of the matter is that Black was put in an uncomfortable situation where he was basically going back and forth between the small forward and point guard positions due to the high amount of injuries on the team. One of the goals this past season was to feature him more at the three spot, but at the end of the day things just didn’t work out with him as planned. This year’s team should be set at point guard, which means that we can ideally look forward to Leaky having the season that we all have been waiting for.

While Roy Williams could potentially consider freshman guard Puff Johnson for the starter spot, Black makes a lot more sense here. His experience alone goes a long way in this scenario, and I think he will be able to develop into more of that Swiss Army role that we saw with Theo Pinson a few years ago. The big question will be what version of a scoring threat will we get: the selective but efficient shooter from his freshman season, or the troubled shooter from last season? I have faith that it will be the former, but either way, his defensive skills and ability to crash the boards will more than make up for any scoring struggles.

Prediction: Leaky Black

Power Forward

This position is way too easy: Garrison Brooks will be the starting power forward for the Tar Heels. The ACC’s Most Improved Player is coming off of what was an extremely impressive season, and one that also earned him second-team All-ACC honors. He finished the season averaging 16.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, He not only was able to put up quite a few points on the board but was very efficient in doing so, finishing the season shooting at a 53.5% clip, which was good enough for fourth-best in the ACC.

Garrison Brooks is entering the stage of his career that we’ve seen from a number of bigs in the Roy Williams era. I expect him to have a monster season that will put him in the first-team All-American conversation, and without a doubt will make him an All-ACC player. The only true question that I have is the progress of his three-point shot, because if he is making them consistently enough that Roy Williams wants him to shoot it, we are going to be in for a lot of fun.

Prediction: Garrison Brooks

Center

There’s a very real possibility that college basketball has never seen such an outrageous amount of depth at the center position than what the Tar Heels have for this season. Armando Bacot, Walker Kessler and Day’Ron Sharpe all have a chance to fight for the starting position, with redshirt junior Sterling Manley and senior Walker Miller coming off the bench. What’s even crazier about this group is that the three players fighting for a starting spot were all five-star recruits coming out of high school. I don’t even know what to say whenever I think about it other than “wow”.

This pick is a tough one, because there is a lot of hype surrounding Day’Ron Sharpe’s arrival in Chapel Hill. However, if I were Roy Williams it’d be really hard to not at least start Armando Bacot at the beginning of the season. The sophomore finished his first season in Chapel Hill averaging 9.6 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, all while battling injuries throughout. While his production was very up and down throughout last season, Bacot is still a very nice compliment to what Garrison Brooks is able to do on the court. It’ll be hard to justify not starting them together since they know each other’s game and where they like to go on the floor fairly well, but if there is one thing we know about Roy Williams is that he is not shy when it comes to making changes based off who has the hot hand. We could see Sharpe or maybe even Kessler get the start at various points in the season.

Prediction: Armando Bacot