The North Carolina Tar Heels kick off the 2022-23 men’s basketball season Monday night versus UNC Wilmington. Expectations are in the thermosphere for Carolina and this season-opening four-game home stand should serve as a tune-up before heading west to the Phil Knight Invitational.
December will a challenging month for the Tar Heels, with several marquee matchups and the start of the ACC schedule. These opening games are critical in gaining valuable game experience for the younger guys and getting the veterans tuned up.
Below are a few things to watch on Monday night against UNCW.
RJ Davis Injury
RJ Davis did not play in the Johnson C. Smith exhibition game due to a “sprained right hand.” All reports point to him returning for the opener, but there is not much detail on how his hand was injured or the extent of the injury.
It seems as though this was just a precautionary measure, but it will be important to keep an eye on if there are any limitations or lingering effects. Davis played and started in all 39 games last season, so you just hope that the pendulum does not swing the other way this year.
Besides Davis’s absence in the exhibition game, senior Justin McKoy, junior Puff Johnson, and freshman Jalen Washington missed that game with a range of issues. McKoy was out with an illness and Johnson had soreness in his right knee. These two are expected back in the lineup. Washington is still rehabbing his injured knee, and a timetable to return is not yet known.
Even with these four missing from the exhibition game, nine players had double-digit minutes on the floor versus Johnson C. Smith. It will be curious to see how long Hubert Davis’s bench will be in these first four games in Chapel Hill.
Unlike last season, the Tar Heels should have the quality depth to give the presumptive five starters a little more rest. Pete Nance slots into the starting lineup, with McKoy, Johnson, Dontrez Styles, and D’Marco Dunn are returning reserves. Redshirt freshman Will Shaver, along with the talented additions of Washington, Tyler Nickel, and Seth Trimble, provide Davis with lots of options off the bench.
This team is on a mission to Houston, but providing experience to the future of the roster will be a secondary consideration as the team progresses this season.
Pete Nance’s Role
The obvious answer to Nance’s role is to replace Brady Manek in the starting lineup. However, it will be interesting to see how his style changes the dynamics on the floor. Manek really stretched in the stretch four, as he attempted more than two-and-a-half times the number of threes that Nance did last season.
Despite this, Nance still hit a higher percentage of threes last season. Nance struggled in the exhibition beyond the arc, but his strengths will be closer to the bucket. Nance’s overall field goal percentage was higher than Manek’s last season, and he had more assists on a Northwestern team that ranked 121st of 358 teams in points per game.
Nance seems to be a more skilled rebounder, and coming into the Carolina system, he will have the opportunity to make a career year on the glass. If Davis and Caleb Love continue to improve from three, Nance’s strengths of court vision and rebounding may be even more beneficial to this team.