This week, we’ve been looking back at the 2021-22 North Carolina Tar Heels men’s basketball season and handing out some grades. We’ll we’ve reached the end of it with one last post looking at the seniors, or a senior-adjacent grad transfer in one case.
Today, we’ve got two Tar Heels who were integral parts of the season and the run to the National Championship Game, whose efforts this season will be fondly remember for years to come.
After a couple seasons of large parts of the fan base looking at him with skepticism and frustration, Black showed exactly how good and important he was this season.
His contributions on the defense end are well known and well regarded, getting named to the All-ACC Defensive Team this past season. His ability to guard up and down the positional spectrum helped a ton over the course of the late season and NCAA Tournament run. His most famous contributions on that end of the floor will probably go down as his performances on AJ Griffin in UNC’s two wins over Duke. After Griffin went off in the first meeting between the teams, Black got the assignment on him in the second two, and shut him down twice. The importance of that job can easily be gleamed by just looking at the final scores. While Duke ran away with the first game as Griffin caught fire, UNC won the later two meetings, picking up two of the most famous wins in program history.
While Black didn’t (and never really had previously) go out and put up 20 points regularly, he also had probably his best season on the offensive end. While he only scored 4.9 points per game, Leaky shot the best percentage (46.6%) he has since he was a freshman when he had been used much more sparingly.
Black being more selective on the offensive end and having a more clear role helped immensely. He was much more efficient and put up a 122.4 Offensive Rating, by far the best of his career. He still took shots when he needed to keep opposing defenses honest, and occasionally knocked down some big shots, like his two threes in the Final Four against Duke.
UNC would not have turned things around and went on that NCAA Tournament run without Leaky Black becoming the player he has. Now, despite him being in the Seniors section of our grading posts, we’ll get to see it for one more year.
Oh man, what can you even say about Brady Manek? He may have only been a Tar Heel for one season, but his contributions have made him someone who will be beloved for UNC fans for life.
Manek finished the season as Carolina’s second leading scorer, going for 15.1 points per game, while shooting 40.3% from three. After Dawson Garcia returned home to be near family and Manek’s role expanded, those numbers went to 17.0 PPG with a 43.2% mark from three.
After things started to change after the Wake Forest loss, Manek dropped 20 points seven times, with UNC coming out the winner in six of those games. UNC had a similar record in games where he knocked down at least four threes, with his ability to stretch the defense helping open things up for the rest of the team as well.
Like Black and much of the rest of the roster, Manek was at his best down the stretch, helping the Heels on the NCAA Tournament run. He had a massive performance against Duke in Cameron, during which he used a color catchphrase than would make several appearances over the rest of the season.
His importance especially showed in the Round of 32 win over Baylor. Manek scored 26 points in 28 minutes helping UNC build up a big lead over the Bears. He was then questionably ejected on Flagrant 2 for an errant elbow, and the Heels melted down and nearly lost the game.
His defense sometimes left things to be desired, but by the end of the season, he was putting in crucial performances on that end as well. He did an admirable job against Paolo Banchero in both wins over Duke.
In distant future years, people make look at Manek’s UNC career and just write it off as one pretty decent year, but anyone who watched him in Carolina Blue will know just how much he meant to this forever beloved team.
He didn’t do enough for a full grade, but shoutout to the only person listed as a senior on the roster: walk-on Ryan McAdoo. As is tradition, he got the start on Senior Night, and in general has provided three seasons of service to UNC basketball.
While we’re getting one more year out of Leaky, Black and Manek will forever go down in UNC lore for their efforts this season as part of the “Iron Five.”