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UNC Basketball: The Tar Heels returning four starters puts them in a strong position heading into the 2022-23 season

All of the starters who could return are coming back, so what does it mean?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament East Regional-St. Peters Peacocks vs North Carolina Tar Heels Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

With Caleb Love’s announcement yesterday that he is, in fact, back for the 2022-23 college basketball season, the Tar Heels now, basically, already know what their team will be going into next season. The decision has huge ramifications for the Tar Heels, both in the short and long term. So, in celebration of Caleb’s decision, let’s take immediate stock of what this is going to mean for UNC both in the short term and long term.

Short Term

National Title or Bust

It’s pretty obvious what the goal of the team is. Even if it’s always the goal for the Tar Heels, next year is not going to be one where you have a “feel good” run.

All four players are not going to return unless they have their eyes on hoisting the trophy on April 3rd, 2023 in Reliant Stadium in Houston. Fans may look at their extraordinary championship game run this past season as something to enjoy, but when you open up your locker and have a picture of the Superdome from the start of the year, the goal is a title.

This alone is going to be interesting to see how this team handles it. You can’t say the team had trouble with pressure by the end of the year, winning two games against Duke and upsetting Baylor pretty much tells you what they can do when the weight of the world is on them, but this will be a different type of pressure that no one on the squad has faced: that of a favorite everyone expects to win. Will the team come out with a fire like they had at the end of last season, or will they know that, in the end, all that matters is where they finish April? It’s a fascinating subplot going into the season.

Cohesive Development

With Love deciding to return, the Tar Heels have a full boat of scholarships for 2022-23 and will have something worth more than anything: a calm offseason. The coaching staff now knows what players they’ll have, and the players already know what coaching staff they’ll have and what to expect from them. This should help alleviate a lot of the inconsistencies we saw from the Tar Heels until very last in this past season.

It’s also going to add something to the summer pickup games, where players who are currently in the pros will be able to come in and make sure these guys know that they have taken out Duke twice, but they still have a lot to learn to improve their game. They’ll especially need to head the actions and advice of guys like Justin Jackson, Joel Berry, and Theo Pinson who can tell them exactly what it takes to come back and try to avenge a title game defeat. It’s a resource that few other schools can draw on.

Bench Development

Part of the reason for the Iron Five was Hubert Davis’ emphasis on making sure the team won games. The only way that players who didn’t start could make an impression was in practice, but with a new staff it was difficult for these players to draw upon experience to improve. Players like Dontrez Styles, D’Marco Dunn, and Kerwin Walton saw next to no timer during the season because of this.

Now that Davis has bought time by showing he’s the right man for the job, there may be less of a stress on him to win early games and to go back to what Roy Williams would do: play a bigger bench early in order to get more game experience and allow them to be able to play bigger roles. Realistically, you shouldn’t be asking your starting five to continue to average 30 minutes a game, and without a spare scholarship to go into the transfer portal, there’s no reason why the Tar Heels should just rely on five to seven players a game.

The fact that the three above mentioned players aren’t going to the portal despite their 2021-22 season not being anywhere what they thought it would be means that they were satisfied with the discussion they had with the coaching staff at the end of the year. They wouldn’t stay unless they were told they had a realistic shot at getting more minutes, and now that the coaching staff is a known quantity, their work this offseason should be better suited for them to play with this staff.

Long Term

Program Building

To say the last few offseasons have been chaotic is to put it mildly. 2019 saw Coby White departing and the introduction of Cole Anthony, 2020 was...2020. Last season saw the retirement of Roy Williams, the hiring of Hubert Davis and the staff, the scramble to replace Walker Kessler and Da’Ron Sharpe with the transfer portal as well as trying to convince players to stay at Carolina with the transfer portal now available.

In short, the Tar Heels have yet to have a cohesive offseason until now.

Hubert Davis has four recruits signed and ready to come into the program next year. Two centers, a small forward, and a guard. Who’s coming back for Carolina?

A center, a small forward, and two guards.

The big men are going to have to go up against Armando in practice, the forwards will have to hit up against the country’s best defender in Leaky Black, and a freshman guard isn’t going to be asked to handle all of the weight of running the offense. Instead he’ll get to go up against two guards in practice who will teach him what he needs to know to keep going. They’ll also learn from this year’s freshmen about what it means when you aren’t getting playing time. It puts the team in a better position for ‘23-’24.

NIL

There’s no doubt that part of the reason that everyone is coming back is because of the promise of money from the NCAA’s NIL. The concept was still really new last year when Hubert Davis came on board and the team really didn’t have a lot of time to assess what they could do for the guys on the squad.

The return of all of this talent is a known quantity that has already proved marketable to outside interests. Now with a full offseason and a taste of what their potential could be, the program will be able to use this offseason to build a beast of an NIL program that will not only help their current players, but be used as a way to market themselves to other recruits. Our friends at Breaking T have already shown that the folks responsible for these decisions have learned their lesson quickly, as once they got the license to sell UNC merchandise and player merchandise, ideas for shirts would be approved quickly and put up for sale in time to capitalize on momentum.

It’s clear those results were good to the players because that was a huge factor in their return. When you’re now having to fend off the G-League from taking 18-year olds, as well the potential of the NBA’s one and done rule eventually being repealed, any tool you have to bring a talented player to your school is a good one.

Recruiting

The coaching staff is not going to have to spend any time this offseason looking into the transfer portal to fill a hole, and they already have all of their 2022 recruits signed. The fact that they won’t have to spend anytime now filling in the spots for next year means they can work that much harder ton 2023 and beyond.

We’re all waiting on the decision of a certain 2023 recruit, but even if he does commit to Carolina the Tar Heels are going to have other holes in 2023, especially if the season ends the way we all hope it will. The coaches are going to be able to spend more time looking over tape of recruits. More importantly, the long term stability where the current class coming in will have time to learn and grow should take some pressure off of future years of the transfer portal. It’s going to create a template for this staff each offseason on how to continue to build and improve.

All of this adds up to arguably the best offseason for the Tar Heels since 2016. Let’s hope 2023 has the same result as 2017.