After a convincing first round victory over Marquette, the Tar Heels appeared to be on their way to another such win as they held a 25-point lead over top-seeded Baylor. However, things began to unravel after Brady Manek was handed a flagrant 2 and ejected from the game. Eventually, Caleb Love fouled out and Carolina turned to an inexperienced bench as it tried to hold off the Baylor comeback. Puff Johnson and Justin McKoy performed admirably after being thrown into the fire, but it was a freshman that arguably saved the day: Dontrez Styles.
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Styles played the final 15 minutes of that Baylor game (including overtime). He finished a couple tough layups (one coming off a steal in the backcourt) that allowed the Tar Heels to stay afloat while the rest of the team couldn’t buy a bucket. Not only that, but he brought a spark of energy, flying around the court and diving for loose balls. I briefly mentioned it in my preview of D’Marco Dunn, but the biggest play Styles made, and in my opinion one of the biggest plays of the tournament for UNC, came on the first possession of overtime. With the shot clock running low, Styles received the ball in the corner, jab stepped, and calmly knocked down a contested three. You could feel the hysteria and panic of the last 10 minutes of regulation vanish into thin air and it was all of a sudden Carolina’s game again.
Due to game situation, it won’t be remembered like say, the Caleb Love shot, but that doesn’t undermine its importance. The Heels went from the wheels falling off to being right back in the driver’s seat, and they never looked back. Regardless of what is to come, Styles will go down in UNC history for his assistance in getting the Heels to the second weekend, and ultimately to the title game. That being said, I’m excited to see what the future holds.
For the vast majority of the season, Styles was used sparsely off the bench. He averaged 5.8 minutes, 2.0 points, and 1.4 rebounds while playing 30 of a possible 39 games. With such and abundance of guards and wings, there wasn’t a ton of room for Styles to break through. However, when he started receiving more opportunities during the latter half of the season, he showed some really nice glimpses.
In a lot of ways, Styles’ freshman year reminded me of James Michael McAdoo in 2011-2012. McAdoo came off the bench for a star-studded Heels squad that included the likes of Kendall Marshall, Harrison Barnes, Reggie Bullock, John Henson, and Tyler Zeller. He went in the game for short spirts, but because of the team’s offensive firepower, he had the freedom to show off his athleticism with hustle plays and high-flying putback dunks. I’d argue Styles was forced to display more of his game, but he had a similar luxury by not garnering as much attention from the defense.
I’d also argue Styles’ overall game is more developed at this point than a pre-sophomore McAdoo. He’s a supreme athlete and a super physical ball player. Styles seeks out contact when he gets the ball going down hill and has already proved he can hold his own with college bigs. He also has excellent handles for a guy his size.
Defensively, Styles’ length was oftentimes an issue, especially for teams that neglected him in the scouting report. He’s an instinctual defender and does a great job of getting his hands in passing lanes. His lateral quickness has room for improvement, but he’s still versatile enough to guard at least three positions.
The addition of Pete Nance this summer makes things a little trickier for Styles, but he’s still presumably in line for a much larger role this coming season. The big question mark this offseason has been who will replace Brady Manek. Nance’s skillset is the closest to that of Manek’s, but the reality is no single player will replace what he brought. With that being said, I cannot wait to see what Styles does in his sophomore campaign.