We’ve finally reached the conclusion of our summer basketball previews. I apologize for allowing these to leak into late September (pun intended), but it was over 90 degrees outside at the time of this writing, so it checks out. Anyways, we’ve covered many of the stars that made last season so special as well as some exciting newcomers, including fifth-year transfer Pete Nance. While four years of college experience is super valuable to have on this squad, nothing is more valuable than four years of Carolina experience. That brings us to the final player in our preview series: Leaky Black.
Past preview links:
I’ll start by tooting my own horn a little bit. In last year’s summer preview of Black, I brought up the comparison between Leaky and Theo Pinson. I talked about how, because of the makeup of the teams he played on, Theo got to be Theo. At that point, I didn’t feel that Leaky had truly gotten the opportunity to be Leaky, but that 2021-2022 could finally be that chance. Now, I don’t think there’s a doubt in anyone’s mind that Leaky did indeed get to be Leaky, and boy was it fun to watch.
Recording 4.9 points, 2.7 assists, and 4.3 rebounds in his senior campaign, Black’s scoring average was actually the lowest it had been since he was a freshman. However, his 46.6% shooting from the field was a major jump from his junior season (36.7%). For perhaps the first time since he became a starter, there was no pressure on Black to be a scorer. That’s not to say he can’t score the ball, but with multiple guys to depend on for that production, Black was able to focus more on faciliating, setting screens, and finding cutting lanes. As a result, his efficiency numbers increased and he appeared much more comfortable within the offense.
Although he managed just 33.3% shooting from the outside, Black’s improvement in that area has been apparent. Many teams elected to sag off of him and give him space to shoot, at least until he started making them pay. Black went 3-3 from beyond the arc in the Heels’ overtime win over Louisville and he hit a couple huge threes in the Final Four against Duke. He was actually over 41% from deep for just the regular season. Thus, Black has proven he can knock down shots when called upon, which will once again be valuable for a team that should have plenty of offensive firepower.
Of course, when you think Leaky Black, the first thing that comes to your mind probably isn’t offense. Right before our eyes, Black has developed into a legitimate lockdown defender, the first such player that UNC has had since Jackie Manuel on the 2005 championship team. Speaking of Manuel, Hubert Davis brought the former Heel in to be part of his staff ahead of last season. Coincidence? I think not.
I remember in January, after Carolina beat Georgia Tech for the second time, much was made of Black’s performance guarding Michael Devoe. Despite his team’s shortcomings, Devoe had been putting up big numbers. Not only did Black end that scoring trend, but Devoe could hardly even get a shot off, going 1-5 from the field and notching just two points. Being the pessimistic fan I am, I chalked it up as inferior competition and still wasn’t convinced he could maintain that level against top teams. Well, Leaky Black is no stranger to proving people wrong.
From that point on, Black’s defensive prowess became an extremely useful weapon for Coach Davis and the Tar Heels. It was understood that he would guard the opposing team’s best player, and he took that challenge personally, locking down guys like Matthew Mayer, A.J. Griffin (twice), and Ochai Agbaji. Because his box score numbers don’t jump out at you, Black didn’t always get the credit he deserved, but there was nobody in college basketball better at defending one-on-one. I don’t expect that to change this year.
With that said, I don’t see Black’s role being much different from last season. He understands exactly what he needs to do to help the team win, and with the Heels returning everyone except Brady Manek, it should be more of the same. As a Jack of all Trades, Black will continue to impact the game in a million different ways and make the stars of the league look like they’ve never picked up a basketball before. I am simply elated that we get a fifth year from Leaky Black, and I cannot wait to see the 2022-23 edition of the North Carolina Tar Heels.