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UNC Basketball: Breakout Candidates

Some major usage monsters have departed, so there’s available sunlight on the jungle floor. Who will grow into the canopy?

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

As Tar Heel fans gear up for the upcoming 2023-24 season, there are a couple of known quantities on the Carolina team. Armando Bacot will gobble up rebounds and dominate the paint. RJ Davis will drive, dish, and dazzle as UNC’s top playmaker. But for the rest? Possibilities abound.

Here are three players who are top breakout candidates.

Jalen Washington

Pete Nance is gone. Leaky Black, who periodically slotted in at the “4” is gone. Justin McKoy, who could play the post in a pinch, is living that good island life at Hawaii. Armando Bacot cannot play 40 mpg. So that means somebody needs to take some heavy post minutes.

Jalen Washington was an interesting piece from last season. He was eased into the rotation — not playing until December — as he was still recovering from a knee surgery that robbed him of his senior high school year. On the season, he averaged 5.6 mpg, but he didn’t play more than seven minutes in a game until he was forced into action at Virginia when Armando Bacot went down with another ankle sprain.

In his longest appearance of the season, Washington didn’t disappoint, scoring 13 points and grabbing six rebounds in a career-high 27 minutes:

He wouldn’t sniff that much playing time for the rest of the season.

With another off-season to heal and strengthen his knee, acclimatize to college basketball speed, and work with a host of new players, we could see more of what Jalen has to offer. He is more floor spacing than powerful, the way Bacot plays. He has a nice stutter-step midrange jumper that he uses to great affect. And against St. Augustine in the exhibition game, he did something he hasn’t done in college yet, but did in high school quite often: hit a three-pointer (he was 2-3 from downtown).

Harrison Ingram started the exhibition game and reportedly the secret scrimmage against Florida Atlantic at power forward. If Hubert Davis decides he needs more size in the post, he could look to slide the 6’7” Ingram to small forward and the 6’10” Washington next to Bacot on the blocks.

Cormac Ryan

Notre Dame transfer Cormac Ryan will be an interesting piece on the wing. He has the size and grit to guard shooting guards and small forwards, so he is likely going to be a poor man’s Leaky Black on defense. On offense, though? It’s an upgrade.

Last season, he averaged 12.3 ppg on 40.9 FG% and 34.4 3P%. Hubert Davis is betting Ryan can bump those numbers up to his junior season line of 45.4 FG% and 40.7 3P%. Leaky, for all of the defensive solidity he brought, caused opposing defenses to tilt towards Bacot, RJ Davis, and Caleb Love because of how hesitant he was to shoot. Cormac Ryan has no such reservations, as evidenced by his eye-opening performance against Alabama in the 2022 NCAA Tournament:

Bacot will suck help defenders into the post and RJ and Ingram should keep defenders spaced wide on the perimeter. If Cormac Ryan catches the ball ready to shoot, he could put some serious numbers up for the Tar Heels.

Seth Trimble

At point guard, RJ Davis is a known quantity. Elliot Cadeau was electric, making plays we haven’t seen in Chapel Hill since Kendall Marshall’s heyday. But both of these point guards are on the small-ish side and could be targeted by opposing offenses. Plus, Cadeau was whistled for four fouls in just 22 minutes.

Of the point guards on UNC’s roster, Seth Trimble is the one you’d least like to get tackled by. At 6’3”, 195 lbs, and with a new D’Angelo inspired haircut, Trimble is the guard that Hubert Davis can throw on the court to shackle a hot guard.

Trimble had some trepidation shooting during his freshman season, and only averaged 1.8 ppg. He has more to offer driving to the basket and if he removes a little hitch he showed in his jump shot, there’s no reason not to expect a jump in his 45.5 FG% and woeful 16.7 3P%.

Trimble’s biggest obstacle to showing significant growth is how many minutes Hubert Davis will give RJ Davis, and whether or not Davis and Cadeau will play heavy minutes together on the floor.