This time next week we will be digesting the first basketball game that counts for Carolina since the March 9th loss against Virginia. Eight long months that have seen major twists and turns, but finally basketball will be played.
Some seasons write themselves, such was the case last year when we thought we knew what was coming and it was just a matter of fine-tuning details. As it was, the season quickly blew up and a squad that had some of the best vibes you could imagine going into a season left a fan base dumfounded, angry, and confused over what would happen next. This season, though? With so much change and so much unknown some of the very basic things can’t be taken for granted and will need an answer.
With that said, let’s look at the five biggest questions staring at Carolina Basketball going into this season
1. Who are these guys?
That’s really the big question out of all of this, right? After last year, between graduations and transfers, the roster had a tremendous amount of overhaul that saw several familiar faces leave and a load of first years and transfers come in. Whereas last year at this time we knew who was walking onto that court, we’re going to be spending a good amount of the time this year learning about the likes of Cormac Ryan, Paxon Wonjcik, Jalen Washington, Jae’Lyn Withers, James Okonkwo, Harrison Ingram, Zayden High, and Elliot Cadeau. That is a lot of new names to have to assimilate, and a lot of different styles of play to get used to.
All of that change is exciting to say the least, the problem is we only get three games before the schedule ramps up to 11 to get used to the squad. It’s impossible to know what the chemistry and likability of this team is going to be with so many players unknown, but hopefully it’ll be fun getting to know so many new faces in Chapel Hill.
2. How will the point guard rotation work?
As of right now, we are to assume that RJ Davis will be the starting point guard given the fact that Elliot Cadeau came off of the bench against St. Augustine’s. But Cadeau showed a fair amount during the exhibition to get fans excited about the fact that the Tar Heels have a true point guard for the first time in a while. It brings the question of whether or not RJ Davis and Cadeau can co-exist, as Davis is fresh off having to deal with Caleb Love running the point and then thinking it was solely his. If the exhibition is any sign, they’ll be fine — Davis torched the floor with 22 points going 5-10 from three, while Cadeau had four assists and only one turnover. When someone reclassifies, it’s clear the point is for them to get one year in school and move on to the NBA, so how much pressure will Hubert Davis feel to make sure Cadeau does well enough to do just that?
3. Will Armando Bacot get number 5 retired?
This is Bacot’s last season in Chapel Hill, and while he’s gotten just about every scoring record one can think of and has also done enough to have his jersey honored, there’s a feeling that the leader of one of the most tumultuous eras of Carolina Basketball deserves to have his number retired. The criteria to have the number retired is clear: you have to be a national player of the year via the AP, Naismith, Wooden, Sporting News, Oscar Robertson, or the NABC. The problem for Bacot is that while he’s being mentioned as a preseason pick atop the ACC, he’s not really in the conversation for any one of those awards. He’ll likely have to have his best season ever as a Tar Heel in order to get into the conversation. The good news is that with more shooters and a focus to get the ball to him, he may have a shot at putting up the numbers that will get him in the conversation.
4. How deep will the bench go?
This was a problem last year, and we all know it. The team wore down as Davis only went about six deep for the majority of the season, and there was real frustration over the fact that multiple players seemingly couldn’t get major minutes on the floor in favor of those who were not performing. Based on where some players ended up transferring and their starting projections, it’s possible there was a bigger reason than Davis just being stubborn.
Either way, it’s clear now that with so many new faces, Davis doesn’t intend to play a short bench. Nine players had double-digit minutes in the exhibition, all of whom scored, and Paxton Wojcik had the most at 26. Also, notably, Bacot has backup in players like Jalen Washington who might finally allow him to not have to play 30 minutes a night. If reports are true and Davis is intent on going back to an up-tempo style with secondary breaks, this deep a rotation will be absolutely necessary or the Tar Heels will run out of gas quickly.
5. How warm is the seat under Hubert Davis?
Speaking of Davis and the way the team has played — it’s pretty clear he has made his mark with the players he views as “his guys” and the ones he felt like were being a drag on the program. Davis had some tough conversations with some players after last season that led to some key exits, and that combined with frustration over two mediocre regular seasons have the fan base restless heading into the season. The fact that he felt like there wasn’t really any talent on the bench is also an indictment on him, as he is the one who is supposed to develop that talent.
This has all combined to where Hubert brought in first years and transfers to reshape the program, cutting the grace he would normally get when players take their time to graduate. It’s not NCAA title or bust for this squad — history isn’t kind to teams that bring on reclassified players — but if the Tar Heels have another plodding ACC season, or can’t show signs of life during a difficult non-conference schedule, just how loud will the fan base be in wanting to go ahead and move on from Davis? That Davis was willing to change things up and show he wants to hit the reset button is a positive move, but the other part is to show that you can make the correct decisions when you hit that button. Another mediocre season might make the murmurs louder, whether you consider that fair or not.