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UNC Basketball Summer Preview: RJ Davis

The ever-consistent guard is back for his senior season.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Starting with the upperclassmen, we are now on our fifth player of our summer previews and we have reached our first and only true senior. I’d say that’s a solid reflection of the experience this squad will have, even if there are a lot of new faces. While there may be concern with the fact that there are just 10 scholarship players on the roster (and that doesn’t seem likely to change), Hubert Davis has shown a propensity to play a tight lineup. This group may not appear to be the flashiest on the surface but it’s comprised of winners. In my opinion, there isn’t a guy that fits that bill better than our next player: RJ Davis.

Past Previews links:

Armando Bacot

Cormac Ryan

Paxson Wojcik

Jae’Lyn Withers

Davis has been a source of consistency for Carolina throughout his career. Even last season when the team shot 31.2% from three, Davis led everyone with a 36.2% clip despite dealing with a hand injury at multiple junctures. As a 35.5% shooter for his career, Davis has managed to stay efficient despite relatively high volume, even as a freshman. Shooting aside, what allows him to be such a rock is his relentless effort. Davis brings the intensity every time out and doesn’t allow a bad shooting night to affect the rest of his game. He excels in areas that are unusual for a player of his size such as defensive rebounding and drawing charges.

Last season, Davis averaged 16.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 3.2 assists while shooting 43.8% from the field, 36.2% from three, and 88.1% from the free throw line. He was second in scoring, third in rebounding, and he led the team in assists, 3P%, and FT%. The numbers are a testament to his aforementioned consistency but they still don’t tell the whole story.

During what became a tumultuous season for the Heels, Davis was oftentimes the one keeping everyone afloat. Arguably the biggest issue for the team was an inability to knock down open shots, but Davis pretty regularly converted on his clean looks. He just wasn’t able to get nearly as many due to his teammates’ struggles and the attention he got as a result. They say free throw percentage is the best indicator of a shooter’s capability. Given his 88.1% clip and what we’ve already seen from Davis, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect him to be upwards of 40% from three with the right pieces in place.

Speaking of, a lot of pieces have been moved around throughout this offseason. There are just four players returning from last year’s squad with a bevy of tranfers both in and out of the program. The most significant move, and the one that influences Davis the most, was the reclassification of five-star point guard Elliot Cadeau.

There were questions about whether Cadeau was making the right decision but the kid has undeniable talent. I personally would be surprised if he doesn’t start from day one and receive significant minutes. This means that we will likely see him alongside Davis in the backcourt which, while exciting, does raise some size concerns.

With Davis listed at 6-0, and Cadeau at 6-1, these two would be an especially small 1-2 punch in today’s college game. Given that Davis was at times exploited when forced to guard a bigger guy, it might seem counterintuitive to add another undersized player. However, Cadeau is by no means your typical 6-1 guard. To me, the offensive potential of these two together is far too enticing to worry too much about size.

In a lot of ways, Cadeau appears to be the perfect compliment to Davis. He’s an elite athlete and while fairly ball dominant, he’s very much a pass-first guard. Davis, while not the same level of athlete, is just as quick and dangerous. He’ll likely have to adjust to playing off the ball more but Davis has proven himself reliable on catch-and-shoot opportunities. With Cadeau’s creativity and vision, I imagine Davis will get plenty of chances.

The biggest question with these two guards will be how well they’re able to push the pace. By all accounts, this lineup appears capable of displaying the vintage Carolina break. Davis and Cadeau are not only gifted ball-handlers but also better than you’d expect on the defensive glass. Thus, with Armando Bacot and a stable of skilled wings, there should be plenty of opportunities for quick buckets if the Heels are purposeful about it. While I believe speeding the game up is one of the keys to success offensively, it could also help shore up holes on the defensive end and offset the lack of size.

At the end of the day, this team still belongs to Davis and Bacot. Whatever Carolina hopes to accomplish this season, it starts with the two of them. After the emotional rollercoaster of the last couple years, these guys are eager to go out with a bang. No matter what happens, Davis and Bacot aren’t going down without a fight.