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UNC basketball: What to expect out of the freshmen bigs

We are less than a month out from the season opener and the frontcourt is still a question mark.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina Midnight Madness Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Following its national championship victory over Gonzaga in April, the North Carolina Tar Heels returned a surprising amount of its backcourt. Justin Jackson and Nate Britt were the only perimeter players to leave the program, and the Heels welcomed in graduate transfer Cameron Johnson as well as freshmen Jalek Felton and Andrew Platek to fill that void. The story down low wasn’t quite the same, though.

All offseason, the biggest questions for UNC have been about its frontcourt and who will replace the production lost from last year. After the departures of the coveted rebounding trio of Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks, and Tony Bradley the attention turned to Luke Maye and another trio of freshmen bigs. This is likely the most uncertainty Roy Williams has ever faced from his post players since he has returned to Chapel Hill. He has been quick to point that out, too.

During his media day press conference, Williams jokingly took some shots at his young big men: “You take the best characteristic out of each one of them and put them into one player, you still wouldn’t have a player.” Williams continued that he wouldn’t say anything he hasn’t already told his players, so he’s obviously made it clear that he needs more from them.

So, what exactly can we expect from freshmen Garrison Brooks, Brandon Huffman, and Sterling Manley? The season is less than a month away and this question remains frighteningly unclear. Still, let’s break it down by each individual player.

Garrison Brooks appears to be the most polished of the three. Williams even acknowledged in his press conference that if the season were to start today, Brooks would be getting the most playing time. During the Late Night With Roy scrimmage, Brooks showed off an encouraging turnaround hook shot reminiscent of Tar Heel greats before him.

Assuming Roy sticks to the traditional lineup of three guards and two forwards, all signs point to Brooks being in the starting lineup. It takes a lot for Roy to go away from the conventional lineup, so if he slides Maye to the five we’ll know he has extremely little confidence in his freshmen post players, even Brooks.

Brandon Huffman was at one point considered to be just as good of a candidate to start as Brooks. While he isn’t quite as far along offensively, Huffman possesses size and length that can’t be taught. He will earn minutes if not just to provide a big body to pull down rebounds and protect the rim.

Williams doesn’t seem too satisfied with Huffman’s game beyond the painted area, but he did praise him for being a quick and emphatic dunker. Huffman looks like the kind of big body Roy can utilize in pick and roll situations. Given the speed and quickness of the guards, his mere presence could result in some easy layups and dunks.

Sterling Manley is probably the biggest question mark of this group, which is saying something given how questionable the unit is as a whole. After dealing with multiple injuries throughout his high school career, Manley is still trying to get his legs up to speed (literally).

Still, Manley is extremely long and physical. He could find himself in the mix if he can start making some significant strides (again, literally) in practice. Otherwise, Manley will likely play a limited role in his first season in Chapel Hill.

The good news for these freshmen is that the Tar Heel backcourt will be about as good as it’s ever been under Roy Williams. Led by Final Four MOP Joel Berry II and fellow senior Theo Pinson, the perimeter will account for the majority of the scoring. However, as has become the norm in Chapel Hill, Williams will push his bigs and get everything he possibly can out of them. It will be interesting to see how they respond.