With one game underway in the 2017-18 college basketball season, this is the second best time to make outrageously confident predictions about how the rest of the season will go (the first being, of course, immediately after a loss in a game the losing team was favored in). There was a lot of reason for optimism after UNC’s not-as-close-as-the-final-score 86-69 win against Northern Iowa, as the Heels cruised to victory without their two best proven scorers, one of whom was their starting point guard. Here are some the ridiculous predictions we’re making from the results of just one game:
There’s usually a general consensus as to who will be a team’s leader in the five major stats, with a little extra uncertainty when it comes to blocks and steals, where more than 1 a game is a very big deal. For the Heels, I think most expect the leaders in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals to be Joel Berry (except for Jake), Luke Maye, Theo Pinson, one of the freshman bigs, and Kenny Williams (except for Kyle), respectively. Second place gets much muddier, and hence much more fun to try and predict. Let’s pick out some things here.
- Luke Maye had an unprecedented coming-out party against UNI, shattering his career high with 26 points in 28 minutes and looking generally unstoppable on offense. Many had thought Cameron Johnson would be the second-leading scorer on this year’s team with Maye providing the occasional spark, much as he did last year, but he showed against the Panthers that he could shoulder a starter’s load and score in a variety of ways. 7 out of 13 writers thought he showed enough to earn consideration as UNC’s second-leading scorer.
- Garrison Brooks was getting buzz all offseason as being a step ahead of his classmates in the post, and he showed why with a 14-point performance, the most a UNC freshman has scored in his first game since Harrison Barnes. He also pulled in 6 rebounds and showed some grit, enough to convince 6 writers that he would continue to clean up the glass behind Luke Maye, who led the team with 10 rebounds.
- Kenny Williams was the only perimeter player who played on Sunday who did not have experience playing point guard. He showed an ability to distribute on Friday that he hadn’t displayed before, and 5 writers believe the change is for real and that he will be one of UNC’s leading distributors - the same number of writers who believe it will be Berry, the starting point guard.
- If there’s one thing the freshman post players have done so far, it’s protect the rim. Brandon Huffman had 5 blocks in the exhibition against Barton College, and while none of the three recorded a block against UNI, they certainly altered shots. All but 3 writers believe one of them will be UNC’s second-leading shot blocker.
- Theo Pinson, stat-sheet stuffer, makes appearances in the blocks and steals columns. 5x5, Theo. Make it happen.
For reference, UNC’s high and low scores produced in the past two years were 107/43 and 106/61. A potentially explosive team like this one could easily outpace them once or twice, but a cold night could sink them, and all but one writer see the Heels scoring fewer than 60 points at least once (and I bet we know the sqUad it will haVe been Against, too).
Given the minutes split between Brooks, Manley, and Huffman (18/14/9 respectively) and Brooks’ apparent advantage in offensive proficiency over his classmates, the first column isn’t too much of a surprise. The next one is a little big more interesting, as Brooks played more minutes but Manley is taller and might have better hands and rebounding instincts - he had 8 rebounds, 3 on the offensive end, in just 14 minutes. Brooks has slightly more believers than does Manley, but that will be one to watch. Every big has representation in the blocks prediction column, with Huffman’s 5 exhibition blocks putting him at the front despite his reduced minutes compared to his teammates.
Part of me wishes that so much of our fandom didn’t revolve around that school in Durham, and then I remember that we have the greatest rivalry in sports and forget about that feeling. Five writers called their shot around the series with the Blue Devils, with predictions from 3-time sweeps (love it, Kyle) to disappointing, un-Roy-like, series splits (Al, my guy, have some hope). Roger and Chad have a bit of a head-to-head going on here, as Chad thinks Brooks will outperform guys like freshman Kennedy Meeks, freshman Brice Johnson, freshman Ed Davis, and freshman Brandan Wright (14.7 points and 6 rebounds a game is a high mark to beat), while Roger doesn’t think he’ll be the best freshman big this year, let alone since 2006.
Joel Berry has a lot of preseason expectations on him, and the highest of those can be found here. Luke Maye has turned a bunch of heads after one game, and is getting some buzz, some of which can be found here as well.
College basketball is beautifully unpredictable, so I’m sure we’ll all look like idiots at some point for these predictions. It’ll be fun to see what we can get right, though. This season carries a lot of fresh excitement, and we’re pumped to see what happens. Share your thoughts below!