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UNC basketball 2017-2018 preview: Sophomores

UNC’s trio of returning sophomores played significant roles in their first year. What’s in store this year?

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Practice Day Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Of the four freshmen who played a role in the national championship triumph last season, only Tony Bradley declared for the NBA draft. The other ones, Shea Rush, Seventh Woods, and Brandon Robinson, all returned for their sophomore year. These Tar Heels have had a taste of success at the highest level, and they’re back ready to fight for it all over again. Let’s take a closer look at each of our returning youngsters.

Out of the Woods

Seventh Woods (6’1, 185) will have a big role to play when the season starts. With Joel Berry II out for the first month or so, the spotlight will be on Woods—Berry’s largest source of relief last year. Woods played in all 40 of UNC’s games last season, primarily serving as Berry’s backup off the bench and running UNC’s second unit.

Woods averaged 7.7 minutes per game (how appropriate!), first among all of UNC’s rising sophomores. However, he only averaged 1.5 points per game. As an orchestrator of UNC’s offense, though, his primary role isn’t to score but to distribute. To that end, Woods had a 49-42 assist-to-turnover ratio, showing that he still has a lot of growth in the field of being able to find the right pass for the right guy in the right place.

An area where Woods shined, however, was in his opportunistic defense. In only 309 minutes last season, Woods notched 21 steals. A steal for the Carolina defense always translates into good things for the offense, so if Woods can work other teams over in their early non-conference schedule, it should ease the pain of losing Berry for such a significant period of time.

Effort off the Bench

Brandon Robinson (6’5, 170) is the perfect example of someone who plays much larger than his size. Despite a height and weight that would put him more towards the skillset of a pure guard in the NBA, Robinson plays with some of the taller trees with longer branches as a swingman. As a forward, Robinson played in 37 games last season, and even though his time was just a touch more limited than Woods, he still scored and averaged more points. Robinson averaged 1.9 points per game and shot 34% to Woods’s 28%.

With a lot of the team’s height and hustle gone, Robinson will probably see more minutes as a stretch 4 this season, giving him an opportunity to exploit some defensive mismatches. Robinson also showed (albeit with a small sample size) that he can distribute just as well as a starting point guard, with a 28-14 ratio in his limited minutes last season.

Robinson has also already shown that he has value in the clutch. His late tip-in helped secure victory against Tennessee last season, showing that Coach Williams will be willing to throw him in a game-deciding situation. All eyes will be on how Seventh Woods handles the pressure of filling in for the reigning Most Outstanding Player, but Robinson has big shoes to fill as well.

In No Rush

Shea Rush (6’5, 210) only played in 20 games last season as a walk-on, but did enough in that time to earn a scholarship. Whether or not that means increased minutes for him is hard to tell at the moment. Rush will likely exceed his numbers from last season—33 minutes, 15 points—but will find it difficult to earn minutes on a crowded bench.

Until Next Year

K.J. Smith (6’2, 180), joined the team as a walk-on sophomore but will be ineligible to play until next year. That said, he can still travel and practice with the team, which means that when his eligibility finally kicks in, he will already have a wealth of experience to call upon whenever his number is called.