UNC just won its sixth National Championship in school history, and while reveling in that for a long time is well and good (I can’t say that I’m not doing just that), it’s always fun to look forward to the next season and think about what the team could be like.
UNC will see a considerable shakeup in the starting lineup, with seniors Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks leaving and junior ACC Player of the Year and First-team All American Justin Jackson likely going pro. This means the Heels will have to replace three starters, all of which averaged at or above 11.8 PPG during UNC’s championship-winning season.
Jackson led all scorers with 18.3 PPG, while Meeks added 12.5 PPG and 9.4 RPG, and Hicks had 11.8 PPG on the season. These three will not be easy to replace, however I think that Carolina has the tools to replace them and succeed next year. All of the following lineups will assume that Jackson will go pro, and most will assume that Joel Berry II, who was the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, will stay for his senior year.
The 2018 Lineup
There are two starting lineups that seem to be the most likely at this point. The first one is if Kevin Knox decides to go elsewhere (why he would is beyond me).
PG: Joel Berry (Senior, 14.7 ppg in 2016-17)
SG: Kenny Williams (Junior, 6.2 ppg in 2016-17)
SF: Theo Pinson (Senior, 6.1 ppg in 2016-17)
PF: Luke Maye (Junior, 5.5 ppg in 2016-17)
C: Tony Bradley (Sophomore, 7.1 ppg & 5.1 rpg in 2016-17)
The starting lineup above looks pretty promising. Berry would probably be the chief offensive weapon, however Bradley could be in line for a breakout season and could play his way into a lottery pick in the 2018 NBA draft. Luke Maye will be a question mark, because while he played very well in the two games in Memphis during the tournament, it is unknown how good he would be as a starter. He would have to guard more athletic players for longer than he had to off the bench.
Kenny Williams started every game for the Heels before he got hurt in February, but he should be a good player next year. He’ll probably be the second best three-point shooter on next year’s team. Pinson should adapt to the starting small forward role nicely, as he’s played that position as a backup for most of his career at Carolina and started as a shooting guard after Williams’ injury.
2018 with Kevin Knox
The other most likely lineup is if Kevin Knox decides to come to the Chapel Hill. It is the same as the one above but with Knox starting at power forward instead of Maye. This would give Carolina a four perimeter-player lineup for only the second time under Roy Williams. Knox isn’t small at six-foot-eight and 200 pounds (almost identical to Justin Jackson), and he rebounds and plays inside rather well. He doesn’t shoot the three very well, around 35%, so the best analogy for him I think is freshman or sophomore Justin Jackson, who was coincidentally the last freshman to start for Carolina.
Meanwhile, Brandon Robinson, Seventh Woods, Luke Maye (maybe, depending on what Knox does), and freshmen Jalek Felton, Brandon Huffman, Sterling Manley, and Andrew Platek will all be factors off the bench for the Heels. Next Year’s team will be either 11 or 12 men deep (which is really good), however much of that depth will be inexperienced and will need development. Still, expect Woods to be much better next year, and don’t be surprised if Brandon Robinson becomes one of Carolina’s premier sharpshooters. He was an excellent shooter in High School but was just 7 of 30 as a freshman.
Overall, I’m very confident about Carolina next year. I think that without Knox we’re at least a Sweet Sixteen team, and with him we’re likely an Elite Eight team. Berry should make a leap from his very good junior year now that he’s the main man on the team, and Bradley, Pinson, and Williams should all make big leaps for the defending National Champions. I can’t wait for November.