The magnificent shot that Luke Maye hit to eliminate Kentucky and send the North Carolina Tar Heels to the final four will go down as one of the best shots in the history of the NCAA tournament. It was a fitting finish to an outstanding South regional for the sophomore big man. As a junior next season, though, Maye will have his work cut out for him.
Maye originally committed to UNC as a walk-on. It was only after Roy Williams missed out on some higher profile recruits that a scholarship opened up for Luke. A couple years later, Coach Williams has realized his blunder and Tar Heel Nation is more than grateful that he didn’t accept a scholarship to another well-respected school such as Clemson or Davidson.
The Tar Heels’ frontcourt situation is questionable at the moment. Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks, and Tony Bradley are all off pursuing careers in the NBA, which leaves Maye as the only returning post player. He is joined by three freshmen in Garrison Brooks, Brandon Huffman, and Sterling Manley, all of whom ranked outside the top 100 in every recruit-ranking website. This means there will be a lot of pressure placed on Maye to anchor the paint.
Maye averaged 5.5 points and 3.9 rebounds last year, working as the fourth option in a loaded frontcourt. His 40% average from deep ranked first on the team (minimum of 20 attempts). Still, his statistics don’t do him the necessary justice.
Towards the end of non-conference play, Maye really started to come alive. As his confidence increased, so did his jumper, and the two started to build on each other. He showed off some crafty moves down low as well. At six-foot-seven, Maye became a surprisingly dominant rebounder.
On top of it all, he outworked everyone. He was aggressive without being reckless and was always the first to dive on the floor for a loose ball. Maye embodied the phrase “stretch four” beautifully. Next season, he will be asked to do these same things on a much bigger scale.
Maye will have to prove he can sustain the effort and efficiency he showed us with a much larger workload. It is fair to assume he will be receiving close to double his minutes from 2016-2017 (he averaged 14.2 mpg). We’ve seen some strong rebounding performances from Maye, but he needs to demonstrate that he can do that consistently, on a nightly basis.
I expect he will continue to knock down the open three pointer, but teams are likely to clamp down on him more. It will be interesting to see the ways in which Roy Williams uses him and how he takes on those roles.
It is possible, given the freshmen unknowns, that Maye could start at center this upcoming season. This would make for a very small lineup, especially for a Roy Williams-coached lineup, but it could provide Maye with an opportunity to show he belongs at the college level.
Regardless of lineups and what position he is technically playing, the fact of the matter is Maye will have to play bigger than he is. The Heels will be in desperate need of post production, and all eyes have been on Maye ever since Bradley announced his decision to remain in the draft. Maye will try and build on the momentum he created down the stretch last year, and who knows? He could lead UNC to its third straight final four.