Let me be the umpteenth Tar Heel fan to say the following this week: LET’S GOOOO! Cole Anthony’s official signing, while long awaited and not remotely surprising, was massive. Couple that with Anthony Harris, a highly underrated prospect, committing and it was “a great day in the neighborhood,” as Ol’ Roy likes to say. We’re beginning to see a clearer picture of what the 2019-2020 Tar Heels will look like.
And what they look like is an awful lot of Shreks and Donkeys (size-wise and only size-wise, please don’t interpret this any further than that). In Cole Anthony, Seventh Woods, Jeremiah Francis, and Anthony Harris, the Tar Heels have an arsenal of point/combo guards. In Garrison Brooks, Armando Bacot, Sterling Manley, and Brandon Huffman, the Heels have a quartet of big men. And in between that... the wings: Brandon Robinson and Leaky Black.
As mentioned during this past season, Brandon Robinson and Leaky Black’s roles on the 2018-19 team were virtually interchangeable. Both were tasked as reserves to spell Kenny Williams and Cam Johnson, bringing Three-and/or-D off the bench. They both had some degree of success in that regard. But Kenny’s defense and Cam’s shooting are gone now, and they need to be wholly replaced. It’s time for Leaky and Brandon to make the next step.
There wasn’t a great deal to separate the two of them this year: B-Rob averaged 12 minutes per game and Leaky averaged 10, but B-Rob’s numbers are slightly skewed because of Leaky’s injury thinning the bench. B-Rob shot 49% from the field and 46% from three, while Leaky shot 47% and 42% from 3. B-Rob was the more confident outside shooter, while Leaky was the longer and more disruptive defender. B-Rob is the more veteran player, but Leaky didn’t display much freshman nerviness or poor judgment. Both play well within themselves.
The question next year is, how will both of them respond, now that they’ll be asked to take on a thicker slice of the cake? Carolina will have some terrific pieces next year, but they’ll need to fit together. Cole Anthony is an aggressive, attacking guard with a nose for the rim. He’ll excel in transition, but will need shooters on the wing to spread the court for him in the half court. Same with Anthony Harris. We already know about Seventh Woods. It’s also true of Armando Bacot, he of the recruiting heroics, who is a throwback low-post big man in the realest sense. He’ll need a clear lane to take his defenders on the block.
Some of the shooting questions could be answered if the Heels manage to snag Christian Keeling, who has become a very good shooter. However, he’s best described as a “natural 2 who can play combo guard.” He doesn’t have the length that Leaky will have on the perimeter, making it Leaky the better option to guard bigger 3s on the perimeter. And besides, it’s best we don’t count our chickens before they’re hatched. We don’t know where Keeling is gonna go.
What we DO know is that Roy Williams has always favored a traditional two-big setup, only recently forced to improvise with his lineups due to personnel. But if Armando Bacot is ready to start in November, I’ll be stunned if he isn’t at the 5 and Garrison Brooks is starting at the 4. That’s a crowded lane there if shooters can’t stretch it.
Now it’s not impossible Roy opts for a three-combo guard/two-big lineup. He’s done it before: His 2002 Kansas Jayhawks started three point guards in Kirk Hinrich, Aaron Miles, and Jeff Boschee along with two big men in Nick Collison and Drew Gooden, with Wayne Simien serving as their super sub. That team didn’t do too bad: They were ranked #1 most of the year and made the Final Four. But that was an exception... and c’mon, if Garrison and Armando are as good as Collison and Gooden...we’re 1968 UCLA.
No, it’s far more likely that either B-Rob or Leaky, or both are called upon to take a much bigger role on both ends of the floor than they have so far in their careers. Both have shown the work ethic and the maturity to make that leap, and both would well deserve the rewards that would come with it: Brandon as the patient veteran who waited for his time, and Leaky as the rising sophomore who stayed to hone his game as his classmates head to the Big Show. I dunno about you, but I sure hope it’s both.