2020-21 UNC Season Preview: Personnel turnover won’t hurt Heels

For the second time in two years the UNC basketball team has eight new players, most who will contribute significant minutes. We all know that didn’t work out too well last year as Coach Roy Williams suffered through his first losing season. Could that happen again during the 2020-2021 season? Anything could happen but Carolina will be a much better team this year. Gone are one-and-done Cole Anthony, who had an up-and-down season, graduating senior Brandon Robinson, who missed nine games a year ago, sophomore Jeremiah Francis, who transferred out of the program, senior Brandon Huffman, who transferred, and one-year […]

For the second time in two years the UNC basketball team has eight new players, most who will contribute significant minutes. We all know that didn’t work out too well last year as Coach Roy Williams suffered through his first losing season. Could that happen again during the 2020-2021 season? Anything could happen but Carolina will be a much better team this year.

Gone are one-and-done Cole Anthony, who had an up-and-down season, graduating senior Brandon Robinson, who missed nine games a year ago, sophomore Jeremiah Francis, who transferred out of the program, senior Brandon Huffman, who transferred, and one-year incoming transfers Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce, who had flashes of brilliance but generally underachieved.

Carolina had the talent a year ago to have a really good season but injuries, a lack of cohesiveness, inconsistent play and pure bad luck in close games derailed the Heels.

What makes Carolina better this season than last season? For one the Tar Heels didn’t lose as much senior leadership. A year ago, Luke Maye, Cam Johnson and Kenny Williams had all graduated. Secondly, losing Coby White and Nassir Little was a bigger blow than losing Anthony after freshman seasons.

Finally, the few with significant playing time who are back have loads of experience, starting with senior big man Garrison Brooks, who has been chosen as the preseason ACC player of the year. He averaged nearly 17 points a game and 8.5 rebounds per contest as he earned second-team All-ACC.

Joining him down low is sophomore Armando Bacot, who started 32 games as a freshman, scoring 9.6 points per game and hauling in 8 rebounds a game. But his playing time is likely going to diminish this year as highly regarded freshmen Day’Ron Sharpe (6-foot-11) and Walker Kessler (7-1) join the program.

Coach Roy Williams said he isn’t sure who will start regularly but Sharpe and Bacot will likely both get starts during the first couple of months of the season. Kessler, who was slowed by COVID-19 protocols, is a little behind the others due to lack of practice but he has extraordinary skills inside and outside for a seven-footer.

Coach Williams may play three big men at the same time on occasion but it’s likely that two of those four will be on floor together most of the time. In part, that will depend on the play of junior wingman Leaky Black, who led the team with 40 steals a year ago but shot poorly, and the development of sharpshooter freshman Puff Johnson, the brother of former Tar Heel Cam Johnson.

Finally – and some may say I’m burying the lede – the Tar Heels will have a new backcourt that very well may determine how far the team goes this season. Caleb Love, a McDonald’s All-America player, takes the place of Anthony, who was drafted in the first round of the NBA draft. Love seems to play more under control than Anthony did and could very well be another one-and-done player.

The other likely starting guard is another McDonald’s All-America player, R.J. Davis, who Coach Williams indicates has been more than solid in practice. Giving some stability and leadership at the guard position is senior Andrew Platek, who can settle things down and play feisty defense. His outside shooting reputation hasn’t come to fruition yet but he has one last year to shine.

That’s nine players sharing time and that doesn’t include a pair of wing players – sophomore Anthony Harris and freshman Kerwin Walton – who could have an impact by mid-season. Harris, who was injured twice last season, had knee surgery in January and will be eased in slowly while Walton, who is known as a good shooter, will see more and more time as he improves on defense.

The Tar Heels have been picked fourth in the ACC. While that seems reasonable, I have Carolina finishing third with a good shot at making the ACC Tournament finals and getting a nice seeding in the NCAA tournament.

While I have received accolades for my final record predictions over the years, after last season’s debacle where the Tar Heels had 11 more loses than I predicted, I am a little gun shy. But, in keeping with tradition, I’ll give it another go.

Who knows if the response to the pandemic will allow a full season, but I’m predicting a 27-9 campaign with the Tar Heels falling in the ACC Tournament final and playing well in the NCAA Tournament before losing out in a Great Eight game.

While that may not satisfy some Carolina fans, it should considering the down season a year ago. This will be an up season. For more on the Tar Heels, including game stories, please go to cb3media.com/heelprints.