UNC basketball won’t look the same but results could be very similar

With eight new faces on the UNC basketball team for the 2019-2020 season, who knows what’s going to happen? Coach Roy Williams certainly re-loaded in the offseason with grad transfers and top recruits but will the players – new and old – gel into a cohesive team by March? That’s the mystery. The talent is there to win an ACC regular season title, an ACC tournament title and an NCAA tournament title but with so much youth and pieced-together parts, it would seem unlikely that the Heels can pull it off. Of course, when the Tar Heels lost seniors Luke […]

With eight new faces on the UNC basketball team for the 2019-2020 season, who knows what’s going to happen? Coach Roy Williams certainly re-loaded in the offseason with grad transfers and top recruits but will the players – new and old – gel into a cohesive team by March? That’s the mystery.

The talent is there to win an ACC regular season title, an ACC tournament title and an NCAA tournament title but with so much youth and pieced-together parts, it would seem unlikely that the Heels can pull it off.

Of course, when the Tar Heels lost seniors Luke Maye, Cam Johnson and Kenny Williams, and transfer Seventh Woods, along with early NBA defectors Coby White and Nassir Little (Little should have stayed), Carolina fans were bracing for a below-par season.

But when the Tar Heels landed a pair of highly-regarded transfers in scoring guard Christian Keeling and forward Justin Pierce, the pieces started to fall into place.
The addition of likely one-and-dones Cole Anthony, a magician who plays guard, and Armando Bacot, a big demolition man who plays forward, set the Carolina universe ablaze at the possibilities.

Only 6-foot-9 junior Garrison Brooks returns as a starter and significant scorer from last year’s team so the additions were imperative to compete with the Dukes and Louisvilles of the world. While he led the team in field goal percentage and scored in double figures 12 times, Brooks is primarily a defensive stopper.

Expectations of Anthony, Carolina’s new point guard, as a scorer are through the roof (or the ceiling). There is talk about potentially not just being the nation’s freshman of the year but the player of the year. That’s pretty high praise but also something that cannot be relied upon.

With leadership from Brooks and senior Brandon Robinson and progression from guard/swing man Leaky Black, this could be a special group.

There were chemistry issues back in the day when Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace stepped into significant roles as freshman for a team that was laden with upper classmen who saw their minutes diminish. That shouldn’t happen with this team as only Brooks played significant minutes last year.

While chemistry will ultimately tell the tale for the Tar Heels, the difference may well be Leaky Black. The 6-8 sophomore showed so much promise last season even though he missed 13 games with a sprained ankle. He has the size, speed and tools to do just about anything on the court. He can score (including threes), rebound, dish the ball off, steal, play tough defense and do it all with panache. While some compare him to Theo Pinson, if he stays four years, I suspect he will be better because of his ability to score.

With five players 6-9 or taller, Coach Williams figures to see a lot of his scoring coming in the paint this season. Brooks and Bacot figure to be the primary beneficiaries of the emphasis while 6-11 Sterling Manley (if he can get healthy) and 6-10 Brandon Huffman getting in on the action as well.

In addition to Manley’s health woes, Robinson has been slowed with a preseason injury as have solid, if not spectacular, junior guard Andrew Platek, four-star freshman guard Anthony Harris and three-star freshman guard Jeremiah Francis. All could be contributors before the end of the season.

Per usual, Carolina has a tough non-conference schedule (Gonzaga, UCLA, Ohio State, Alabama and Iowa State or Michigan) and will no doubt lose two or threes games before the ACC schedule gets into full swing in January as the players settle into their roles.

Duke, even without Zion, is considered the top team in the ACC per the basketball writers. Last year’s national champion Virginia Cavaliers lose a lot of personnel and don’t figure to be a top three team. UNC, Duke and Louisville should be the top three teams.

This mysterious UNC team, full of unknowns, could very well be a contender come ACC Tournament and NCAA Tournament time. I’m predicting a 32-8 campaign with the Tar Heels falling in the ACC Tournament final and catching fire in the NCAA Tournament before bowing out, barely, in the national semi-finals.

While this will be a season like no other for Carolina, with all the changes in personnel, it should be another highly satisfying one for Tar Heel fans.