North Carolina Tar Heels
2016-2017 Overall Rank: #6
Conference Rank: #2 ACC
North Carolina came so close to winning another national championship. They cruised to the Sweet 16 by dominating Florida Gulf Coast and Providence. The Tar Heels then dropped 101 points on Indiana to reach the Elite Eight, where they beat Notre Dame by 14. In the Final Four, UNC’s offense was way too much for Syracuse and it looked like Coach Roy Williams’ team was the favorite to knock off Villanova. However, Villanova had other plans and snuck past North Carolina, leaving UNC looking ahead to 2016-2017 for another shot at a title.
2015-16 Record: 33-7, 14-4
2015-16 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Roy Williams
Coach Record: 365-108 at North Carolina, 783-209 overall
However, getting back to the Final Four will not be easy without Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige. Johnson led the team with 17.0 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. He was drafted 25th overall in the 2016 NBA Draft. Paige was selected 30 picks later after averaging 12.6 points and 3.8 assists during his senior season. The only other departure is Joel James, who averaged just 7.8 minutes per game.
Yet another talented recruiting class will help bolster the Tar Heels roster. Tony Bradley, a 6-10 forward, highlights the group of four incoming freshmen. He can get up and down the floor in a hurry and is a very good finisher around the basket. Once he gets stronger, Bradley will be difficult for anybody in the ACC to deal with on either end of the floor. Combo guard Seventh Woods needs to polish his overall game, but his athleticism and defensive tenacity should earn him some minutes right away. Brandon Robinson should add a dangerous outside shooter off the bench, or perhaps eventually in the starting lineup if UNC continues to struggle from beyond the arc. The final freshmen is walk-on small forward Shea Rush.
Who to Watch:
Joel Berry II may not have the proven leadership skills that Paige provided, but the junior guard was more productive than Paige last season. Berry averaged 12.8 points and 3.8 assists and was much more consistent shooting from everywhere on the floor. He is more than ready to take over the team. Nate Britt could step into the starting spot beside Berry. Like Berry, he can pass the ball, but Britt does need to be more consistent shooting the ball. Theo Pinson is yet another solid ball handler, but like Britt lacks the shooting prowess this team needs. Justin Jackson, a big 6-8 wing, is not afraid to shoot from long range, but connected on just 29.2 percent of his attempts last season. But after averaging 12.2 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists, his outside shooting is all that stands between him and All-ACC accolades.
Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks will be asked to pick up the slack left behind by Johnson, especially on the glass. With Johnson eating up most of the rebounds, there will be plenty of opportunities for the senior frontcourt duo. Meeks was second on the team with 5.9 rebounds per game and Hicks was third with 4.6. That is a long way from Johnson’s 10.4 rebounds per game, but do not expect this team to take a huge fall in the rebounding department. Sophomore Luke Maye may not put up big numbers, but he is a smart and capable power forward who should be ready for more minutes, especially if Hicks continues to run into foul trouble on a regular basis. North Carolina can be a great team without outside shooters, but the team needs to be more consistent from beyond the arc. Last year they connected on just 5.6 three-pointers per game, ranking dead last in the ACC and 306th in the country. And they hit just 32.7 percent of those attempts. With Berry spending more time worrying about running the show, players like Britt, Pinson, Jackson and Robinson better at least be threats to knock down some shots every once in a while.
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Joel Berry II, Junior, Guard, 12.8 points per game
Nate Britt, Senior, Guard, 5.4 points per game
Justin Jackson, Junior, Forward, 12.2 points per game
Isaiah Hicks, Senior, Forward, 8.9 points per game
Kennedy Meeks, Senior, Forward, 9.2 points per game
By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 82.8 (10th in nation, 1st in conference)
Scoring Defense: 70.0 (125, 7)
Field-Goal Percentage: 48.2 (17, 2)
Field-Goal Defense: 41.6 (78, 3)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 5.6 (306, 15)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 32.7 (263, 13)
Free-Throw Percentage: 74.7 (26, 4)
Rebound Margin: 8.6 (9, 1)
Assists Per Game: 17.8 (4, 1)
Turnovers Per Game: 10.8 (27, 5)
Madness 2017 NBA Draft Rankings:
#49 Justin Jackson
Madness 2016 Men’s Basketball Recruit Rankings:
#24 Tony Bradley
#48 Seventh Woods
#61 Brandon Robinson