#5 North Carolina Men's Basketball 2014-2015 Preview

North Carolina Tar Heels

2014-2015 Overall Rank: #5
Conference Rank: #2 ACC

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#5 North Carolina Men's Basketball 2014-2015 PreviewBuy North Carolina Basketball Tickets

The Heels have been on their toes this past year or so. Things started in 2013-14 with the suspensions of Leslie McDonald and P.J. Hairston, followed by the eventual dismissal of Hairston. From there, things on the court took a turn as North Carolina struggled to find outside shooting and scoring. A disappointing showing in the ACC tournament followed by a third-round loss to Iowa State in the NCAA tournament were only overshadowed this offseason by the academic fraud scandal plaguing the university. Pertaining to that current investigation, Head Coach Roy Williams was quoted in an ESPN article saying, “nobody knows what's going to happen…but I feel strongly, strongly that we did things the right way." Well, on the plus side, how ‘bout that recruiting class!

2013-14 Record: 24-10, 13-5
2013-14 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Roy Williams
Coach Record: 306-89 at UNC, 724-190 overall

Who’s Out:
North Carolina was very up front and open about it strengths and weaknesses. There were no secrets with this team a season ago. James Michael McAdoo, one of the few departing Tar Heels, was a good collegiate player but rightfully took a lot of grief for his contributions to those weaknesses. Carolina was one of the very worst teams in the nation in three-point shooting and free-throw shooting. McAdoo had no ability to do the former and avoided it and had no ability to do the latter but tried a bunch. Although he was the team’s leading rebounder and second on the Heels in scoring, McAdoo’s game had become so scrutinized that this may turn into a situation of addition by subtraction. Removing JMM from the equation allows better basketball pieces to fill the UNC rotation. The same can be said for the team’s other departure: senior Leslie McDonald. Although the Tar Heels desperately needed McDonald’s outside shooting last season, he simply could never get his shot corralled. His 43 made three pointers will be better served this season coming from someone who doesn’t need 138 attempts to reach that mark.

Who’s In:
Filling the holes left by McAdoo and McDonald will be a trio of 5-star freshmen recruits. Justin Jackson (small forward), Theo Pinson (guard-forward), and Joel Berry (point guard) all come to Carolina with huge resumes and even larger expectations. They are all 5-star talents entering with different skill sets. Jackson may be the prototypical wing that UNC so desperately needed last year. He shoots with ease over smaller defenders, has range and has been called a natural shot maker in scouting reports. Pinson has a similar build but much different game. He comes in as a scorer and athlete capable of getting to the rim. It will be interesting to see how the wing rotation works itself out for Roy Williams considering these two guys enter with much pub, but returning players will be expecting more minutes at the same spots. As for Berry, it seems obvious that the ideal scenario would be he develops into this team’s starting point guard, allowing star Marcus Paige to slide over and play the two. Last year, Nate Britt simply wasn’t good enough to warrant this full-time adjustment. Berry though seems to be entering as a more mature and complete basketball player.

Who to Watch:
The interesting thing about this North Carolina team is how much is still unknown. Marcus Paige is a guarantee in the starting lineup, but will he play point or shooting guard? Nate Britt seemed overwhelmed by the stage last year, but did he develop into someone deserving of the second starting guard spot? If not, does Carolina go wing-heavy in its rotation? Similarly, J.P. Tokoto returns with a very specific skillset that doesn’t necessarily warrant starter’s minutes. But Williams probably prefers to lean on the veteran, experienced defender in his rotation as opposed to the rookies. Then there is the big-man rotation, perhaps the most intriguing of all simply because of the upside here. Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks excelled last year in limited minutes. Can they keep up the production as they creep towards 25-30 minutes per game? And what about Isaiah Hicks? He was the highest-rated recruit of all out of last year’s class but saw very little court time as a freshman. There are so many storylines and positional debates to follow with this UNC team that Williams’ substitution patterns will surely be debated all year long.

Final Projection:
It would have been reassuring to start by saying, “with all of last year’s off-court distractions now behind them, the Tar Heels will be able to concentrate on just basketball in 2014-15. With the incoming recruits Williams has brought in, combined with all this returning talent, UNC is without question a Final Four contender.” It would have been nice to start that way. Instead, this autumn simply brought even more uncertainty and scandal to this program and this university. The problems of last year, which now seem minor by comparison, clearly affected the roster and the guys’ play on the court. A school-wide investigation into widespread academic fraud should be even worse barring a situation where the onus falls above the heads of the basketball team specifically. The talent here is, without a doubt, greater than what was in Chapel Hill a year ago. As is always the case though, that doesn’t mean this team will progress any farther in the postseason.

Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA Tournament

Projected Starting Five:
Marcus Paige, Junior, Guard, 17.5 points per game
J.P. Tokoto, Junior, Forward, 9.3 points per game
Justin Jackson, Freshman, Forward, DNP last season
Brice Johnson, Junior, Forward, 10.3 points per game
Kennedy Meeks, Sophomore, Center, 7.6 points per game

By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 76.6 (43rd in nation, 2nd in conference)
Scoring Defense: 69.8 (164, 12)
Field-Goal Percentage: 46.3 (64, 2)
Field-Goal Defense: 41.6 (78, 8)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 4.3 (339, 15)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: did not qualify
Free-Throw Percentage: 62.6 (338, 15)
Rebound Margin: 5.0 (29, 3)
Assists Per Game: 15.4 (23, 2)
Turnovers Per Game: 11.9 (134, 10)

Madness 2015 NBA Draft Rankings:
#22 Brice Johnson
#33 Theo Pinson
#41 Marcus Paige

Madness 2014 Men’s Basketball Recruit Rankings:
#9 Justin Jackson
#15 Theo Pinson
#30 Joel Berry


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