After an exit in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, North Carolina will attempt to re-tool and please a rabid fan base that considers anything short of a National Championship to be a wasted season.
With the development of key second-year players and the addition of blue-chip prospect Kennedy Meeks, UNC’s roster will have a bigger feel to it than the small-ball lineup featured through the majority of last season. But make no mistake, like any Roy Williams-coached team, this year’s team will go as far as their point guard can take them.
Marcus Paige showed flashes of brilliance last year in a debut season that saw him average eight points and just under five assists per game as a true freshman. Now with a season of big-time college basketball experience under his belt, Paige will look to fix his jumper (35.6 percent from the field last season) and build on his innate quickness, ball-handling and passing.
The development of 6-foot-10 sophomore Joel James could give North Carolina their first true center in years. James reportedly lost nearly 60 pounds in a frenzied offseason workout program that featured a lot of pick-up basketball, the best thing for a raw talent that did not pick up the game until he was in 10th grade. 6-foot-10 sophomore Brice Johnson and the addition of the 6-foot-9 blue-chip tank Meeks will provide quality depth down low.
Increased production from James allow star junior James Michael McAdoo to slide back over to his natural position of power forward, where he will excel over smaller and less developed players. McAdoo’s athleticism is second to none, and he made huge strides in his all-around game last season.
He took the right shots, but did not always hit them. Another offseason of practice should see him rattle in more than his fair share of scores, and ACC Player of the Year contention is not out of his reach.
Hairston masqueraded as a stretch-four last season, and with the improved post presence, he should be poised for a breakout season as he slides back to small forward. Hairston will first have to sit out his early-season suspension, but when he returns, he will look to build on a season that saw him lead the team in points per game and 3-point shooting.
Only at North Carolina could a third-round exit in the NCAA Tournament be considered a rebuilding year, but with the majority of the talent back from that season and with another year of experience, UNC should be back to its normal status as contenders for the ACC Tournament, and will be poised for a deep run come March.
ACC Finish: Second
NCAA Tournament: Elite Eight