clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

ACC Preview #1: UNC

Last year was awful but this year could be much, much better for the Tar Heels - if the freshmen are ready and mesh well.

NCAA Basketball: Duke at North Carolina
 Feb 8, 2020; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels forward Garrison Brooks (15) and Duke Blue Devils center Vernon Carey Jr. (1) fight for the ball in the first half at Dean E. Smith Center.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

A quick caveat: we weren't sure about doing previews this year because who the hell knows what will happen in the age of Covid? So we’re going to try, starting with our 15-501 friends in faded blue, the North Carolina Tar Heels, and see how it goes.

Last season was a real shocker with the Heels finishing just 14-19 and in 14th place in the conference. It was quite a tumble for the proud program, made worse by some epic collapses and agonizing buzzer beating losses.

Looking back, it didn’t take that long either. UNC started off 6-1 before losing four straight. The historic home collapse vs. Clemson was astonishingly bad and gave the Tigers their first win ever in Chapel Hill. Virginia Tech nipped the Heels in double OT. Virginia won in Chapel Hill on a last-second shot.

And then there was Duke. Actually the Duke game came before UVA but the end was so spectacular, so bizarre, that it deserves is own mention. It will go down in the history of the rivalry with the Dick Groat game, the Fred Lind game, the Robby West game, the Gene Banks game, the Chris Duhon game and the Austin Rivers game and it’s the only one we’re aware of with two buzzer beaters.

It’s hard to describe so we’ll link the video in case you’re just returning from a stint in Antarctica or something.

All four of the losses were absolutely gut wrenching. But in one season? It was just stunning.

The season was so full of shock and disappointment that even now, in September, as of this post, UNC has not yet updated the official roster.

We’re just kidding. The pandemic may have more to do with that.

UNC loses Brandon Robinson, Justin Pierce and Christian Keeling are out of eligibility. Brandon Huffman and Jeremiah Francis opted to transfer. And Cole Anthony is off to the NBA.

Side note: Jalek Felton left UNC in unclear circumstances in 2018. The reason is now clear.

Returning for the Tar Heels: Andrew Platek, Sterling Manley, Garrison Brooks, Leaky Black, Anthony Harris and Armando Bacot and the usual boatload of walk-ons.

Newcomers: Despite the turmoil, UNC picked up a great class. Big men Walker Kessler and Day’Ron Sharpe, both 6-10 and powerful, were five-star recruits.

Six-foot-three point guard Caleb Love from St. Louis, said his dream school was Duke but the Blue Devils went after Jeremy Roach instead.

Love’s going to be good. By the way, his high school coach is Jayson Tatum’s dad Justin. Here’s what he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about his young star: “He’s a composed, high-level kid out there. He can play multiple positions, he can make big shots and he wants to take big shots. He’s a kid who doesn’t want to lose. He’s going to encourage and challenge his teammates. He just figures out a way. He’s been great to coach and great to watch. I have the closest seat.”

RJ Davis, a 5-11 guard from White Plains (and high school teammate of Duke commit AJ Griffin) is going to play. He’s really quick for one thing and can penetrate. His size may work against him in the short term though.

Puff Johnson, 6-7 brother of recently departed Cameron Johnson, is also promising.

Kerwin Walton is a 6-4 guard out of Minnesota and could be very good. He’ll bring some solid three point shooting for one thing.

Finally, UNC has a legacy recruit in 6-0 Creighton Lebo whose dad Jeff played for UNC under Dean Smith. Some reports suggest that he could significantly expectations.

That’s a big class and six of those guys will expect to play. Garrison Brooks has earned his position but Sterling Manley? He’s likely to fall behind. What about Armando Bacot? UNC has six guys 6-9 or taller, counting Walker Miller, and at least four are good enough to start.

Black is useful and experienced not to mention versatile so he’ll probably get his minutes. We’d also expect Love to start at point. So that’s four spots - two bigs, Black and Love already taken. Who’s the second guard, assuming it’s not Black?

Love has a reputation as a good shooter but you’d think Ol’ Roy would want another shooter on the floor. If Johnson can shoot like his brother he’s going to get minutes, assuming the rest of his game doesn’t weigh the team down. Or maybe it’s Walton.

Last year, Williams infamously said his team was the least talented group he’d ever had. He didn’t criticize Anthony but we never understood the infatuation with him. He seemed to need the ball a lot for one thing although given Williams’ critique of his own team, that may have been by necessity.

That won’t be the case this year. Bacot, Black, and Brooks - the 3Bs - bring experience and Brooks in particular was outstanding. In fact, he deserves considerable respect because while the rest of the team was wallowing in defeatism and self-pity, that guy never, ever stopped trying.

Bacot had his moments and Black is the kind of player who will be much better with more talent on the roster.

UNC’s challenge is going to be two-fold. First, getting a superb class up to speed and second finding roles for the veterans. That shouldn’t be an issue for Brooks but Bacot could be surpassed by Kessler and Sharpe. How would he respond? Will Black lose minutes? Where will Harris fit in?

We’re sure that Manley and Platek will continue to be reserves but when older guys move down the rotation it doesn’t always go well. We still remember Brian Reese saying “being a senior used to mean something around here.”

That team, incidentally, with freshmen Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, and Jeff McInnis was also very talented but had some real chemistry issues.

We’ll see how things work out this year. UNC certainly has plenty to work with.