This preview and more on North Carolina and the ACC are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
No. 10 North Carolina Facts & Figures
Last season: 25-11 (12-6 ACC)
Postseason: NCAA Elite Eight
Coach: Roy Williams (282-79 at North Carolina)
ACC projection: Third
Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16
Roy Williams warned North Carolina fans that they shouldn’t get used to the small lineups that sparked UNC’s surge in the second half of last season. He wasn’t kidding.
The Tar Heels enter 2013-14 with plenty of size up front and paper-thin depth on the perimeter as they try to get back to the Final Four for the first time since 2009. As emphasis on dribble penetration, floor spacing, and 3-point shooting increases nationwide, UNC could be the rare team whose success will depend upon post play.
The Tar Heels have six players who stand 6-8 or taller, and each one has played significant minutes in the past or figures to be in the rotation this season. The backcourt is a different story. With sharpshooter P.J. Hairston (team-high 14.6 points per game last season) suspended during the summer, UNC could begin the season with only two true wings.
The unbalanced personnel figures to create a style of play much different from the one the Tar Heels used a year ago, when they attempted more 3-pointers than any other UNC team under Williams.
UNC has plenty of big men who could start at schools all over the country. Forward James Michael McAdoo, whose size and athleticism have earned him NBA buzz since high school, is the most accomplished of the group. After a lackluster sophomore season in which he shot just 44.5 percent from the floor, McAdoo increased his offseason work in an effort to improve his free throw shooting (57.8 percent) and overall offensive efficiency.
Also in the mix at forward are Brice Johnson, who showed a knack for scoring as a freshman, and hustle-minded Jackson Simmons. Freshman Isaiah Hicks figures to push for playing time because of his athleticism and ability to run the floor.
UNC has plenty of bulk at center in sophomore Joel James and highly skilled freshman Kennedy Meeks, who is working to improve his conditioning. James never got going as a freshman, but he has the potential to be a major contributor on both ends of the floor. Desmond Hubert, who started 18 games a year ago, will resume his limited role as a defensive specialist.
No UNC frontcourt player is especially suited to playing small forward, but McAdoo, Johnson, and Hicks are athletic enough to masquerade there if the Tar Heels go with a big lineup.
UNC almost had too many wing players a year ago. But with Hairston finding off-court trouble during the summer and Reggie Bullock and Dexter Strickland departing, now the Tar Heels might not have enough. Sophomore J.P. Tokoto, who could move into a starting role, will be counted on to provide more than his trademark awe-inspiring dunks. He is not a proficient outside shooter, but he has the athleticism to become a force on defense.
At the other wing, fifth-year senior Leslie McDonald will have the biggest role of his career. McDonald is somewhat of a designated shooter, having made 37 percent of his 3-point tries over his last two seasons.
Marcus Paige made strides as a freshman starter at the point, becoming a threat from 3-point range as last season progressed. Paige likely will end up playing significant minutes at shooting guard because of UNC’s wing shortage and the arrival of freshman point guard Nate Britt. Britt was an adept passer in high school and will have a chance to earn major minutes if he makes a quick transition to the college game. Luke Davis returns as the third point guard.
Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks bring different abilities to UNC’s crowded frontcourt. Hicks is athletic and adept at running the floor, although he needs to add strength and back-to-the basket moves. Meeks, meanwhile, is not an elite athlete. He is a good low-post scorer and skilled passer, especially on outlets, with good hands. Nate Britt is a quick floor general with savvy who will get immediate playing time at the point.
Factoid: 1.6. UNC averaged 1.6 rebounds per game more than its opponents last season, the lowest rebound margin for a Roy Williams-coached team since Williams’ first season at Kansas (1988-89).
Williams is used to juggling players in his up-tempo scheme, but he hasn’t seen a puzzle quite like this one before. The Tar Heels have an imperfect roster in two ways: They are out of balance with their post/perimeter mix, and they lack the proven stud or two that the best Tar Heel teams usually feature.
That said, UNC has enough talent to finish near the top of a new-look ACC that will feature Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame for the first time. The Tar Heels can reach that potential as long as they maintain good health on the perimeter and consistently find ways to impose their will in the big-vs.-small contrast of styles that they will encounter on a nightly basis.
2013-14 Preseason Top 25