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North Carolina Basketball: Tar Heels Team Preview and Season Prediction 2021-22

Caleb Love, North Carolina Tar Heels Basketball

Caleb Love and the Tar Heels are ranked No. 12 in Athlon Sports' Top 25 for the 2021-22 college basketball season

Before Roy Williams became a head coach, he spent 10 seasons as an assistant coach for a Hall of Famer at his alma mater, North Carolina. Williams eventually led the Tar Heels to three NCAA championships and became a Hall of Famer himself.

Before Hubert Davis became a head coach, he spent nine seasons as an assistant coach for a Hall of Famer at his alma mater, North Carolina. UNC fans would love nothing more than to see history repeat itself in terms of his results.

Davis, 51, takes over a UNC program in transition. The Tar Heels went a combined 32–30 over the last two seasons, stymied on offense by turnovers and poor shooting. They must replace three of their top four post players from a year ago.

On the positive side, UNC returns four of its five starters and welcomes two highly touted recruits along with three transfers who will contribute immediately.

Davis is adamant that he will not abandon the foundation that Dean Smith and Williams built, but a change in offensive style is imminent. Davis will emphasize shooting and spacing — which is no surprise, given that he is UNC's all-time leader in 3-point percentage (43.5 percent).

Related: College Basketball Top 25 for 2021-22

At a Glance

HEAD COACH: Hubert Davis

2020-21 RECORD (ACC): 18-11 (10-6)

2020-21 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Wisconsin 85-62 in the first round

KEY LOSSES:
F Garrison Brooks (10.2 ppg, 6.9 rpg)
F/C Walker Kessler (4.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg)
F/C Day'Ron Sharpe (9.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg)

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Frontcourt

Armando Bacot is UNC's featured player inside after leading the team in scoring, rebounding, and field-goal percentage last season. Bacot improved his ability to score through contact, and he can make face-up jumpers from midrange.

Joining Bacot up front is a trio of transfers who are threats from longer distances. Dawson Garcia is a versatile offensive threat who can score inside, make 3-pointers and run the floor. He shot 35.6 percent on 3-pointers as a freshman at Marquette last season. Brady Manek, a former four-year starter at Oklahoma, is a career 37 percent 3-point shooter. He has made 235 3-pointers, a figure that would rank third in UNC history.

Justin McKoy, meanwhile, provides defensive versatility and posted solid per-minute statistics at Virginia. Freshman Dontrez Styles also is physical enough to defend both forward spots, and he is an explosive finisher in transition.

Backcourt

Perhaps the biggest key to the team is point guard Caleb Love, who struggled as a freshman. Love played so poorly at the beginning of the season that his statistics never recovered, but his size, speed and scoring ability are assets. With a year of experience, he should improve upon his 1.16 assist-to-turnover ratio.

On the flip side, Kerwin Walton shot 42 percent from 3-point range during his breakout freshman season. He commands defensive attention far away from the hoop, giving his teammates room to operate more efficiently. RJ Davis and Anthony Harris are capable ball handlers who can fill either guard spot, and Davis is a better shooter than he showed last season. Freshman D'Marco Dunn will press them for playing time thanks to his shooting ability.

Leaky Black returns for his senior season on the wing. Black is just a 26 percent 3-point shooter for his career, a key reason that he has yet to fulfill his lofty potential. But at 6'8", Black is a capable defender, rebounder and passer who does not need to score to help his team.

Puff Johnson is slight of frame, but his length and shooting ability will give him the chance to develop into a contributor.

Final Analysis

Davis will face plenty of challenges in his debut season. The good news for him is that his roster has better talent than most first-year coaches inherit. UNC has a deep rotation in which almost everyone is a threat to score from outside the paint. In addition, the team's frontcourt players are better equipped to defend on the perimeter than their predecessors were.

The question: At what cost? UNC annually is among the nation's best rebounding teams. If the Tar Heels avoid major slippage in that area and get improved play from Love at the point, a return to the upper echelon of the ACC is within reach.

Postseason Prediction: NCAA Tournament Sweet 16
ACC Prediction: 2