Last year’s squad finished 14-18 and lost 13 of its final 15 games. With such limited depth, the team struggled with fatigue and often couldn’t keep pace with opponents with its six-deep rotation.
Despite returning only three players who saw the court last year — and replacing eight graduated seniors with eight first-years — there is reason to believe the Tar Heels will be much improved in 2016-17.
All three of UNC’s top scorers from a year ago return in the form of an intimidating backcourt trio.
After accounting for nearly 63 percent of the team’s scoring last year, junior guard Jamie Cherry and sophomore guards Stephanie Watts and Destinee Walker will once again be expected to carry the team offensively.
Hatchell will especially look to Watts, the 2016 ACC Freshman of the Year, to be a dominant force on the court this season.
“(Watts) stayed here all summer,” Hatchell said. “She’s gotten stronger, more aggressive, faster, just everything. She’ll be an All-American before it’s over with.”
The backcourt’s success will be paramount to North Carolina’s plan to run the same four-out, one-in style as last season with four guards on the court.
Though the scheme will remain the same, Hatchell wants her team to play much faster than it did a year ago. She has placed an emphasis on scoring on the fast break and out-hustling opposing teams.
“We need to be at a 10 or 11 at all times,” Watts said. “We’re going to press and trap and just play up and down.”
This increased tempo should help the Tar Heels make up for a lack of experience in the frontcourt.
Redshirt senior forward Hillary Fuller — who sat out last season with an achilles injury — is UNC’s only frontcourt player with collegiate experience.
Though the additions of first-year forwards Emily Sullivan and Alyssa Okoene provide Hatchell with interesting options up front, Fuller will be expected to carry the majority of the load for the unit.
Fuller’s contributions will be especially important to this year’s frontcourt given that North Carolina was, on average, outrebounded by 2.3 boards per game last season.
“So we’ve got some size now and we’ve got some kids that are going to be really, really good,” Hatchell said. “I think we’re gonna surprise — no, I don’t think — I know we’re going to surprise some people.”