The return to the court after a disappointing 2015-16 season was still promising. Head coach Sylvia Hatchell looked forward to having a reliable, seasoned backcourt in her arsenal for the coming season. Stephanie Watts, last year’s ACC Freshman of the Year, and fellow sophomore Destinee Walker — the ACC leader in minutes played last season — joined two-year starter Jamie Cherry and finally-eligible Vanderbilt transfer Paris Kea in a crowded backcourt.
No more beating against the current — the Tar Heels were heading in the right direction.
“We’re trying to get as far as we can in the NCAA Tournament this year,” Watts said after the team’s final preseason game. “And although we are a young team, I think we will go a lot further than people think we will.”
So far, the Tar Heels have seen drastic improvement. Their record is void of any glaring upsets, and they’ve beaten Big Ten opponents Wisconsin and Minnesota and knocked off Virginia for their first ACC win.
The four guards have anchored this team through its 12-4 (1-2 ACC) start. Each player starts and averages over 32 minutes per game.
The small lineup is unconventional, but UNC has reaped benefits from starting four ball-handlers.
North Carolina can execute the up-tempo, fast-break game Hatchell has always insisted on playing. The Tar Heels vary between man-to-man and zone defenses, speeding up the game and creating more possessions.
Perimeter shooting has also improved, as UNC ranks third in the ACC in made 3-pointers per game (8.3).