And it looked for a while like he might do just that. He had 16 points on 7-of-7 shooting from the field in the season opener. He scored in double figures in 11 of the Tar Heels' first 14 games. There was a four-game stretch in mid-January where he averaged 18 points per game and converted on 71.0 percent of his field-goal attempts.
But things went south after Hicks injured his hamstring the day before the first Duke game this season. When he came back, he just looked off. He was thinking too much, whether it was about getting back to where he was at or just not getting injured again.
In his first five games back on the court, he averaged 5.4 points and 4.0 fouls per game. He followed that up with four incredibly solid games, starting with his senior night domination of the Blue Devils and ending with UNC's win over Texas Southern in the first round of the NCAA Tournament — a period when he averaged 19.0 points and 7.0 rebounds over the course of four games.
But since then, he has gone right back to a shell of his former self.
Hicks' performances in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight were rough. In the first, he fouled out after playing just 17 minutes. And in the second, he only knocked down two of his five shot attempts. But Saturday's performance against the Ducks could be the worst of the bunch.
In those two previous games, Hicks struggled in part because he was too tentative. What's worrisome is how bad he played despite being exponentially more aggressive against Oregon. His first attempt of the night was a would-be dunk that was rejected by the Ducks' Jordan Bell. His second — just 19 seconds later — was an open layup that clanged off the side of the rim.
The quad contusion limited Hicks to seven minutes in the second half, but he managed to get six shots up in that span. He missed all of them.
This is the type of performance Hicks will have to avoid come Monday. Unlike most teams in the nation, Gonzaga can match well with UNC's size down low. Bulldog centers Przemek Karnowski, standing at 7-foot-1 and 300 pounds, and 7-footer Zach Collins — who posted 14 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks against South Carolina in the Final Four — present a unique challenge for the North Carolina frontcourt.
Assistant coach Sean May mentioned postgame that the staff will take the same approach with Hicks that it did after the Elite Eight win over Kentucky. The coaches know how important he'll be if the Tar Heels hope to hold down the Gonzaga bigs.
"The thing we're gonna try to preach to him is, 'You've got another opportunity ...'" May said. "He's a big-time player. He's gotta play. It's that simple."
It might seem simple, but Hicks sure has made it look incredibly hard.