I am here to tell you why this year will not be so special.
First of all, UNC lost seven players from last year’s championship squad. Of those seven players, Justin Jackson was the ACC Player of the Year, Kennedy Meeks was arguably the team’s most important player in the NCAA Tournament, and Isaiah Hicks was another reliable starter.
UNC also lost its sixth man, first-year center Tony Bradley, and reserve guards Nate Britt, Stilman White and Kanler Coker.
I am not here to crush your dreams of another title for the Tar Heels. I am merely here to give you a rational expectation for the season. This team will not get past the Sweet 16.
The entire frontcourt is gone. Last year, UNC averaged 44 rebounds a game. Well, 27.2 of those 44 rebounds came from players who now have to be replaced. In addition, UNC lost two-thirds of its scoring from last year’s team.
With Final Four Most Outstanding Player Joel Berry II and guard/forward Theo Pinson back as seniors, the Tar Heels will compete. However, they will be integrating an entire new frontcourt into the mix.
Roy Williams’ great teams at UNC have been traditionally frontcourt dominant.
In 2005 it was Sean May, Jawad Williams and Marvin Williams. In 2009 it was four-time first-team All-American Tyler Hansbrough, plus Deon Thompson, Danny Green and Ed Davis. In 2016 it was Brice Johnson, Jackson and Meeks. And last year it was Meeks, Jackson, Hicks and Bradley.
This year, it will be up to Luke Maye, who is the only returning frontcourt player on the roster who played a meaningful role a season ago. While Maye was huge down the stretch for the Tar Heels, he averaged just 14.2 minutes a game on the season.
Maye will be joined by Pittsburgh-transfer Cameron Johnson and some unproven first-years to fill the holes. Of the first-years, just one was named a top-100 recruit (Jalek Felton) and he is a shooting guard.
I do not doubt those players will do a decent job, but it is far too much to expect them to be good enough to get the team back to the Final Four.
Last season, UNC’s best offense was sometimes throwing up a shot and waiting for one of their bruisers to get the offensive rebound. This year, the team will have to rely more on accurate shooting.
Besides Berry, the two most active shooters will likely be Pinson and junior guard Kenny Williams. Both players struggled at times last year, averaging just 6.1 and 6.2 points per game respectively. Pinson shot just 38 percent from the field while Williams shot 42 percent before his season ending injury.
UNC will have plenty of backcourt experience, but without a wealth of great shooters on the roster, there is only so much that experience can do. For the team to be a serious contender for the national title, Pinson, Williams and Felton will all have to step up big, not to mention getting quality contributions from the first-year bigs.
These players should be proud for all they have accomplished. But expectations for this season should not be too high. UNC will be good, but without a mature frontcourt to lead the way, it will be very tough to get the team to San Antonio come April.