Another year, another top 10 preseason ranking for the North Carolina men’s basketball team.
For the fifth consecutive season, the Tar Heels rank in the top 10 of the Associated Press’ top 25 men's basketball preseason poll released on Monday, this year checking in at No. 8. Kansas received the top spot in the poll, followed by Kentucky, Gonzaga, Duke, Virginia, Tennessee, Nevada and North Carolina.
However, with veterans Luke Maye, Kenny Williams and Cameron Johnson leading this year’s iteration of Tar Heel basketball, there are plenty of reasons to believe the team will exceed last year's finish and reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
"He’s been one of the really good leaders so far in the preseason and he’s our best perimeter defender,” Roy Williams said. “I think he’s even better this year than he was last year. He sets an example for the other guys.”
The senior also experienced a breakthrough junior campaign, averaging 11.4 points per game as a 3-point specialist and lockdown defender. Johnson, the other veteran leader, feels more comfortable after averaging 12.4 points in his first season in Chapel Hill.
“Coach Williams was my third college coach in four years,” Johnson said at the team's media day. “I had gotten used to trying to adjust, so last year was definitely an adjustment, new players, new team, new environment, but I feel a little more sure of myself going into this one.”
In addition to the veterans, sophomore bigs Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley are expected to take steps forward after promising first-year campaigns. Manley, a 6-foot-11 center, particularly thrilled fans with his efficiency. He played just 10 minutes a game, but averaged 5.4 points and 3.6 rebounds.
The one question remaining that could confirm or deny the team’s lofty preseason ranking is who will start at point guard. With veteran floor general Joel Berry II gone, junior Seventh Woods is expected to compete for the starting spot, along with five-star recruit Coby White. Woods has experienced turbulence throughout his time as a Tar Heel, highlighted by two injury-marred seasons.
“Coby has that alpha dog mentality …” junior guard Brandon Robinson said at the team’s media day. “He’s a great competitor. He reminds me a lot of Joel, just the way he can score, the way he competes in practice and gets to the cup like nobody I’ve ever seen before.”
Along with fellow five-star Nassir Little and four-star recruit Rechon Black, White completes UNC’s most decorated recruiting class since 2012. That class was headlined by Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson, two players who were First-team All-ACC selections in their collegiate careers.