After a disappointing 2019-20 season in which the North Carolina men's basketball team finished 14-19 (6-14 ACC) for the year, the Tar Heels will hope to change their fortunes entering a new campaign.
To do this, UNC will rely on a mixture of promising recruits and veteran talent. While the incoming recruiting class is highly touted — being ranked No. 2 nationally — experienced leadership will be just as important in putting together a strong season. Here are three returning players who will play key roles for the Tar Heels in 2020-21.
Senior forward Garrison Brooks may play as vital a role this season as he did last season. With guard Cole Anthony’s injury sidelining him for a large part of last year, Brooks had to step up to compensate for Anthony’s missing presence on the scoreboard. He did so in impressive fashion, averaging 16.8 points per game — second only to Anthony.
This was all en route to a career year for Brooks. In addition to his scoring, he set career highs in rebounds and assists per game, as well as posting an efficient 54 percent from the field. These numbers can be attributed to improvements in Brooks’ game, with his already-strong presence in the paint being supplemented by an improved ability to knock down mid-range jumpers. Going forward, Brooks will play an important role as a leader both on and off the court for UNC.
Now entering his second season at North Carolina, forward Armando Bacot had a solid 2019-20 season. Starting all but one game, Bacot averaged 9.6 points and 8.3 rebounds per contest. He also had some standout performances, including a 23-point, 12-rebound and 6-block performance against No. 11 Oregon, giving UNC its only victory over a team that finished in the top 25.
Bacot also had his struggles last season. Injuries to both ankles led to some departures early in games and fewer average minutes than other starters like Anthony and Brooks. His scoring efficiency also left something to be desired, converting less than 47 percent of attempts from the field. Despite this, Bacot and Brooks were a powerful tandem in the frontcourt, with UNC placing first and fifth in the ACC in offensive and defensive rebounds per game, respectively. With both players returning and Bacot given more time to grow into his role, he will look to put the woes of last season behind him.
The 2019-20 season was an interesting one for guard Rechon “Leaky” Black, as he exhibited potential in all facets of the game. In his second season in Chapel Hill, Black averaged 6.5 points, 5 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.8 blocks per game, coming in second on the team in average assists and first in steals. Standing at 6 feet, 8 inches, his frame and deceptive quickness make him a potent defensive threat against opponents of all sizes.
The biggest problem for Black last season was offensive efficiency. He shot just 36 percent from the field, as well as 25.4 percent from beyond the three-point arc. This wasn’t for lack of chances, either, with Black playing the fourth most minutes per contest — tied for second on the team with 32 games played — and taking the fifth most field goal attempts of any Tar Heel. If he can mend his offensive struggles and become a more efficient scorer, Black could become one of the most dangerous and versatile players on the team.
Only time will tell if Brooks, Bacot and Black can improve on a difficult campaign and lead UNC back to national prominence.
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