In the 2020-2021 season, the North Carolina men's basketball team finds itself on a mission that hasn't been the case in almost two decades: rebounding from a losing season the prior year.
As fans await the start of the season on Nov. 25, a question on many people's minds after the lows of last year: what exactly are the expectations for this year? Will the Tar Heels continue their path of basement-dwelling in the ACC or can they turn it around and play to the program's standards this upcoming season?
Best case scenario: UNC finishes as a top-five team in the nation, wins the ACC Tournament
In order to win an ACC championship and finish in the top five come March, the Tar Heels will have to flip the script from last year and play outstanding basketball.
Even with last year’s forgettable season, the Tar Heels have a talented crop of recruits from both last year and this year to make this happen, with the only exception being Cole Anthony, who was recently drafted 15th overall to the Orlando Magic.
Five-star recruit Caleb Love and four-star prospect R.J. Davis should flourish as a first-year guard duo in the backcourt. Love, from St. Louis, Missouri, averaged 26.3 points in his senior year of high school, and Davis, from White Plains, New York, averaged 26.5 points in his final season. Even if UNC head coach Roy Williams decides to start senior Andrew Platek over Davis, Williams will still have an explosive player waiting on the bench.
With an improved situation at the guard positions, junior wing Leaky Black should be much more comfortable in his role this year. Black was shifted around the forward and guard positions last season due to injuries throughout the roster and had a lackluster year as a result.
At center, sophomore Armando Bacot should look to continue on his impressive, albeit inconsistent, first-year season in which he averaged 9.6 points and 8.2 rebounds. Bacot snagged boards at an impressive clip for the Tar Heels, recording the most rebounds by a UNC first-year since Antawn Jamison in the 1995-1996 season. Bacot is an underrated star on this young team and will be looking to win the competition with five-star recruits Day’Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler for playing time in the post.
For UNC’s power forward, senior Garrison Brooks should be aiming to supersede his monstrous junior year performances. The ACC Preseason Player of the Year recorded 16.8 points a game and a team-high 8.5 rebounds per contest in his coming out season. With a strong core around him, Brooks should dominate and continue to earn conference honors.
For this season, if the team's play on the court mirrors the talent on paper, an Elite Eight or Final Four appearance isn't out of reach.
Worst case scenario: UNC matches anything close to last year's shortcomings
As far as the Tar Heels' standards go, last year was an abomination.
In overall play, the team finished with a 14-19 record, and in conference play, North Carolina finished with a 6-14 record that tied with Wake Forest and Pittsburgh for last in the conference. The Tar Heels lost in the second round of the ACC Tournament to Syracuse, and if an NCAA tournament had been played last year, UNC would not have qualified.
In order to reach this low of a mark again, the Tar Heels would have to see disappointing play from all of their first-years, be struck by the injury bug to a similar degree as last season or see their players become ineligible due to COVID-19 protocols.
With North Carolina expected to rely heavily on several inexperienced and new additions to the team this year, it's impossible to rule out the possibility that this squad struggles to mesh and perform up to expectations.
Either way, UNC will certainly look to avoid the same fate that brought it to the bottom of the ACC last season.
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