There was plenty of excitement surrounding the North Carolina men's basketball team's backcourt last year. Led by top-five recruit Cole Anthony, senior Brandon Robinson and graduate transfer Christian Keeling, they were expected to be at the forefront of a potent UNC offense.
But that wasn’t the case.
While Anthony led the team in scoring per game, injuries and a lack of depth made it hard for the Tar Heels to have consistent production. Head coach Roy Williams now comes into this season with problems to fix and holes to fill.
North Carolina brought in a ton of young talent to its roster, adding a level of versatility that it hasn’t had in a long time. The depth chart is now filled with players with various strengths, providing Williams with opportunities to set lineups according to matchups.
First-year guard Caleb Love is expected to be a full-time starter. The five-star recruit and McDonald's All-American takes over the No. 2 jersey, worn by the school’s last three star point guards.
Love is a gifted scorer with the athleticism and speed to skillfully finish around the basket, making him hard to stop in transition. He also brings shooting into the lineup, as he’s very capable from behind the 3-point arc.
Love has experience with both the point guard and shooting guard positions, allowing Williams the flexibility to play him wherever he chooses.
The question of who will become Love’s partner in the backcourt remains. The most likely scenario is choosing fellow first-year R.J. Davis as his running mate. He continues to show his scoring prowess, despite his small frame. His ability to finish over 7-footers and his consistent jump shot will inject a much-needed scoring punch into the starting lineup.
Williams has a lot of confidence in Davis for a first-year player. On a Nov. 19 ACC coaches call, he said Davis will “play a heck of a lot for us” this season.
The other option Williams can turn to is senior Andrew Platek. While the veteran has been maligned by fans for his lackluster 3-point shooting percentage, he does bring experience to a youthful position group.
The biggest wildcard of the group is redshirt first-year Anthony Harris. Harris’s final season of high school ball and first year at UNC were both ended prematurely by ACL tears, and Williams said he will not be ready for the season opener.
But Harris has shown flashes of potential when on the court. He doesn’t have the athleticism or finesse of Love and Davis, but he's a high-energy player who can compete for minutes in Williams’s rotation.
First-year Kerwin Walton, a top-20 shooting guard in the class of 2020, will likely struggle to find minutes, but there’s an opening for him with Harris out. He should be able to carve out a role for himself if he takes advantage of the opportunity.
His only other competition is redshirt senior K.J. Smith, who saw plenty of minutes after injuries to Harris and Anthony opened up an opportunity for him. It’s going to be harder for Smith to get those chances this year unless the inactives start to pile up again.
The biggest concern for the guards as a unit is the lack of defense. None of the aforementioned players really specialize in this aspect. Love and Davis were evaluated as offensive studs, but there isn't as much about their defensive capabilities. The current veteran guards on the team have not shown the ability to lock down star opposing guards.
The flexibility of junior Leaky Black, one of the team’s top defensive players, means he could slide into the shooting guard spot to add more defense to the backcourt.
Considering how deep Williams was reaching into his bench last year, it'll be interesting to see how the head coach handles all the options he now has, as the Tar Heels look to reestablish themselves as a national powerhouse.
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