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Sunday October 17th

Analysis: Question marks surround potential of North Carolina's wings this season

(From left) Gardner-Webb's sophomore guard Jose Perez (5) attempts to block UNC's sophomore guard Leaky Black (1) during a game against Gardner-Webb on Friday, Nov. 15, 2019.
Buy Photos (From left) Gardner-Webb's sophomore guard Jose Perez (5) attempts to block UNC's sophomore guard Leaky Black (1) during a game against Gardner-Webb on Friday, Nov. 15, 2019.

A star point guard paired with one or two dominant post players has been the traditional recipe for success for North Carolina men's basketball teams in years past.

The missing pieces in that formula are the team’s wings, a group of versatile players capable of propelling a relatively good UNC team that competes for one of the top spots in the ACC to a national contender.

Here’s a breakdown of the four main wings on this year’s team: 

Leaky Black

The clear leader of this group is junior Leaky Black, whose lanky 6-foot-8, 195-pound frame made him flexible enough to split time between small forward and point guard when Cole Anthony was injured last season.

Although Black never stood out tremendously at one particular phase of the game on offense, he’s proven to be a player who's sufficient in multiple areas. In roughly 30 minutes per game last year he notched season highs of 14 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. 

On the defensive end of the floor, there’s a strong possibility Black could make the jump to be the team’s best defender. He led the Tar Heels in steals at 40 on the season and finished second behind center Armando Bacot in blocks with 25 last year.

With the addition of recruits Caleb Love and RJ Davis, two highly-touted guards, expect Black to settle into a more defined role in either the 2 or 3 spot this season.

Anthony Harris

The only other key returner in this group is redshirt first-year Anthony Harris. Even though he only appeared in a handful of games before a torn ACL derailed his first season with UNC, Harris proved he could be a spark plug off the bench in his small sample size.

He shot 54.5 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from 3-point range in his 61 minutes of action, some of which came against impressive competition, like Virginia and Gonzaga.

The biggest question mark will be his athleticism and mobility heading into his second year in Chapel Hill. Last season’s injury means he’s torn both of his ACL’s in the last two years. Head coach Roy Williams recently said that Harris has not fully returned to five-on-five practices yet and won't be ready for the season opener, but the redshirt first-year is a few weeks away from being released for contact drills.

Kerwin Walton and Puff Johnson

Rounding out the main wing unit are first-years Kerwin Walton and Puff Johnson. Like Black, Johnson’s length at 6-foot-8, 190 pounds should be enough to help him guard opposing shooters and disrupt passing lanes.

Unlike Black, Johnson has a bit of a head start in his preparation for college ball thanks to former Tar Heel Cameron Johnson, his older brother and forward for the Phoenix Suns. Puff has the potential to be like his brother as a knockdown shooter and solid rebounder if he can put on a little bit more muscle.

That true sharpshooter was a missing piece for last year’s North Carolina team that didn’t have a single player shoot at least 37 percent from beyond the arc on more than 10 attempts. In his first three years of high school, the now-UNC first-year drilled 46 percent of his 3-pointers before transferring to Hillcrest Prep for his senior senior season, where he nailed 44.6 percent of his shots from deep.

Similar to Johnson, Walton looks like he’ll have the ability to score at a decent clip at all three levels.

His stockier body size gives him a slight edge over Johnson in terms of having the strength to immediately make an impact at the collegiate level, and he’s regarded as a solid on-ball defender. Still, with the depth this UNC team could have at wing, it’s unclear exactly just how much of the floor he and Johnson will see in their first years in Chapel Hill.

If this team's wings are able to reach their potential, there's a legitimate chance North Carolina could fight for the ACC crown and make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

@McMastersJ

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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