After compiling a 16-14 record in Courtney Banghart’s first year as the head coach in Chapel Hill, the North Carolina women’s basketball team is trending in the right direction as it heads into this season.
Like many other sports, an offseason clouded with uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic posed questions about the feasibility of the season. However, the season is still slated to start as UNC prepares to open up its 2020-2021 campaign against Radford on Nov. 25.
Here are some of the underlying factors to consider in the season opener.
This year’s roster features a lot of moving parts, but the frontcourt is an area where Banghart can build on last year’s success.
The Tar Heels are likely to be led by senior center Janelle Bailey, who averaged 14.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per game last year and was named to the All-ACC first team.
Joining her in the starting lineup should be sophomore forward Malu Tshitenge, who will look to pick up where she left off last season after averaging 10.5 points and 7.4 rebounds as a first-year.
As two of the team’s most consistent players, look for this unit to establish itself frequently throughout the year. Listed at 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-3, respectively, Bailey and Tshitenge should have no problems thriving against a Radford lineup with limited experience in the frontcourt.
Following the departures of Madinah Muhammad, Taylor Koenen and Shayla Bennett, all of whom were double-figure scorers last season, the Tar Heels’ starting lineup will feature some new faces.
The first candidate is graduate transfer Petra Holešínská, a 5-foot-10 guard originally from the Czech Republic. Holešínská spent four seasons at the University of Illinois and was a consistent starter who led the team in scoring with 12.6 points per game in her final year. She also proved she was a threat from deep, where she knocked down 71 3-pointers at a 41 percent clip that year.
This contest will also serve as a good litmus test for Banghart’s highly regarded recruiting class, which features three players ranked in the ESPN top 100. Perhaps the most intriguing newcomer is first-year combo guard Deja Kelly, who is listed as the No. 10 player in the 2020 class.
Kelly’s skillset resembles much of what Muhammad provided last year, so if she can effectively slide into that position, it would be a boost for the Tar Heels.
Other members of the recruiting class could see some early action as well, including Anya Poole and Alexandra Zelaya, two frontcourt players who join Kelly in the top 100. Although this unit is already solidified with Bailey and Tshitenge, the depth at this position could give Banghart a plethora of options to experiment with different lineups.
Breaking down Radford
Coming off a 17-12 record and second place in the Big South last season, Radford enters the new year projected to be the conference runner-up once again, despite losing its two best scorers from a season ago.
A key returner for the Highlanders is junior forward Amele Ngwafang, who averaged 8.5 points and 8.1 rebounds as a sophomore was named to the Preseason All-Conference second team.
Although Radford performed well in conference play last season, the team struggled mightily against nonconference foes, which resulted in a 2-7 record in these contests. This poses a challenge for them against the Tar Heels, who finished 9-3 in their nonconference matchups.
Since winning in Chapel Hill in 1989, Radford has lost each its last six games against UNC by at least 19 points. The last time these two teams faced each other was a 79-46 North Carolina win in 2017.
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