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Preview: UNC men's basketball to open season Tuesday against Loyola Maryland

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UNC junior forward and center Armando Bacot looks for a clear pass during the Tar Heels' exhibition match against the Elizabeth City State Vikings in the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. on Nov. 9, 2021. UNC won 83-55. 

The start of the Hubert Davis era officially begins Tuesday as the No. 19 North Carolina men’s basketball team faces off against the Loyola Maryland Greyhounds.

Coming off an early exit from March Madness with its loss to Wisconsin last season, the Tar Heels are looking to improve their 18-11 record by starting with a win on Tuesday night.

Davis, along with his new staff, will be joined by a combination of new and returning players. The team's new assets include first-year forward Dontrez Styles, first-year guard D’Marco Dunn, sophomore forward Dawson Garcia, junior forward Justin McKoy and graduate forward Brady Manek. 

Garcia, junior center Armando Bacot and sophomore guards Caleb Love, RJ Davis and Kerwin Walton started the exhibition game against Elizabeth City State on Friday and will likely do the same on Tuesday.

Bacot led last year's squad in points, rebounds and blocks per game, showing himself to be the most reliable post player last season. He is the lone big man from last season's rotation returning to the lineup.

Garcia and Manek should receive significant playing time during the season based on their productivity throughout their college careers thus far.

Garcia has the ability to rebound very well and drive against opposing bigs at the post. He has a lot of room to grow as a defender, as Davis will likely account for this aspect of his game throughout the season.

With Manek’s experience and unique skillset, he should complement Bacot's abilities in the paint exceedingly well. Manek's ability to space the floor will allow for Bacot to operate down low with more space. Garcia also will help the rotation, as he can play both inside and out for North Carolina.

Love struggled during his first season as a Tar Heel, but for UNC to have any shot of being the successful team they strive to be, Love needs to regain his confidence and improve his 1.14 assist-to-turnover ratio.

The Tar Heels will need to come ready to play to get their season off to a good start against the Greyhounds.

They learned last year that it is not about who their opponents are. It is about if they have the right mindset, if they communicate and if they play as a team. Although Loyola Maryland had a record of just 6-11 last season, UNC must stay on its A-game to stop the Greyhounds from winning on its home court.

Loyola Maryland has some formidable assets on its team ahead of the matchup against the Tar Heels. Senior guard Kenneth Jones excelled under pressure in the Greyhounds' scrimmage against Johns Hopkins. With under 4:11 left in regulation, Jones made a late-game layup and a dagger from the 3-point line to give Loyola Maryland a 60-49 exhibition victory.

The Tar Heels buckled under pressure against many opponents last season, losing in close games toward the last minutes or even seconds of regulation. North Carolina needs players like Bacot and Love to step up and lead the team to a winning season — and it all starts on Tuesday with a strong performance against Loyola Maryland.

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com  

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