Fans already know what each returning starter for the North Carolina men’s basketball team brings to the table this season, but some of the new faces will be expected to contribute in their own right.
Junior guard RJ Davis is the primary ball handler who led the team in assists last season, and graduate wing Leaky Black is known for guarding the opposing team's best player. Senior big man Armando Bacot grabbed over 40 percent of the starters’ rebounds last season, while junior guard Caleb Love’s shot selection is often UNC’s double-edged sword.
These assets of North Carolina's veteran core aren’t likely to see any significant changes this year. However, there are six new players on the roster that head coach Hubert Davis will utilize in early non-conference matchups.
Here’s a breakdown of the immediate impact that each newcomer might have.
The graduate forward from Northwestern will join Bacot in the frontcourt as a starting forward. At 6-foot-11, Nance has a multifaceted skill set with fundamental post moves, clever backdoor passes and a reliable outside shot. He has already showcased his versatility in scrimmages and the exhibition win against Johnson C. Smith.
Last season, North Carolina faced difficulty when Bacot got into foul trouble, as the leading rebounder’s absence decreased opportunities for second-chance points. This forced the team to move the slightly shorter Brady Manek inside, weakening Manek’s role as a perimeter threat and creating defensive liabilities.
Nance led Northwestern in scoring, rebounding and blocks, and he also registered the team’s second-most assists. These skills make him well-equipped for rotating to the center position if Bacot picks up fouls.
Although Nance’s impressive 45.2 percent clip from beyond the arc will likely drop if he increases his 3-point shooting volume, opposing teams will still need to guard him on the perimeter, opening more space for Bacot on the inside. Alternatively, high-low action with Bacot will give Nance a plethora of one-on-one opportunities to showcase his inside craft and footwork.
The first-year guard brings impressive athleticism and confidence to UNC’s backcourt rotation. Trimble’s quick feet make him a capable on-ball defender, and, on the offensive end, the springy 6-foot-3 guard likes to attack the basket relentlessly.
In last season's Final Four, Duke exploited the size advantage that guard Trevor Keels had over RJ Davis. Keels finished the game with 19 points, including going 6-for-7 on 2-point field goals. Depending on each opposing team’s arsenal, Hubert Davis might momentarily trade offense for defense by putting in Trimble for RJ Davis if the starting point guard needs rest.
While the first-year wing probably won’t see significant minutes in his rookie season, Nickel has particularly impressed from downtown in scrimmages and the exhibition game.
Similar to Trimble, Nickel — Virginia’s all-time leading high school scorer — appears to have no issues with confidence on the offensive end. But much like the other reserve players, Nickel will need to first demonstrate consistency on defense before breaking into the Tar Heels’ rotation.
With a seasoned frontcourt tandem in Bacot and Nance, the redshirt first-year Shaver likely won’t play impactful minutes this season. The 2022 early enrollee registered a block, three rebounds and a basket against Johnson C. Smith in 10 minutes of action.
In high school, the Birmingham, Alabama, native shot 35 percent from three. If he continues to develop this season, Shaver could be a key piece in Hubert Davis’ long-term goal of utilizing bigs that can shoot from deep.
Washington, a 6-foot-10 first-year, hasn’t played a competitive basketball game since his junior year of high school due to a knee injury. The stretch forward is a proficient perimeter shooter, and he is expected to be back in action early this season.
It’s difficult to gauge how the walk-on junior forward will fare against non-UNC players, as Maye has only played in the Live Action scrimmage. He did, however, knock down back-to-back threes from the left wing, perhaps giving fans a glimpse of the Maye magic that could be left in store for North Carolina's basketball program.
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