After being ranked No. 19 to start the season, the UNC men's basketball team now stands at No. 3 in the AP Poll with a 17-4 record, including 9-1 start to ACC play.
Much of this year's success can be attributed to its significant roster changes in the offseason. The Tar Heels' retooled roster retained cornerstones in senior guard RJ Davis and graduate center Armando Bacot, but three new faces — by way of the transfer portal — emerged as key contributors.
Notre Dame's Cormac Ryan, Stanford's Harrison Ingram and Louisville's Jae'Lyn Withers have all brought unique skillsets to Chapel Hill, and first-year and former five-star recruit Elliot Cadeau earned a spot in the starting lineup as a primary ballhandler.
It's hard to learn how to play with a virtually new team on the fly, but given the Tar Heels' demanding nonconference schedule, they didn't really have a choice. North Carolina endured a stretch in which it faced then-No. 20 Arkansas in The Bahamas, No. 5 Tennessee in the ACC-SEC Challenge, No. 1 UConn in Madison Square Garden, No. 10 Kentucky in the CBS Sports Classic and No. 23 Oklahoma in the Jumpman Invitational. UNC went 3-2 in those games, but has since ripped off eight straight wins.
Bacot, in his fifth and final season, started off hot. But since averaging nearly 23 points in the first three games, he hasn't played up to the preseason All-American hype. The Richmond, Va. native has struggled in head-to-head matchups against larger or lengthier bigs, most notably N.C. State's DJ Burns Jr. and 7-footers in Kentucky's Aaron Bradshaw and Wake Forest's Efton Reid III.
Bacot is, however, ascending the UNC record books, having surpassed Lennie Rosenbluth with to move up to fourth most all-time points by a Tar Heel.
Complementing Bacot in the frontcourt, Ingram arguably has the strongest back-to-the-basket post game. The 6-foot-7 junior forward often backs down defenders slowly and methodically, before elevating for a turnaround floater, and inevitably lowering his hand afterwards with a "too small" celebration. He backs up this smack talk on the boards, too — starting with the Jan. 2 game at Pittsburgh, Ingram has corralled 109 rebounds through nine games.
Withers has provided athleticism and length off the bench, reflected in his double-double against Louisville. Sophomore Jalen Washington's interior defense and baseline mid-range shots have helped him gel as a two-way threat, and the 6-foot-10 stretch forward has been a solid offensive rebounder in his limited action this season.
In the backcourt, Davis has had a historic senior campaign so far, leading the team in scoring and averaging 21.5 points per game. Against Charleston Southern, he became the first Tar Heel to record 20 points, 10 assists, five steals and zero turnovers in a single game. He also recently reached a personal career-high of 36 points in a win over Wake Forest.