Editors Note: With great pleasure I’d like to introduce you to Antwan Staley Keeping It Heel’s newest staff writer.
With Midnight Madness next week, it is time to start talking college basketball once again. The North Carolina Tar Heels will again be contenders for the ACC Championship, but they won’t have a lot of recognizable faces.
The Tar Heels will almost have an entire new starting line up this season. Four of their starters from last season took their talents to the NBA, and the Heels will be looking to still compete in a much tougher ACC with an entire new starting lineup.
This off season, UNC lost its top four best and most important players – point guard Kendall Marshall, small forward Harrison Barnes, power forward John Henson and 2011-2012 ACC Player of the Year, center Tyler Zeller, all to the NBA draft. North Carolina’s best returning player, James Michael McAdoo, averaged just 15.6 minutes per game as a freshman. McAdoo is talented, but it was hard for him to get much playing time behind Henson, Barnes and Zeller. McAdoo averaged 10.6 points and 4.8 rebounds over North Carolina’s last seven games. With increased minutes this season, expect those numbers to increase.
Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald, and P.J. Hairston also return this season and each will be out to prove something. McDonald returns after being injured all last season. Strickland struggled last season and Hairston showed flashes of greatness at times, but was inconsistent at times. They will all have bigger roles on this young but talented team.
This season kind of reminds me of the 2005-2006 season when Sean May, Rashard McCants, Raymond Felton and Marvin Williams all left to go to the NBA. The Heels weren’t expect to do anything and had a lot of unknown questions. Everyone knew the team had talent, but not many expected much out of them.
That team, led by a young freshman named Tyler Hansbrough, started the foundation, that would be a National Championship team three years later.
Coach Roy Williams’ 2012 class ranked eighth in the country and is highlighted by point guard Marcus Paige.
Paige is the top-ranked point guard in the recruiting class of 2012. He, like Marshall, is a left-handed guard who is great at getting teammates the ball and involved. But Paige, according to our scouting reports, won’t be the play-maker Marshall was. They believe, he’ll will be more of a scorer with the ability to get past defenders off the dribble. Scouts also say Paige will have more of a reliable jump shot than Marshall, which will give the Heels an added weapon this year from the point guard position.
Joining Paige are fellow freshmen Brice Johnson, Joel James and swing man JP Tokoto. Johnson is a power forward; James is a center and both were ranked in the 2012 ESPN top 100. With McDonald and Strickland back from injury, and Bullock and Hairston competing for spots on the wing, not to mention the addition of the athletic freshman Tokoto, UNC will be solid at the guard spot. Expect Johnson and James to get a lot of playing time early this season.
I don’t expect much drop off from UNC this season. While some may have NC State and Duke ahead of them in the preseason predictions, those teams also have questions as well. One thing we do know is Roy Williams will expect a maximum effort from this team and he won’t be afraid to take players out if he isn’t getting it.
Tarheels will still be a contender in the ACC, young team or not.