The emotions that become invested in North Carolina basketball, for fans over the course of the season, can really be strained after you watch your team get eliminated from national championship contention and then immediately face unanswered questions of whether or not all of the team’s stars decide to turn pro.
Carolina’s program has been burned many times throughout the years with players leaving the confines of Chapel Hill earlier than expected for the NBA and as Tar Heel disciples, we put ourselves through the sorrow and agony of the reality that we won’t get to see a kid, that we’ve indirectly built an emotional relationship with, wear the sacred colors of our beloved team ever again.
For argument’s sake, let’s say that our worst possible nightmare takes place and James Michael McAdoo, Reggie Bullock and PJ Hairston all come forward in the next couple of weeks and say that their run is over and it’s time for them to all move on. That would give Roy Williams two consecutive years of losing four players, with the inclusion of Dexter Strickland, by means of the NBA or graduation. It’s hard for most teams to recover from that type of attrition, but hey, this is North Carolina and you’re expected to win regardless.
I don’t want to continue down this dark hypothetical road any longer, but I must. Not only do the Tar Heels lose four starters again, but top rated prospect Andrew Wiggins comes out shortly after and announces that he will be attending Florida State University in the fall and thusly, eliminates North Carolina from consideration. At this point, Tar Heel faithful must be in the mindset that armageddon has finally arrived and the end of the world as we know it has firmly planted itself on our doorstep, but I’m not one to be so dramatic. I have faith in Coach Williams and firmly believe that UNC will maintain their standard of dominant basketball even with the loss of essentially five players. Let’s take a closer look at the makeup of this team if our worst case scenario is realized.
I wasn’t sure if North Carolina would ever have another team as young as they had this past season, but if this all plays out, the 2013-2014 Heels will be just as young. Fortunately, there will be more depth on the low block next season with the additions of Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks and they will certainly help take pressure off of guys like Joel James and Desmond Hubert to score in the paint and they’ll allow Brice Johnson to matchup up with players that are more along his size instead of having to guard 6-10 centers. Roy may have gone with a small ball approach this past season, but he does love that traditional style with two athletic big men running the court. I think that with a full offseason of summer ball, James and Johnson will be ready to contribute more and that the two freshmen coming in are a little bit more refined in terms of their skill set so it should be back to basics for Roy and we should see more post scoring and more productivity rebounding the ball.
Point Guard is another position that will be covered even with the loss of Strickland because young floor general Nate Britt will be arriving to help distribute some of the load that Marcus Paige had to handle as a freshman. Britt gives the Heels a pure passer that should mesh nicely with a more experienced Paige, who has a tendency to shoot more.
The real problem, would be the wings. Depth on the wings is something that Carolina has put tons of focus on heading into 2014, but if everyone leaves that currently can, Roy could find himself being quite shallow on the perimeter a year earlier than anticipated. Senior Leslie McDonald would undoubtedly be a lock for a starting role at the two as the team’s lone senior and will be the primary outside threat within the offense. JP Tokoto would be the other starter since he is the only other true wing player left on the roster. Tokoto isn’t as offensively inclined as Leslie is, but does offer a nice mixture of athleticism and defensive tenacity that would be valuable assets in a thin lineup. The question that would of course need answering is who do have available to back those two players up on the perimeter once fatigue sets in or an injury occurs?
Even with lack of wing depth, I still feel confident that the Tar Heels can get by with little worry. Roy runs such a fast paced offense that it requires his players to have amazing stamina and endurance. As a freshman, Paige was averaging between 27-32 minutes a game easy during the latter part of the season which leads me to believe he’ll be able to do that again fairly easily. I mentioned earlier that Paige is a shoot first point guard which allows him the flexibility to play the two guard spot at times if he has to. With Britt in the fold, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see a lot of two PG sets this season in order to compensate for the lack of perimeter players.
Hicks is another guy who is talented enough of a basketball player to slide over if he needs to. He can handle the ball and face up just as well as he can bang down low and score around the rim. Roy tried to play John Henson on the wing when he came in as a freshman, but it ended up being a failed experiment. I think Hicks is a little bit more established offensively to where he would be more successful in that transition, but it would still be a guess and check type of experience.
It may seem unconventional at times, but I fully believe that even if the Tar Heels face another max exodus that they will be just as competitive next season if not more so. Roy loves his post players and point guards and will have plenty of depth to his disposal and will have a lot of fun figuring out how to use the weapons he has on the wings to maximize several of his players’ potentials. I hope, for one, that the roster will be a little more fruitful than it was just described, but I think we can expect good things from the Tar Heels either way.