UNC Basketball: Early Projection of 2015-16 Starting Lineup


Here is an early projection of the 2015-16 North Carolina Tar Heels starting lineup. Let us know in the comments who you think will start.

The 2014-15 North Carolina Basketball season is over. The Tar Heels had a good, not great season in 2014-15 and project to be pretty darn good next season depending on who stays and who goes.

Here is a quick, early projection of the 2015-16 season starting lineup.

Point Guard: Marcus Paige

I’m very confident Paige will be returning to Chapel Hill next season for two reasons. One, I think he wants to stick around and get his degree and lead his Tar Heels to a Final Four or more this upcoming season. Paige had a bit of a down year this season because of the injuries and shooting slumps, and I think he really wants to come back and correct the wrongs of the past season.

Two, I don’t think his draft stock is high enough to take off early. Paige has to have learned a lesson from James Michael McAdoo at around this time last season — if you are a projected second round pick, you just don’t know if you are going to be drafted and if you will have any security the following season.

I project Paige coming back to Chapel Hill and setting the world on fire next season with lights out shooting and leadership.

(Quick note: Don’t be surprised to see Joel Berry II make a push for this spot, shifting Paige to SG and Tokoto to the bench.)

Shooting Guard: J.P. Tokoto

Mr. Tokoto is also a draft prospect, but he is also a mid to low second round pick and I think he stays next season as well. Tokoto is a bit of a tricky player to gauge his value. He is said to be a lock down defender, and he often is, but Sam Dekker scored a career high number of points in the Sweet 16 win and Tokoto was guarding Dekker more often than not. Just to be clear, I think he is still a great defender, but his value as an NBA prospect as a lockdown defender might be overstated.

Tokoto talks each off-season about improving his three-point shot and becoming serviceable from behind the arc, but his shot just wasn’t consistently there this season, especially from the long-two range.

Next year will be Tokoto’s senior season. I think he starts and I am curious to see in what direction his game goes over the course of the season.

Small Forward: Justin Jackson

I slot him in here, but I have my doubts Jackson will be back. Believe it or not, some NBA Draft mocks have Jackson going first out of the five UNC draft prospects. He came on strong at the end of the season, leading the Heels in a lot of tournament games with his shooting and nifty, trusty floater.

Scouts have to like what they see in Jackson. I honestly think his ceiling is still Klay Thompson in the NBA, while his floor is a Matt Barnes type. That is an appealing upside and not too low of a floor for a second round pick.

North Carolina Tar Heels
North Carolina Tar Heels /

North Carolina Tar Heels

If Jackson comes back, he very well may be the alpha dog scorer next season. Paige is an excellent scorer, but he struggles to consistently show up in big moments. He has risen to the occasion in the past, like against Louisville and at N.C. State the past two season, but in the Duke games and others, Paige has struggled to put the ball in the basket when his team needs a shot.

Jackson showed flashes of maybe having the capabilities to develop into that role of alpha dog scorer this March. I look forward to watching Jackson progress, and hope I see him progress in a Carolina uniform and not a Miami Heat uniform or Oklahoma City Thunder uniform.

Power Forward: Brice Johnson

Brice is also a candidate to take off to the NBA this offseason. Johnson is another projected second round pick. I like his offensive upside but have questioned at times in the past his motor and his defensive ability.

Johnson took two leaps and a jump forward this past season for the Tar Heels, becoming a much more consistent threat on offense. It seemed like no matter how tough the shot, UNC fans could count on Brice’s turn around jumper to fall through the net. The problems UNC had were all related to just getting Brice enough touches and making sure Brice was engaged in all games.

I think Brice comes back next year, starts, and is a first team All-ACC candidate.

Center: Kennedy Meeks

Carolina really dodged a bullet in March when Kennedy Meeks’ potentially serious knee injury turned out to be minor enough that he could play through it a few days later. If that would have been a torn ACL and/or if Meeks would have had to miss signficant time next season, that would have been really bad.

Instead, Meeks will be back next season at full health to start at center. Joel James came on strong at the end of the season, and maybe if he has a really good summer I could see him starting over Meeks, but Meeks just offers a lot more offensively than Joel James does.

So for now, the starting lineup is exactly the same next season as it was this past season. The for now is a key part though. Even though Marcus Paige has suggested that he thinks everyone will come back, you can’t be sure until all five of the guys that could go say they are sticking around officially.

Let us know what you think the starting lineup should be in the comments section below.