How Much More Can UNC Improve Heading Into Next Season?


UNC Basketball returns basically the same team in 2015-16 as it did in this past season. With the same roster returning, how does UNC improve?

There are two broad categories with which you can evaluate a basketball player and thus a basketball team. The first category is “What can you do for me right now?” If I was going out to Cobb to play pick-up with four other people, I would want to pick the best four players who were really good now. I wouldn’t care about anything except who could help me score more points than the other team. An example of this player in the NBA would be LeBron James. If I was playing pickup today, I would pick LeBron, because he is the best right now.

The other category is “What can you do for me in the future?” I would use this category to evaluate players if, for example, I was making a basketball team to play 35 games at Cobb over the course of a few months. I might not pick the best 5 players out of of the guys standing around. I might want one guy who couldn’t shoot but could do everything else. I might want someone who could protect the rim for me, but couldn’t catch and hold a basketball for multiple seconds without screwing up. I would watch those players grow, practice and hopefully improve so that in the 34th and 35th games of our team’s season, we would be playing at our peak potential.

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An example of a guy with potential would be Giannis Anteokoumpo. Check out this video of his first exhibition game in the NBA back in October of 2013. The sky is the limit for Giannis. He could develop into a player as good or better than LeBron James in, say, three or four years, because he has a unique blend of length and skill and a lot of room to grow. If I was drafting a pickup team to play for the next few years, I might pick Giannis over LeBron because I like the Greek Freak’s ceiling more than I like LeBron’s current level of skills. (By the way, don’t like the NBA and need an NCAA example of a guy with potential? Frank Kaminsky two years ago.)

This is a crude analogy, but what I’m trying to get at is tackling the issue of UNC’s current roster structure and lack of room for a lot of growth. The 2014-15 Tar Heels won 26 games and lost 12, including their last game in the Sweet 16 against Wisconsin. The good news for Tar Heel fans is that while most of the college basketball teams across the country will have to deal with a new roster and new faces, UNC’s team will pretty much be the same in 2015-16 as it was in 2014-15. This is both good and bad.

The good news is that Tar Heel fans should feel pretty solid that they will watch a successful team over the course of the season. With that much returning talent, UNC has left very little up to chance. Opponents know who UNC is, UNC knows who UNC is, and fans should expect at least the same number of wins next year as UNC got this past season.

This is also a bad thing, because UNC could end up being the same, good but not great team as it was. Who has unrealized potential at this point for UNC? Will Marcus Paige grow 5 more inches or learn a post up game? Probably not, instead he will come back in 2015-16 and maybe be more aggressive and likely average a few more points per game as he is freed from the grasp of a tough foot injury that inhibited his ability to play this past season. Marcus Paige next year won’t be someone else or someone better, he will just be Marcus Paige.

You could say the same all up and down the roster. Kennedy Meeks could lose a few more pounds, or gain a few more, but he will still be Kennedy Meeks — a great offensive rebounder, a good passer, an okay defender and not a very explosive player. Brice Johnson will be Brice Johnson, although maybe a more efficient, slightly more consistent, productive, Brice Johnson.

Again, to simplify, what I’m trying to say is that the 2015-16 Tar Heels could end up being the same team as the 26 game winning squad from last season. The challenge for Roy Williams is to take the familiar squad, take the talent on campus, and find ways in the thin margins to get more out of those players. It’s easy to take a player and get him from bad to okay at basketball. The hard thing is to take a roster of really good players, like UNC has, and find small windows where the team can get better while keeping the team successful, motivated and focused.

I’ve located three areas where Roy could get more out of his Tar Heels…

1) Watch Justin Jackson grow into a more aggressive offensive player.

North Carolina Tar Heels
North Carolina Tar Heels /

North Carolina Tar Heels

Justin Jackson needs to be taking more threes and really just more shots in general next season. He was fifth highest on the team this past season in Percentage of Possessions Used, per That percentage needs to increase next year. He showed great growth over the course of the season and still has a sky high potential. Roy’s challenge is getting more out of Justin Jackson in year two.

2) Getting better three-point shooting out of the player currently in Chapel Hill.

Shooting is a relatively easy thing to fix, right? Just go in the gym over the summer, take 1000 threes a day, and suddenly you are transformed into a great shooter. Nope, that’s not how it works. Just ask J.P. Tokoto. He’s been working hard since day one to improve his shooting, but the results have been mixed at best.

Roy has to find a way to get Joel Berry II, Nate Britt, Justin Jackson and J.P. Tokoto to shoot the ball better from three point land. Their floor spacing is essential to UNC’s success.

3) Improve team defense

UNC is not a bad defensive team, ranking 51st in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric. But, UNC was 21st in that same category in 2013-14, and fell 3o spots while losing only James Michael McAdoo to the NBA.

The same team returns, and the defense must improve, from a Top 50 level back to a Top 20 level.


Improve in those three categories, and UNC can expect to see itself live up to expectations in 2015-16. If UNC fails to improve in those categories, the Tar Heel faithful could be in for a frighteningly similar ride next season.

Roy Williams has been crafting and developing this current team since the majority of the core was in place in the 2013-14 season. He has overseen a lot of improvements by the team, but the group has almost hit its ceiling of potential. The challenge now for Roy Williams and his staff is to find the bits and pieces of the pie where UNC can get better and hope those small changes add up to much more success in the 2015-16 regular and postseason.