UNC Basketball: Sports Illustrated names Joel Berry one of 2017’s 10 best

Tar Heels senior leader will be one of college basketball’s best this season

North Carolina senior point guard Joel Berry II has already been named to a number of preseason awards lists, including second and third team All-American selections from Athlon Sports and NBC Sports, respectively.

And deservedly so.

Berry is the reigning Final Four Most Outstanding Player and should be the focal point of a Tar Heels team that lost much of the nucleus responsible for the school’s national championship victory in April.

As a junior, he averaged 14.7 points, 3.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game. He shot better than 38 percent from three-point range and connected on 77.4 percent of his free throw attempts.

Thanks in part to Berry’s tremendous individual performance last season, as well as the success of his national title-winning team, the expectations for the senior floor general are especially high this year.

And to kick off the start of the new college basketball season, Sports Illustrated has named Berry as one of its top-10 candidates to win Player of the Year.

Berry is No. 8 on the list behind Michigan State forward Miles Bridges, Duke senior Grayson Allen, Arizona shooting guard Allonzo Trier, Kansas guard Devonte’ Graham, Notre Dame center Bonzie Colson, Villanova guard Jalen Brunson and Missouri freshman phenom Michael Porter, Jr.

Rounding out the top-10 are Xavier senior forward Trevon Bluiett and Saint Mary’s big man Jock Landale.

This is what Sports Illustrated’s Chris Johnson had to say of Berry:

“It’s extremely unlikely Berry will experience as much team success as he did last season, when North Carolina won 33 games and claimed the program’s sixth national championship. But Berry could well reach his personal peak as a college player during his senior campaign.

The losses of big men Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley, as well as combo forward Justin Jackson, leave North Carolina with a perimeter-oriented rotation, and Berry will be its most important cog.

Our model expects Berry to increase his per-game scoring average of 14.7 ppg by nearly three points. The question is whether a bump in Berry’s statistics can outweigh a dip in form from the Tar Heels. We like four ACC teams more than them entering this season.”

Of the major publications to release preseason predictions this year, there seems to be a general consensus on Berry’s inclusion. However, not a single list has included Berry in its upper echelon.

Being eighth on this list is essentially equivalent to another second team All-American selection, much like we previously saw with Athlon Sports. NBC Sports, on the other hand, thought even less of Berry, placing him on their third team.

Regardless, Berry is likely to be one of the best players in college basketball this season and undoubtedly the most important piece for a North Carolina team that hopes to reach the national title game for a third consecutive season.