UNC Basketball 2018-19 Player Previews: Sterling Manley

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 18: Sterling Manley
CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 18: Sterling Manley /

Sophomore Sterling Manley’s rapidly improving game sets up an exciting entry to our 2018-19 player previews.

Coby White | Nassir Little | Rechon Black | Garrison Brooks

Basketball season is nearly upon us and we at Keeping it Heel couldn’t be happier. Another thing that excites us and many of the Tar Heel faithful is the development of sophomore Sterling Manley.

Manley is trying to make a name for himself in UNC’s muddled frontcourt. A healthy body and a more polished skill set should help take the leap from role player to a relied upon contributor.

To do so, he will have to separate from fellow sophomore Garrison Brooks. Though Brooks started on a consistent basis, it was Manley who averaged the most points and rebounds of the two.

He did so while playing an average of five minutes less per game than Brooks.

Many clamored for Manley to start last season, but head coach Roy Williams makes all of his players pass a running test before they become eligible to be a member of the starting five. Manley never passed the test last season but met the qualifications this offseason.

With the running test in his rearview mirror, the only thing standing in the way of a starting nod is himself.

2017-18 Season in Review

The departures of Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, and Tony Bradley left a gaping hole in UNC’s frontcourt. The men left to fill it was the trio of incoming freshmen Garrison Brooks, Sterling Manley, and Brandon Huffman.

Brooks earned some starts alongside Luke Maye and was the highest touted recruit of the three. However, the most efficient freshman big and the one with the most potential was Manley.

The Pickerington, Ohio native averaged 5.4 points 3.6 rebounds to the tune of 56.6% from the field in merely 10 minutes per game. This will extrapolate to a per-36 minute line of 19.4 points and 13 rebounds per game. Each of those numbers would lead the team in its respective category.

There’s no doubting Manley’s efficiency nor his freakishly long 6’11” frame.

The question is if he can maintain or even improve that efficiency when given more minutes.

What to expect in 2018-19?

It looks like a two-man race for the majority of post minutes outside of Maye with Brooks and Manley battling for a starting job. Usually, the winner of that battle could expect a high volume of touches in a traditional Roy Williams lineup.

However, the addition of three studs in the backcourt in Nassir Little, Rechon Black, and Coby White to an already loaded group of wings will have Roy favoring a small-lineup for the second year in a row.

A heavy rotation of backcourt players and preseason ACC Player of The Year Luke Maye commanding a large share of post touches, UNC won’t have a lot to spread around. Opportunities may be slim compared to years past, but expect Manley to rise to the occasion.

Starter or not, he will be playing far more minutes than last season and will have the production to match. His size will also be a key for UNC on the glass as well as for their interior defense.

An improved ability to run the court in year two will result in more playing time and scoring opportunities for Manley.

Strengths and something he needs to improve on…

Manley’s strength is in his rebounding and soft touch around the glass. Despite playing in limited minutes, he was fourth on the team in total rebounds. He trailed only Luke Maye for rebounds amongst post players.

When Manley put up a shot you could expect it to go in. He led the team’s scholarship players in field goal percentage, the closest to him was Huffman at 54.3%.

Despite his height, Manley could continue to pack on muscle in the weight room. With a slighter frame last season, you could often see him get pushed around in the post by players with a lower center of gravity.

Another area of improvement is in the aforementioned field of conditioning. The only thing that stood in his way last year was passing the running test. Now that is out of his way, he will have to show Coach Williams that he can run with the best the ACC has to offer. Doing so will assure him a huge role and plenty of time to develop.

Bold Prediction

My bold prediction is that Manley will be named the starting center before the end of the season.

However, he will be a starter by title and still split minutes with Brooks.

The move would bump him up to around 15-20 minutes per game and a predicted stat line of 9.5 points and seven rebounds.

Those numbers aren’t spectacular but will be vital to a UNC team in need of another strong presence in the post. Manley has all the makings of another big-man success story under Roy Williams. It would bring much joy to the basketball team and the fan base if it were to come to fruition.

dark. Next. UNC Basketball 2018-19 Player Previews: Nassir Little