On the surface, the North Carolina Tar Heels do not seem to be a team to be feared next season, but there is more to this squad than meets the eye.
Yes, North Carolina did lose four members of its starting rotation when Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall left for the NBA.
But the team is also returning a number of players who were key to the team’s Final Four run last season.
Combine that with the Tar Heels’ recruits and Roy Williams’ coaching ability and North Carolina does not seem to be in for a rebuilding year any time soon.
The team will be back with a vengeance in 2012-13 with or without the “Big Four.”
And here’s why.
By all indications, James Michael McAdoo will be a stud next year.
Forced into a limited role last season because of a loaded frontcourt of John Henson and Tyler Zeller, McAdoo has not yet been able to truly show what he can do.
His averages of 6.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game are sure to improve as he played just 15 minutes per game last season. Even when McAdoo did see the floor, he was often a third option for North Carolina’s offense.
When McAdoo was counted on to play more minutes, he produced. After Henson went down with a wrist injury before the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, McAdoo played over 20 minutes per game in six games in a row.
He responded with stat lines like 14 points and eight rebounds against the Maryland Terrapins and 17 points, six rebounds and four steals against the Vermont Catamounts.
Next season, McAdoo will become a much more focal point of the offense and he will deliver. The experience he gained by facing ACC competition last season, going up against Zeller and Henson in practice everyday and learning the Tar Heels game plan will benefit him greatly.
With someone like McAdoo leading the way, North Carolina will not experience much of a drop off despite losing so much talent.
Yes, the North Carolina Tar Heels lost four starters from last year’s Final Four team, but it is not as if Roy Williams will have to deal with a complete overhaul of his roster.
North Carolina will have two seniors in Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald who have waited their turn and are more than ready to contribute. Both are coming off of torn ACLs, but have shown in previous seasons that that they have the skills and talent to excel.
Reggie Bullock, who took Strickland’s place in the starting lineup after his injury, will be a junior and has the added bonus of playing in the Final Four.
P.J. Hairston made huge strides in his freshman season and Stilman White proved in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament that he could play meaningful minutes on a good team.
In the age of one-and-done college basketball players, having two seniors, a junior and three sophomores with game experience and talent will help ensure that the Tar Heels do not suffer too many growing pains as a result of their departed starters.
When conference play starts, the team will be much more prepared for the rigors of travelling and short weeks. The same goes for the NCAA Tournament, where the Heels will understand the environment and the level of play much better than a group of freshmen.
Despite the North Carolina Tar Heels’ experience, do not discount the contributions freshman can make to Roy Williams’ roster.
Joining the Tar Heels’ returning players is the 10th best recruiting class in the country.
Led by Marcus Paige, the best point guard in the class, North Carolina will have plenty of support. Paige is an attacking guard who can get into the paint or step back and hit jumpers.
Williams takes a smart approach with freshman, playing them solid minutes, but never treating them as a sure star until they have proven themselves.
Take the case of James Michael McAdoo—he was one of the best recruits in the country, yet was not given any kind of preferential treatment. The experience he gained in his first season will help him take on a leadership role this year.
Any one of the four recruits North Carolina has can make an impact like McAdoo and might even be able to do more because there are fewer established stars on the roster.
The freshman are all 4-star prospects who play point guard, power forward, small forward and center. The fact that each plays a different position is an added bonus for the team as there will not be a backlog of players at one position.
Either way, with four Top 100 prospects, at least one (if not all) should be able to contribute significant minutes, which will only increase as the season goes on.
Never count out a team that Roy Williams coaches. In his nine years coaching the North Carolina Tar Heels, Williams’ winning percentage is .791.
He has consistently kept the Tar Heels at the top of the ACC and the national rankings.
Williams has an uncanny ability to develop recruits and keep a mix of veteran players and newcomers, ensuring that his roster will consistently be replenishing itself with new talent.
North Carolina always becomes a much more productive team than it would appear on paper. Last season, Tyler Zeller consistently fought the reputation of being too soft, yet by the end of the season became a double-double machine.
John Henson was never very active offensively, but scored just enough and was the defensive presence in the paint that the team needed.
All of the players currently on the Tar Heels’ roster have spent years with Williams honing their games and improving specific skills.
Williams undoubtedly kept this year’s team in mind and developed his players so that this year’s team will be balanced and effective.
While Harrison Barnes was billed as a lights out shooter, the same could not be said for the rest of the 2011-12 North Carolina Tar Heels roster.
This season, however, should be vastly different.
Leslie McDonald’s return from a torn ACL will instantly improve the Tar Heels’ three-point shooting percentage. McDonald was shooting 38 percent from beyond the arc in his sophomore season, hitting almost two threes per game before his injury.
Reggie Bullock had almost identical statistics to McDonald, also shooting 38 percent while hitting two shots from deep a game. His shooting percentage increased dramatically from his freshman year campaign (29.6 percent) and could see another jump this year.
Freshman Marcus Paige is also billed as a pretty decent outside shooter, but most importantly, his penetration should help free things up on the perimeter for the rest of North Carolina’s backcourt.
Before his career with the Tar Heels began, P.J. Hairston was known as a deadly outside shooter. He struggled with his shot during his freshman season, but began to heat up late and will undoubtedly work on his shot during the offseason.
Good three-point shooting stretches defenses and provides more room for guards to penetrate and for big men to post up down low.
North Carolina will be able to space the floor better as they connect on more threes this season.