The UNC Tar Heels' 2011-2012 season ended with great disappointment.
Coming off an ACC regular- season championship and an impressive Elite Eight run the year before, much was expected of the Tar Heels entering last season. They were ranked No. 1 in every preseason poll as they returned all five starters, including four future NBA players in Kendall Marshall, Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller.
Though the team won the ACC regular-season title once more, the Tar Heels were ousted in the Elite Eight for the second consecutive season.
For the 2012-13 season, expectations are not as high as they were at the beginning of last season. UNC is only returning one starter, and players who were reserves will now have to play major minutes.
Let's take a look at the players on this year's roster and analyze what each brings to the table.
The play of this freshman point guard will be highly scrutinized. He has huge shoes to fill. He not only replaces Kendall Marshall in the starting lineup, but he also will don the No. 5 jersey worn by Marshall and Ty Lawson before him.
That jersey number has been synonymous with success in Chapel Hill, and fans will look for Paige to add to that legacy.
He was the No. 1 point guard in the recruiting class of 2012, according to ESPN.com. In order for the Tar Heels to succeed this season, he will need to live up to that billing and more.
In Roy Williams' style of offense, the point guard is perhaps the most important player on the floor. Without stellar point guard play, UNC has struggled (see: 2010 with Larry Drew II, 2012 once Kendall Marshall broke his wrist).
Paige is not quite the distributor that Marshall was, but he is quicker, faster and a more prolific scorer. He is good at getting his teammates involved while at the same time creating shots for himself.
Paige is simply not the same player that Marshall was, so fans should not expect him to do the things that made Marshall successful. Instead, Paige brings his own unique (and talented) skill set that should help the Tar Heels contend for another ACC Championship.
Dexter Strickland will likely be subbed in at point guard when Paige needs a breather. But the Tar Heels have one other true point in Luke Davis, a transfer from Gardner Webb, who averaged 7.2 points and 4.2 assists per game during the 2010-2011 season for the Runnin' Bulldogs.
He will likely fill the void the left by Stilman White and only play in blowouts or emergency situations.
His junior season ended abruptly last year after he shredded his ACL while attempting one of his patented euro-step dribble moves against Virginia Tech. Up to that point, Strickland was having the best season of his career, averaging 7.5 points while shooting 57 percent from the floor.
However, his defensive prowess is the part of his game that stands out the most. He created havoc in the backcourt, nabbing 1.3 steals per game.
Considering the considerable talent UNC has a shooting guard, Strickland will also see time at backup point guard behind Marcus Paige. Although he is not known for being a distributor, Strickland posted 2.1 assists per game last season and significantly lowered the number of turnovers he committed in his two previous seasons.
UNC should be a force on defense this season with the talent that returns at the shooting guard position. Despite the ACL injury, expect Strickland to get after it on defense as he will be called upon to defend the best perimeter players on opposing teams.
Along with Strickland, expect to see a lot of playing time for McDonald and P.J. Hairston at shooting guard. McDonald also returns from an ACL injury, though he sustained his this summer competing in the Carolina Pro-Am.
McDonald will instantly boost the outside shooting ability of the Tar Heels. He is a proven three-point scorer, shooting better than 38 percent from beyond the arc during the 2010-2011 season. McDonald lit it up during the Pro-Am event before he was injured, and by all accounts he looked poised to have an outstanding season.
Now, he hopes to prove that the ACL injury has not taken away from his game. As such, he enters this season with a lot to prove to both fans and skeptics alike.
He is a player who certainly had his ups and downs during his first year at UNC. He started the season on a tear, showcasing his potency as a three-point threat and as a fantastic finisher at the rim. Once the conference season started, however, Hairston's season went down the drain. He finished the season shooting only a little better than 30 percent from the field and 27 percent from three-point range.
Hairston has worked on his jump shot this summer under the tutelage of newly hired assistant coach Hubert Davis, who ranks third on the all-time NBA three-point percentage list. So Hairston has a great teacher.
Time will tell if Hairston has learned from the mistakes he made last season. He'll have to if the Tar Heels want to reach its customary goals.
He had perhaps the best NCAA Tournament of any UNC player last season. His 17-point, 10-rebound, five-assist effort in the overtime win over the Ohio Bobcats saved the Tar Heels' season.
Bullock stepped into the starting lineup after Dexter Strickland was injured and seemed to get better every game. Bullock developed into the team's best perimeter defender with Strickland out and improved his shooting percentage (especially from the three-point line) once he got more playing time.
Much more will be expected of Bullock now that he is a junior. He averaged a respectable 8.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game last year. In order for the Tar Heels to have a successful season, he must improve upon those numbers.
As a small forward, Bullock will be relied upon to grab more rebounds than he did last season. Luckily for the Tar Heels, rebounding is a major strength of Bullock's. His three-point shooting, perimeter defense and rebounding were all solid last season. But if the Tar Heels want to make a Final Four run, Bullock will need to continue to develop in these areas.
Juan Pierre Tokoto ended last season ranked No. 70 in the final ESPN.com recruiting rankings.The thing to know about Tokoto is that he is an extremely athletic player. Before playing his first college game, "Air Pierre" has already drawn comparisons to former UNC greats Vince Carter and Jerry Stackhouse in terms of his freakish athletic ability and finishes at the rim. When he makes plays like this, it's easy to understand why.
Tokoto will play more of a reserve role this season, as the shooting guard and small forward spots will be manned by the more experienced players. When he does enter the game, however, expect Tokoto to make the "wow" plays that will have fans up on their feet.
He does not have the shooting ability of many of the other guards on the team, though he is still is a very capable scorer and should evolve into a key contributor.
James Michael McAdoo
No player on UNC's roster will be more scrutinized this season. After looking tentative and unsure of himself for much of his freshman campaign, McAdoo really began to assert himself in the latter stages of the season once John Henson suffered a wrist injury. In the Elite Eight contest against Kansas, McAdoo was UNC's best player, scoring 15 points, grabbing four rebounds, nabbing two steals and blocking a shot in just 19 minutes of play.
Entering his sophomore season, McAdoo will now be looked to as the first option on offense. If the Tar Heels are to succeed this season, McAdoo must improve his field-goal percentage, as he only shot 43.4 percent last year. He must become more consistent, as he had a penchant for making the spectacular play (see this hellacious dunk against Duke), but often left fans scratching their heads with his tendency to botch post shots and easy layups.
If McAdoo improves his shot selection and develops more consistency, look for him to have a breakout year similar to Thomas Robinson a year ago. McAdoo has all the tools to be an All-American, and he will need to be if UNC wants to win the ACC and compete for a Final Four berth.
He was the No. 34 recruit in the class of 2012, according to ESPN.com. He will see extended playing time in the frontcourt, as he will likely enter the game during McAdoo's breaks.
Johnson is similar to former power forward John Henson in that he is has a large wingspan and a knack for blocking shots. Johnson has superb athletic ability and will need to use that to create shots in the post, considering he is not wide enough to carve out room for himself in the paint.
Don't expect to see an expansive offensive game from Johnson in his first season. He is a raw player who is still finding his was way on that end of the floor.
He is the consummate role player. Simmons doesn't wow anybody with his athleticism or jumping ability, but he still finds ways to get shots off when needed. He played well in limited playing time last season, though that was often during blowouts.
Simmons may see more playing time this season, though it is doubtful that Roy Williams will play him for more than a handful of minutes at a time.
He is one of the more intriguing players on the UNC roster. Ranked No. 66 in ESPN.com recruiting rankings, James is a wide load at 6'10'', 260 pounds. The Fort Lauderdale, Fla., product is a beast in the paint, as he uses his size and strength to bull his way past defenders and create shot opportunities.
Former Tar Heel Tyler Zeller said that James "hit him as hard as anybody had ever hit him in his four years."
Still, James lacks true post moves and will need to continue to develop those if he hopes to start at center. By all accounts, he is working hard to improve that part of this game.
But where the Tar Heels really need James is on the boards. His height and weight will help him pull down rebounds in crowds. UNC has historically been a strong rebounding team, and if that is continue, James must be a force in the middle.
With Zeller and John Henson departing for the NBA, the Tar Heels lost a lot of their rebounding from last season. So James will need to make his presence known in the frontcourt for UNC to get where it wants to be.
He is a bit of an unknown commodity. He did not play much during his freshman season, and when he did, it was during blowouts. Hubert is another player similar to Henson. He's long and lanky, and has trouble maintaining his position in the lane when matched against larger frontcourt players.
Hubert will be expected to play key minutes this season. He put on 30 pounds during the offseason to prepare himself for the grind that is to come. UNC fans are hoping he also improved his offensive repertoire and free throw shooting (1-for-13 from the charity stripe), because they were severely lacking during last year's campaign.
It is still unknown whether James or Hubert will start alongside James McAdoo in the frontcourt. Both players need to improve in certain aspects of their games if the Tar Heels hope to compete in a tough ACC and contend for a Final Four berth.
Expectations for this UNC team do not come close to equaling what was expected of last year's squad.
This may turn out to be a good thing, as this is a young team that needs to develop an identity before dreaming of making a championship run. With N.C. State entering the season as the prohibitive favorite to win the ACC, UNC will not have the burden of living up to the lofty expectations heaped upon Tar Heel teams of the past.
A couple of things need to go right for UNC if it wants to play for the national championship in Atlanta. It must get quality play from the point guard position, its three-point shooting needs to improve and James Michael McAdoo needs to become an All-American.
It all starts with the point guard. If Marcus Paige averages more than five assists per game while continuing to demonstrate the scoring ability he had in high school, the Tar Heels will be fine. He doesn't have to be Kendall Marshall 2.0. Paige just needs to stay within himself and run the offense efficiently and effectively while distributing the ball to the team's offensive playmakers.
UNC's three-point shooting has been lackluster, to say the least, since its national championship season in 2009. Leslie McDonald, Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston must improve their shooting percentages from beyond the arc. Better outside shooting will open up scoring opportunities for McAdoo and the rest of the frontcourt players and create a much more balanced and efficient offense overall.
Speaking of McAdoo, if he performs like the tentative player he was for much of his freshman season, the Tar Heels have no shot at competing for an ACC crown, let alone an NCAA title. McAdoo must build on the momentum he established at the end of last season and continue to make strides on the offensive end of the floor.
Last season, he observed from the sidelines a lot of the time because he had John Henson and Tyler Zeller starting in front of him. Now, he is expected to take on a leadership role for a team that has nine freshmen and sophomores. As McAdoo's season goes, so does UNC's.