There's no such thing as a rebuilding year for North Carolina basketball.
Roy Williams has lost four-fifths of his starting lineup, but it's not like he isn't already used to years like this in Chapel Hill.
After the Heels won the National Championship in 2004-05, Williams lost an astounding six of his top seven scorers. The next season, he still managed to wrestle a second-round appearance in the Big Dance out of his team.
The next time didn't go so smoothly. After losing four starters from the 2008-09 title team, Williams and the Heels won just 20 games and missed the tourney.
But this time around, Williams has more talent to work with. He brings in a Top 10 recruiting class, multiple key players are returning from injuries and several young guns figure to take the next step towards greatness.
Rebuild? I think not.
Let's take a look at what the Tar Heels face for the 2012-13 season.
At least we know freshman Marcus Paige has good footwork
PG Marcus Paige (Freshman)
PF Brice Johnson (Freshman)
C Joel James (Freshman)
SF J.P. Tokoto (Freshman)
This is Roy Williams' most highly touted incoming class since he brought in five Top 100 commits in 2009.
However, things didn't go so well that time around.
John Henson turned out to be a valuable force in the middle, but Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald have struggled with inconsistency and injuries and the Wear twins took their talents to UCLA.
In 2012, Williams needs to get more out of his youngsters.
Point guard Marcus Paige, without a doubt, will be the most important. The smooth lefty has the unfortunate task of filling in immediately for Kendall Marshall, who was the engine that made North Carolina's offense go the last two years.
Paige will be a better shooter and scorer than Marshall, and while he won't be as good of a distributor right away, he knows how to find the open teammates. What's concerning, however, is how well his 160-pound frame—seriously—will hold up at the next level.
Big men Brice Johnson and Joel James—don't worry, no relation to Jerome—should immediately challenge for playing time with James Michael McAdoo being the only sure thing down low.
J.P. Tokoto, meanwhile, may not find a ton of open minutes behind UNC's experienced wings, but he's someone to watch for during blowouts. I don't want to say the name Vince Carter, but yeah.
PG Kendall Marshall (Draft)
SF Harrison Barnes (Draft)
PF John Henson (Draft)
C Tyler Zeller (Draft)
The Heels lose four-fifths of a starting lineup that made it to the Elite Eight last year and probably would have made if further had Kendall Marshall not suffered an untimely injury.
The fearsome foursome, which
everyone I liked to call it, accounted for 63 percent of UNC's scoring, 59 percent of its rebounding and 60 percent of its assists. Those numbers were even higher when Dexter Strickland was out of the lineup.
While determining the biggest loss of the four is nearly impossible, players like Marshall don't come along too often. His old-school pass-first game instantly made everyone around him better, and that was evident from the struggles the Heels went through when he was off the court.
Henson, who took his game to a whole new level last season, and Zeller, who was arguably one of the most consistent big men in the nation over the last few years, will be equally tough to replace.
Losing Barnes, on the other hand, isn't as much of a blow as it seems. The sharpshooter was insanely talented and a gifted scorer, but he was also inconsistent and hesitant, and Roy Williams has the pieces to fill in for him on the wing.
For the most part, the starting lineup for the November 9 battle with Gardner-Webb is set in stone.
Roy Williams has said freshman Marcus Paige will start at point guard. Dexter Strickland, who looks to be recovering nicely from a torn ACL, should return to his starting role at shooting guard. Reggie Bullock brings along experience and sharpshooting to the other wing, although he's not a true small forward. Finally, James Michael McAdoo, who looked so strong at the end of last season, is a lock to start in the post.
The only real question mark in the starting lineup comes from the other post.
Sophomore Desmond Hubert got the start last week in an exhibition game against Shaw, but freshmen Brice Johnson and Joel James will battle him for minutes.
As far as the bench goes, Strickland backed up Kendall Marshall last year and should do the same this season for Paige. The Heels boast enough wing players (P.J. Hairston, Leslie McDonald) to let the senior move around in the backcourt.
|Point Guard||Marcus Paige||Dexter Strickland|
|Shooting Guard||Dexter Strickland||P.J. Hairston|
|Small Forward||Reggie Bullock||Leslie McDonald|
|Power Forward||James Michael McAdoo||Brice Johnson|
|Center||Desmond Hubert||Joel James|
It may seem like the Heels lost a lot of weapons, but Harrison Barnes was the only key departure from the perimeter. Meanwhile, Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald return from ACL tears, sophomore P.J. Hairston should continue to improve and Reggie Bullock logged major minutes last season.
I'd call that an upgrade.
Strickland's injury last season was much more backbreaking than anyone really led on. Not only did he start opposite Marshall, but he also backed him up at PG when no one else could—sorry, Stilman White. North Carolina's only scholarship senior is quick, a pest on the defensive side of the ball and will serve as the Tar Heels' leader and ideal glue guy.
The other three, well, they can shoot pretty well.
Bullock upped his three-point percentage to .382 last year while hitting 1.9 treys per game. In the NCAA tourney, he knocked down an impressive 11 in four games.
Hairston really hit the freshman wall, but there's no denying how pretty his stroke can be. Despite the 27 percent mark from long range, I wouldn't be surprised if he stepped up as the team's best shooter. Nay, I predict he'll be the team's best shooter.
Lastly, you have McDonald. It might take him a while to shake off the rust, but the talented junior is just as deadly from the outside as his teammates.
The Tar Heels struggled to shoot the ball from the outside last year, but it might just be their go-to weapon in 2012-13.
Oh yeah, and James Michael McAdoo serves as a pretty decent strength as well. The top recruit was starting to look like a bust last season, but he showed his potential near the end of the year and during March.
In UNC's final game against Kansas, the youngster scored 15 points and grabbed four rebounds in just 19 minutes. This year, there's no doubt he figures to be the star.
The fear of the unknown.
North Carolina's potential is sky-high, but there are lots of things that could go wrong.
A lot—maybe too much for a true freshman point guard—is riding on Marcus Paige being the YouTube version of Marcus Paige, and if he doesn't quickly adapt to the college game, the Heels could be in trouble.
Furthermore, the depth behind James Michael McAdoo is questionable. The talent is undeniable, sure, but the fact that Desmond Hubert, Brice Johnson or Joel James haven't separated themselves is a little concerning, though they looked good against Shaw.
(Albeit Shaw is Shaw.)
Finally, while there will be times when the Tar Heels live by the three, there will also undoubtedly be times when they die by it. We've mentioned how good the shooters can be, but no one outside of Paige can really create offense for himself off the dribble.
When teams get out and defend hard on the perimeter, North Carolina may struggle to score with consistency.
Return from the ACL Tear(s)
The Tar Heels have not one, not two, not three, not four—wait, no, just two players returning from ACL tears who will make significant contributions.
Senior Dexter Strickland tore his against Virginia Tech on January 19 while junior Leslie McDonald sat out all of last year as redshirt as he recovered from his surgery.
You know what they say, guys who tear their ACLs together, play well together.
Everyone knows about North Carolina and Duke, but did you know that there's another team in this state?
The expectations around North Carolina State are incredibly high, and considering the talent on that roster, it's not hard to see why. With the Wolfpack picked by most to win the ACC and challenge for a National Championship, this is the best all three schools will be at the same time in recent memory.
A National Championship.
It might be a long shot with Roy Williams relying on an incredible amount of young, raw talent, but it's far from unthinkable.
Just imagine if the historically good head coach gets full potential out of his freshmen right away. Suddenly, the Heels have an elite point guard capable of collapsing defenses, a slew of tremendous shooters on the outside and solid depth down low backing up a Player of the Year candidate in James Michael McAdoo.
Should that all happen, this team, which loves to get out and run, would go 10, or possibly even 11 players deep. That would give teams the fittiest of the fits come tournament time.
A repeat of 2009-10.
The Heels won the national title in 2008-09, but weren't able to recover from the loss of Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson. They won just 20 games and fell to dreaded depths of the NIT.
This team undoubtedly has more talent than Deon Thompson, Will Graves, Marcus Ginyard and company, but if Marcus Paige fails to live up to expectations, the wings don't shoot the ball well or James Michael McAdoo reverts to the early freshman year version of himself, the Heels will end up with more home games than they'd like.
You know, because NIT games are played on teams' home floors.
23-9 (14-4 ACC), Second in ACC
North Carolina's out-of-conference schedule isn't easy. In Maui, the Heels will have to face Mississippi State, then Butler or Marquette and then potentially Texas or Illinois. Then they travel to Bloomington to take on the No. 1 Hoosiers before going to Texas to face the Longhorns. Later that month, they must host an incredibly dangerous UNLV squad.
Combine all of that with a potentially slow start as all of the young players learn to mesh with each other at game speed, and it wouldn't be surprising to see the Tar Heels drop four or five in the regular season.
As the players begin to mature, however, I think the Heels will hit their stride and be a major force in the ACC. I've got them splitting with NC State, Duke and Florida State with room for an upset loss mixed in. Still though, considering the youth of this team, don't be surprised if it succumbs to multiple upsets.
There will be ups and downs, but the North Carolina Tar Heels will be more 2006 than 2010 in what is being labeled as a rebuilding year.