When North Carolina won the 2005 national championship, the exodus of both seniors and underclassmen (temporarily) gutted the program and meant that 2005-06 would be a pretty long year, even with talented freshman (such as Tyler Hansbrough and Danny Green) joining the squad.
The upcoming season is going to be different for a number of reasons, the most important of which is the return of Marcus Ginyard and an even more talented group of freshman than the 2005 class.
Roy Williams faced a tough choice when Ginyard was slow to recover from preseason foot surgery. His team was playing mediocre (at best) defense at the time, and red-shirting Ginyard would mean losing UNC's best defensive player for the rest of the season, even though he likely could have returned for the ACC and NCAA tournaments.
The upside, of course, was that Ginyard would return as the vocal leader and moral compass for a class of youngsters with enough talent to potentially return the Tar Heels to the Final Four.
It turns out the Williams and Ginyard chose wisely.
Ginyard's value to the 2009-10 team can hardly be overstated. During the 2007-08 Final Four campaign, Ginyard was often the player that kept the team centered. He was the most valuable sixth man in the country, the fiercest UNC defender, and the most vocal leader in the locker room.
That role will be even more crucial with at least five freshman and four sophomores on the team next season, many of them high-school standouts or McDonald's All-Americans.
The current roster is as follows:
Sr. SG/SF Marcus Ginyard
Sr. PF Deon Thompson
Jr. SG/SF Will Graves
So. PF Ed Davis
So. PG Larry Drew II
So. PF/C Tyler Zeller
So. SG Justin Watts
Fr. SG/SF Leslie McDonald
Fr. SF/PF John Henson
Fr. PF Travis Wear
Fr. PF David Wear
Fr. PG/SG Dexter Strickland
Ed Davis, Tyler Zeller, and the Wear twins can all potentially play the center "position," but in reality, none of them are true centers. Zeller is most likely to occupy the role, as Davis appears more affective as a PF.
John Henson was originally recruited more as a shooting guard, but his growth spurt and the evolution of his game make it much more likely that this All-American will be in the forward position.
The projected starting lineup is a bit tricky, but one would have to believe that the upperclassmen will occupy the starting positions at least at the beginning of the season. By mid-season, it is likely that some of the talented underclassmen will challenge for starting positions and will, at the very least, be taking up huge chunks of playing time.
I expect, for example, Larry Drew II to start the season at point guard but if he doesn't learn to make better and quicker passing decisions, and if he doesn't take care of the ball more effectively (improving his turnover to assist ratio), I fully expect that Strickland will be able to jump in and take his place.
As another example, it's almost inconceivable that a talent such as John Henson won't eventually be starting, perhaps even relegating Ginyard back to the sixth-man role in which he excelled in 2007-08.
Projected opening-game starting line-up:
PG: Larry Drew, II
SG: Marcus Ginyard
SF: Deon Thompson
PF: Ed Davis
C: Tyler Zeller
This is a very forward-heavy line-up, so an alternative is to move Ginyard to SF, Thompson to PF, Davis to C, and start Strickland or McDonald at SG. This would, however, relegate Zeller to the bench, which seems pretty unlikely considering the way he started the season last year.
Davis is the only absolute lock for a starting position on opening day. I believe the starting line-up will evolve as listed below.
Projected ACC Tournament starting line-up:
PG: Dexter Strickland
SG: Leslie McDonald
SF: John Henson
PF: Ed Davis
C: Tyler Zeller
I see Ginyard going back to his sixth-man role, entering for McDonald or Henson early in the game. Deon Thompson might be (in this case) the best seventh-man in UNC history, spelling Davis or Henson.
The Wear twins can rotate in for Zeller and, of course, Drew will be a completely adequate back-up for Strickland.
UNC will likely be the deepest team in the country, with 11 quality players rotating into every game (the least impressive of which is Will Graves, who was still seeing about five minutes or more on the 2008-09 championship team before he was suspended).
Some egos will likely have to be massaged, but Roy Williams has proven plenty capable of handling that situation in the past, both at UNC and Kansas. It certainly is better to have too much talent than too little.
The Tar Heels' run and gun style of play suits these players well, and having such a deep rotation means that opponents will be absolutely exhausted by the 10-minute mark of the second half.
This combination of talent and depth makes the Tar Heels a valid threat to return to the Final Four in 2010.
Predicted preseason poll rank: No. 9
Predicted pre-NCAA Tourney poll rank: No. 6
Predicted ACC Regular Season Champion: North Carolina
Predicted NCAA Tourney seed: No. 2 seed
Predicted NCAA Tournament finish: National Semi-Finalist
Predicted NCAA Champion: Kansas
Predicted number of players who will be in the starting line-up throughout the year: 9
Is it November yet?