Each year in the sport of college basketball, teams are welcomed with a new set of challenges that typically revolve around roster changes. Even elite programs like North Carolina are not immune to graduation, early entry into the NBA and the inconsistencies that come with baby-fresh recruits.
Though the loss of Dexter Strickland and Reggie Bullock isn't anywhere near the kick in the pants Roy Williams received from the four 2012 NBA draftees, it still hurts.
No matter your perception of Bullock and Strickland's NBA prospects, those two Tar Heels were invaluable to UNC during their stay in Chapel Hill. And in no other season was their value more obvious than 2012-13.
Now the question is: What will be the effect of Carolina's latest roster changes?
Over the next five slides, I will point out what the Tar Heels lost with the departure of Bullock and Strickland. And I will also explain which returners and freshman will most likely fill those roles and how it will be accomplished.
If there is anything that will be missed about Reggie Bullock—well—it's everything he did. Good luck pinpointing one particular facet of his game.
As a junior small forward/shooting guard, Bullock produced serious numbers in every column for his positions. He averaged 13.9 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.3 steals per game. He also had a field-goal percentage of 48.3 and shot 43.6 percent behind the arc on 202 attempts.
The only other player on the team who provided that broad a range of numbers was P.J. Hairston. In roughly eight fewer minutes than Bullock, Hairston put up 14.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.3 steals per game. He also buried 39.6 percent of his 225 threes and even had 14 blocks on the season.
The Tar Heels are still in good hands.
But a senior Bullock and a junior Hairston would have absolutely magical. It's a shame we'll never see them together again as Tar Heels.
There is a chance, though, that Leslie McDonald could fill that role. He hasn't proven to be quite as versatile as Reggie Bullock was, but he hasn't had nearly the same time on the court, either. Bullock logged just over 1,000 more minutes than McDonald during their three years of action.
McDonald averaged 7.2 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 0.5 steals over just 17.7 minutes per game last season. Those numbers are very similar to what Bullock put up in his 2011-12 campaign. Then we saw his full evolution in 2012-13.
Don't be surprised if McDonald does the same. And if J.P. Tokoto can find his jumper, the Tar Heels will have another do-it-all player in the making.
Bullock will be missed, but his absence will allow these guys to step up and show what they're made of.
Boy, did it help having Dexter Strickland to work the point behind freshman Marcus Paige. Through his rookie struggles and early lack of conditioning, Strickland was there to back him up.
The senior combo guard dished out 4.2 dimes to just 1.3 turnovers per game. His play helped neutralize some of the freshman mistakes Paige was making through the first half of the season.
Paige is set up to have a great 2013-14 campaign with the way he was able to finish last season. Not to mention all the offseason work he will be doing, between lessons from former Tar Heel point guards, practices and the stellar strength and conditioning program in Chapel Hill.
But he will still need his rest, and someone will have to step up and run the point for roughly 10 minutes a game.
The most likely suitor will be freshman Nate Britt, who has loads of potential. However, he is unproven in the college ranks, and he is bound to struggle like many other freshman point guards before him. The good news is that he won't have to take on the bulk of the reps like Paige had to.
Perhaps Paige's play will help neutralize Britt's mistakes as Strickland's did last season for the newbie point.
If Britt struggles too much, Coach Williams can always insert Luke Davis. In his limited minutes at North Carolina, Davis has proved himself to be a reliable point guard. However, he lacks the dynamic play and speed of Britt.
And he has only played a total of 82 minutes at Carolina.
Davis did log 1,035 minutes as a freshman starter at Gardner-Webb, though, and he has been able to watch and learn at UNC for the past two seasons.
Soon enough, depth and experience at the point won't be an issue. Joel Berry will be heading to Chapel Hill for the 2014-15 season, joining a sophomore Nate Britt and a junior Marcus Paige.
Until then, Roy may have to deal with some rough patches while Paige is on the bench.
With the loss of Bullock and Strickland, there has been a complete reversal of depth on the wing. Last season, Bullock, Strickland, Hairston, McDonald and Tokoto were all fighting for minutes at the 2 and 3 positions.
Until Coach Williams went with the small lineup, Hairston wasn't even starting.
Unless the Tar Heels land Andrew Wiggins—whom I see as a small forward in this lineup—there will only be three guys to rotate on the wing. Britt may also see a few extra minutes as an off-guard, but his lack of size and experience will probably keep him out of that rotation for now.
The perimeter game will also take a hit without Bullock. McDonald has the ability to shoot as well as Bullock, but he struggled immensely through the second half of the 2012-13 season. Hopefully, he will be more consistent when he isn't spending the majority of the game on the bench.
Hubert Davis will undoubtedly dedicate a hefty chunk of his time to J.P. Tokoto, who doesn't sport much range for a small forward. He was just 1-of-11 from downtown last season, and he had a hard time converting free throws, too.
He was just 10-of-26 from the line.
To me, the issue with Tokoto's shot is more mechanical than anything. He doesn't line up his lower body very well and typically shoots unbalanced because of that. In other words, Tokoto is fixable.
There are a lot of questions on the wing beyond Hairston. One thing is for certain, though: Hubert Davis will have his hands full with this group during the offseason.
As the team thinned out on the wing, the post positions received the opposite treatment.
James Michael McAdoo decided to stay put for another year in Chapel Hill, which really crowded the power forward slot. A more experienced Brice Johnson will also be available along with the sensational freshman Isaiah Hicks.
Hicks was recently named Mr. Basketball for the state of North Carolina.
If McAdoo and Johnson both develop the way they should in the offseason and Hicks can live up to his potential, this rotation could be considered one of the best in the country at the position. And the ever-reliable Jackson Simmons will also be available in times of need.
It's a little more of a mystery at center, though.
Last season, freshman Joel James and sophomore Desmond Hubert were the only true centers on the roster. Hubert was at Chapel Hill the prior year, but he only logged 123 minutes as a freshman.
There simply wasn't much experience between those two, and it showed. With another offseason to develop, however, there is a possibility James and Hubert could become forces in the paint. They both showed potential in 2012-13.
Freshman Kennedy Meeks will also be joining the crew down low. Not only could the newest big man provide a boost in the paint, he also has the range of a stretch-4 and the passing ability of a point guard.
Don't expect to see him too much if James and Hubert step up their games, though. After last season, Roy will be wanting experience at the 5 to solidify his dual-post scheme.
And if those two don't step up, Johnson and Hicks might also be in the way of Meeks' playing time.
As long as Coach Williams doesn't deploy the merry-go-round like last season, when the guys were rotated out every two minutes, the Tar Heels should look much better at center.
There is no question the Tar Heels lost two great leaders in Strickland and Bullock. But I do believe there are two better leaders-in-the-making who will rise to the challenge next season.
To find out who is capable of this role, you must first ask yourself: What is it that defines a great leader?
To me, a great leader leads by example the way Bullock and Strickland did with their work ethic and team-first mentality. Those two characteristics are a must.
But there are a few other factors that must be considered when searching for the greatest of leaders.
The best leaders have an edge to them. They play with an intensity and a will to win that becomes contagious with the other players. The raging fire inside them can't be put out by mere adversity, and the scoreboard means nothing to them until the buzzer sounds.
If there are any current Tar Heels that fit that description, it's P.J. Hairston and Marcus Paige.
Nobody on the court last season played with more intensity and passion than those two guys. And nobody was more willing and able to lead a comeback or bury the clutch shot.
According to Inside Carolina, Hairston is already assuming the role. "I think P.J. is stepping up and being more of a leader already that I’ve seen in the offseason," Williams said during his Tar Heel Tour in Greensboro, N.C.
That's very good news considering Hairston was easily the most emotionally influential Tar Heel on last season's squad.
And with Paige as the floor general, that role should be assumed with him, too. There were times last season where you could see him instructing the other guys—especially during the latter stretch. But even as a point guard, it's not easy getting guys to listen when you're still in freshman diapers.
Now that he is no longer the newbie on the squad, he will be more willing to instruct, and his teammates will be more willing to listen. He will also have a better grip on everyone's duties.
There is no doubt in my mind these two stars will excel in their new roles as leaders on and off the floor.
A lot may have been lost with the departures of Dexter Strickland and Reggie Bullock. But this is North Carolina basketball, and there are always players ready to step up and fill the voids. With the returners and another strong recruiting class, the 2013-14 squad will be no exception to the rule.