UNC Basketball: What's Next for Tar Heels Following Andrew Wiggins' Decision

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UNC Basketball: What's Next for Tar Heels Following Andrew Wiggins' Decision
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

No Andrew Wiggins, no problem. 

It was a bit of a long shot to begin with, but Roy Williams and the North Carolina Tar Heels came up short in the sweepstakes for the country's most prized basketball recruit. According to Grant Traylor, who is a sports reporter for The Herald-Dispatch in Huntington, W.Va., Wiggins announced he would be attending Kansas to play for Bill Self and the Jayhawks: 

This serves as a bit of a crushing blow for anyone who had been daydreaming of watching the brightest star on the planet doing ludicrous things like this at the Smith Center next year.  

Onward and upward, though. Much like Gloria Gaynor, the Tar Heels will survive. 

The first step of dealing with this broken dream is to look forward. Let's take a gander at a (very, very early) projected starting lineup for Williams' boys:

  Starter Reserve
PG Marcus Paige Nate Britt
SG Leslie McDonald J.P. Tokoto
SF P.J. Hairston J.P. Tokoto
PF James Michael McAdoo Isaiah Hicks
C Brice Johnson Kennedy Meeks/Joel James

Williams turned the Tar Heels'—and P.J. Hairston's—season around last year when he switched to a four-guard lineup that featured Leslie McDonald on the wing, Hairston at the 4 and James Michael McAdoo at "center."

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With Dexter Strickland graduating and Reggie Bullock off to the NBA, however, he no longer has the perimeter depth to play around with that sort of flexibility. 

Instead, the Heels will likely move back to a more traditional two-big lineup. In a complete reversal from last year, their depth down low is overflowing, which allows them to do so.

Not only should Brice Johnson and Joel James—who both fell pretty much entirely out of the rotation by the end of last season—show improvement, but two McDonald's All-Americans in Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks are also coming to Chapel Hill.

Johnson doesn't have ideal center size (6'9", 187 pounds), but if he adds some bulk and works on his defense, he has already shown the athleticism and offensive talent to thrive in North Carolina's fast-paced system.

Hicks (6'8", 205 pounds, and oozing with athletic ability) could fill a similar role, while Meeks (6'9", 275 pounds) would serve as a more traditional, old-school center. 

For now, I have Johnson and his extra year of experience slotted next to McAdoo, who averaged a "disappointing" 14.4 points and 7.3 rebounds as a sophomore last year. Either way, though, Williams has plenty of versatility to get creative with his big men. 

Running the show will be Marcus Paige. 

Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Another elite recruit, Nate Britt, may challenge him for playing time, but Paige showed enough progression at the end of last season to suggest he's ready to lead this team confidently.

In his last 10 games (including the ACC and NCAA tournament), Paige shot 40.5 percent (15-of-37) from beyond the arc, dished out 51 assists and turned the ball over just 28 times. If you take out his atrocious outlying game against Maryland, that assist-to-turnover ratio climbs from an already solid 1.8 to an exceptional 2.45. 

Paige struggled to begin the season, but that kind of finish was an incredibly positive sign moving forward.

On the perimeter is where North Carolina's most dangerous weapon resides.

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Hairston, who averaged 18.2 points in his last 13 games, is a legitimate candidate for ACC Player of the Year after spurning the NBA. Entering his junior year, he has a combination of size (6'5", 220 pounds), ability to create off the dribble and stroke from the outside that points to a behemoth offensive year on the horizon.

While the Tar Heels are going to be young again, what they are losing doesn't come close to rivaling the departures they had to deal with last offseason. In addition to the nation's 13th-best recruiting class (per 247Sports), an added year of gelling and progression for a team that returns a majority of its nucleus means improvement is coming. 

As such, that gives them a floor of 25 wins.

Andrew Wiggins, who? 

 

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