Expectations weren't very high across the board for North Carolina last offseason. UNC lost four starters to the NBA, and its only hope was James Michael McAdoo matching the lofty expectations that the media had set for him.
That didn't happen.
But we saw freshman Marcus Paige and sophomore P.J. Hairston step up their games as the season progressed. And McAdoo has chosen to stay another season to prove he is worthy of all the hype.
Expectations are once again high in Chapel Hill, and these three players will be the cornerstones of the Tar Heels' success—or lack thereof—in 2013-14.
The other starting positions are still open game at this point. But Leslie McDonald and Joel James may have the upper hand on their competitors. They have the size, shooting ability and—especially in McDonald's case—experience to earn the starting nod.
That said, let's break down the expectations of this starting five.
The center position for the 2013-14 Tar Heels is probably the most intriguing topic of the offseason. Nobody stuck out as the clear-cut starter last season, which is why we saw the endless rotation of Joel James, Desmond Hubert and even power forward Brice Johnson.
Add in freshman center Kennedy Meeks and freshman power forward Isaiah Hicks, and the decision gets even tougher.
But if Joel James progresses as he should during his first full offseason at Chapel Hill, there will be no questioning who should start. At 6'10", 260 pounds, James has the physical characteristics to absolutely dominate the block.
He has the shooting touch, too.
None of that matters if the player doesn't know how to use his assets. James will be expected to improve his footwork and develop some go-to post moves. Roy Williams will need someone to be able to work with his back to the basket—especially if McAdoo doesn't improve in that area of his game.
But in order to be effective in the post, James has to be able to catch the ball, which was probably his most glaring issue during his freshman season. He also made a lot of mental mistakes with fouls, getting called for traveling and failing to get back in position after giving help on defense.
With only three years of experience with organized basketball prior to UNC, those things can be written off as "rookie" mistakes. As a sophomore, those issues must be cleared up.
James won't be expected to pour on the points like Hairston, McAdoo and Paige. But his size and God-given skills should be enough to produce double-doubles on the regular.
And he should become one of the most feared guardians of the paint in the ACC.
The expectations of McAdoo last season were unrealistic. He was supposed to go from a steal-and-dunk specialist off the bench to a POY-worthy post player in his first offseason.
Heading into his junior season, those expectations become much more realistic.
McAdoo started every game during his sophomore year, averaging 14.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. His issue was a lack of patience and precision with the rock in his hands.
He averaged 2.7 turnovers and shot 44.5 percent from the floor.
With the learning experience that was the 2012-13 season, McAdoo should know that he can't get by with speed and athleticism. He needs to have some go-to post moves other than the turnaround jumper. That will slow him down and increase his efficiency.
Like James, McAdoo was blessed the God-given talent and physique that should produce a dominant force in the paint. But fundamentals are a part of the game, too. He has to show he can develop the tools necessary to become one of the elite big men.
Once expectations are set, they don't just go away.
He got a pass for his nice averages last season, but he will be much more heavily scrutinized starting next November. If there isn't clear development with McAdoo as a junior, this team will struggle and his draft stock will continue to plummet.
P.J. Hairston may actually have two different sets of expectations heading into his junior campaign. Tar Heel fans saw the way he ignited the team every time he stepped on the floor. They remember the 18 points per game he averaged as a starter.
They will expect that same kind of production from him as a full-time starter. And those fans may be the only ones who see him as a true ACC POY candidate.
On a national scale, McAdoo is still the headliner for North Carolina. Hairston still seems to be just an afterthought.
This should play in his favor.
For anyone who watched him on a regular basis, Hairston proved to be the most talented player on the Tar Heels' roster. He could light up the arc, take it to the hole and he was extremely active on the defensive end.
He just lacked a mid-range game, and he still has room to improve as an on-ball defender. That's a short list that Hairston should have no problem crossing off over the next four months or so.
Hairston is the type of talent who should be capable of shooting above 40 percent from three-point range and producing 18 points or more per game.
He has proven to be the emotional leader. Now he needs to become the most feared competitor in the ACC.
Leslie McDonald hasn't been much of a factor for the Tar Heels in his first three seasons. Last year, he averaged a career-high 17.7 minutes per game. Nobody is expecting him to suddenly tear the roof off the Dean Dome, but he should produce much more significant numbers as a senior.
Reggie Bullock's departure to the NBA left a big void in the scoring, rebounding, passing and three-point shooting departments. He was also the team's top defender.
Those are some big shoes to fill, but that is exactly what McDonald will be expected to do.
The rising senior has an excellent stroke, but he hit a slump in the second half of his junior year that dropped his three-point percentage to just 35.9. Before that, he was hanging with Reggie in the 40s.
He also shot 38.1 percent from downtown as a sophomore, so we already know what he is capable of. If he doesn't finish near or above the 40 percent range, he will be considered a severe disappointment.
On top of his production from deep, McDonald will also have to step up in the other categories. He'll probably never be the rebounder Bullock was—or even the defender—but he is a solid passer, has better handles and is a slightly underrated defender.
McDonald can fill the Tar Heels' needs. He doesn't have to be the best player on the squad. Coach Williams just needs consistent production from the rising senior.
As a freshman, Marcus Paige struggled to find his way through most of the season, playing the most important position on the floor. But then he finished in a flurry, earning a boatload of fans across Tar Heel Nation.
In turn, he also boosted expectations.
Paige was able to cut down his turnovers, increase his assists and shooting percentage, perform in the clutch and became extremely crafty on the defensive end. His season averages of 8.2 points, 4.6 assists and 2.5 turnovers per game don't do this kid justice.
Neither does his 34.4 percent shooting from downtown.
Paige is much better than any of those number indicate. Roy Williams nursed him through the better half of the season, using Dexter Strickland as the other point guard on the floor. Once the freshman was able to settle in, he snatched up the reins and never let go.
Next season, there will be no freshman pass given by the fans or Roy Williams.
Paige is more than capable of producing over 10 points and six assists per game. And he should also shoot 38 percent or better from downtown. Don't be surprised if you see him in the 40s with Hairston and McDonald.
He has that kind of game.
Paige not only has to become the passer and scorer he is capable of being, he will also be looked at as a leader and a go-to guy in the clutch. UNC point guards have to develop quickly, and Paige is no exception to the rule.
The Tar Heels won't get anywhere without solid play from their floor general.