North Carolina will probably be one of the more overlooked programs in college basketball next season. The 2013-14 Tar Heels are a cast of unproven players in the eyes of many. The only nationally recognized players are P.J. Hairston and James Michael McAdoo.
But McAdoo didn't live up to expectations last season, and Hairston was suspended indefinitely this summer. It's natural to doubt this UNC squad.
What's forgotten is how young last year's squad really was. The Tar Heels only had three upperclassmen on the entire team. There was only a sophomore and a freshman to choose from at center, and the starting point guard was also a freshman.
Hairston and McAdoo were both sophomores.
This team is much deeper and more talented than most folks realize. And each of the predicted starters could bring a dangerous skill set to the table.
It's all just a matter of development.
As a freshman, Joel James' inexperience stuck out like a fly in a milk jug. Having only played three years of organized basketball before landing in Chapel Hill, the big man was prone to head-shaking mistakes and had an ugly case of the butter fingers.
James simply wasn't mentally prepared for the bright lights of Division I basketball.
We should see a drastically different Joel James come November. There was no questioning his physical tools. The kid is a monster at 6'10", 280 pounds.
James has everything Roy Williams could possibly want from a center in this system. He can shoot from 15 feet in, has solid feet in the post, is big enough to bounce anyone off the block, is a determined rebounder and can run the floor—hopefully with more endurance this season.
Once he gets the mental aspect down, his confidence will go up. Then it's game on for the big man.
If that happens this fall, James will be the clear-cut starter for the Tar Heels at center. And he'll quickly become one of the most feared centers in the ACC.
James Michael McAdoo brought a statistical buffet to the table last season. Though, some of those stats we would rather just slip to the dog.
The sophomore phenom averaged 14.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Most of those numbers should continue to climb during his junior season in Chapel Hill, and I don't know anyone who would complain about that.
What the Tar Heels could live without, though, is his 44.5 percent shooting, his 57.8 percent free-throw shooting and his 2.7 turnovers per game.
Fortunately, McAdoo is well aware of his flaws this offseason and is working on erasing those deficiencies in his game. If he manages to do that, the Mac Attack will be virtually unstoppable.
If he shot 50 percent—the standard minimum for posts—he would have averaged 17.9 points per game in 2012-13. And if he shot at least 70 percent from the free-throw line, that number goes up to 18.4.
That's without another scoring threat at the 5 and a freshman point guard to boot. Imagine if defenses have to worry about Joel James, too.
Last offseason, pundits were jumping the gun with this young stud. He lacked a developed game, and there were very few weapons to divert the defenses.
Now, the stage may finally be set for James Michael McAdoo's breakout season.
What doesn't P.J. Hairston bring to the hardwood?
Roy Williams' premier shooting guard/small forward only started 14 games last season and still led the team in scoring with 14.6 PPG. As a starter, he averaged 18 points—and he was even having to play power forward in 13 of those games.
That was without a mid-range game, which is his greatest deficiency heading into his junior season. He was either drilling treys at a 39.6 percent clip or taking it straight to the rack with the full force of his 220-pound frame.
That was obviously tough enough for defenders to stop. Hairston will be downright nasty if he tightens his handles and adds a floater and a pull-up jumper to his repertoire.
He could also stand to improve on the other end of the floor with his on-ball defense. But there is no doubt he's an opportunistic defender, and he makes opponents pay for mistakes on the regular.
Hairston averaged 1.3 steals per game over just 23.6 minutes.
As long as he doesn't let this summer get him down, P.J. Hairston should be in for a monstrous season. Considering he is the most fiery, charismatic player on the squad, I have a feeling it won't phase him at all.
Kind of like those split fingers.
Leslie McDonald's game may be one of the biggest question marks of the upcoming season for North Carolina. He's essentially replacing a guy who led the team in three-point shooting, was second in rebounding, third in assists and widely considered the top defender on the squad in Reggie Bullock.
Those are some big shoes to fill for McDonald, who averaged just 17.7 minutes per game last season—the most he has played as a Tar Heel.
He did manage 7.2 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.2 assists over that span, though. That's not too shabby.
As the Carolina faithful may recall, there was a time when we didn't think Bullock was capable of much more than above-average three-point shooting. Then he was forced into a bigger role after Dexter Strickland tore his ACL in 2011-12.
The rest is history.
The likelihood of McDonald reaching that level of play as a fifth-year senior is pretty slim. Even his three-point shooting has been suspect at times, and that's what his teammates will be counting on the most from him in 2013-14.
As a sophomore, McDonald shot 38.1 percent from the perimeter. In the 2012 portion of his junior season, he was shooting over 40 percent. However, after the 2013 portion, his shooting percentage for the season plummeted to 35.7.
At this point, it's tough to say what Leslie McDonald will bring to the table. But if he can play some solid team defense and drill threes like he did in the first half of last season, that just might be enough.
Opposing teams, be forewarned: This is not the same Marcus Paige you'll see in last season's tapes. Feel free to ignore that warning, though.
Paige is no longer a shell-shocked freshman with a 157-pound frame. He's the top point guard in his class (2012 ESPN 100) with 35 games of experience under his belt. It was also last reported in July by Inside Carolina that the rising sophomore was up to 171 pounds.
Those factors are going to help Paige in so many ways.
He's an extremely intelligent player with great instincts, ball-handling and a smooth stroke from deep. Having to learn the system on the fly slowed down his game and affected his confidence, which was evident with his poor early-season shooting and indecisiveness.
By the end of the season, he was drilling treys with Bullock and Hairston and dishing the rock without hesitation.
That will be the Marcus Paige of 2013-14. He will have more weapons on the floor to distribute to, and he'll be counted on as one of the Tar Heels' top three-point threats.
But that's just on offense.
What seems to be talked about the least is Paige's defense, which earned UNC's Defensive Player of the Year award. His previous lack of strength did hurt his on-ball efforts, but he made up for it with hustle.
The guy never gives up on a play, and he had a knack for poking the ball loose from behind—even on fast breaks. Paige averaged 1.4 steals per game as a freshman, which is good, but he forced a lot more than that stat indicates.
Between his work ethic, intelligence, God-given talent and offseason assistance from former Tar Heels Raymond Felton, Kendall Marshall and Ty Lawson, Marcus Paige is primed for a breakout season with North Carolina.
There is a sneaky-good team forming in Chapel Hill.