The North Carolina Tar Heels of 2013-14 should be very tough opponents for any team on their schedule. With essentially the same crew, UNC was able to stomp out everyone except Duke, Miami and Kansas after switching to the smaller lineup.
While that small lineup produced, it wasn't Roy Williams' dual-post system that helped hoist two titles during his 10 seasons in Chapel Hill. Even with all the talent on the squad and the experience the youngsters gained over the last year, the Tar Heels will not compete for a title—ACC or national—without an inside presence at center.
This is why Joel James will be the Tar Heels' biggest X-factor on the floor.
There is a slight caveat here, though. Williams has yet to name the starting center for the upcoming season. Junior Desmond Hubert and freshman Kennedy Meeks will certainly give James some stiff competition if he doesn't develop.
However, North Carolina is still not likely to win a title with Hubert or Meeks at the moment.
Hubert is more defense-oriented, which doesn't help take away attention from James Michael McAdoo, who faced double- and triple-teams on the regular last season.
Meeks is going to be a fine center, but he probably won't be physically ready to start as a freshman, and he will need time to adapt to the Carolina system and the speed of the college game.
James simply has to be the guy.
Looking back on James' freshman season, the 6'10", 280-pound stud was so close yet so far from attaining prominence. His natural talent was indisputable, as he went 30-of-58 from the floor. The man-child stroked his shots with a touch soft enough to put the Snuggle bear in the unemployment line.
Unfortunately, the same couldn't be said of his hands on inlet passes.
On the bright side, I don't think it was a case of the cinder block hands. He was picking up a lot of petty fouls and was called for traveling on multiple occasions during simple ball rotations on the perimeter. Those little mistakes piled up and destroyed his confidence.
This causes youngsters to think too much, trying not to make another mistake. This only makes easy plays more difficult. It becomes a snowball effect.
James is well aware of this issue and focused on it during his summer interview, courtesy of Yahoo! Sports.
You’re always harder on yourself. I feel like I was frustrated. Just a lot of anger, a lot of frustration upon myself, knowing I could do a lot more. ... Have you ever heard the saying, "Confidence is like deodorant, if you don’t have it on, you stink?" That’s what it is.
The big man is right on point here, and the first stage on the Tour de Prominence is acknowledgement of deficiencies. The second is working them out, which he has been trying to do with former Tar Heels Rasheed Wallace and Marvin Williams this summer.
If he manages to do this, no opposing defense or offense will want any part of James. He will become the aggressive, physical beast he was in high school on both ends of the floor. That's some scary stuff.
And that's exactly what Roy Williams needs.
His starting centers have brought a variety of skill sets to the program, but they all have one thing in common: scoring. Roy Williams is able to keep opposing defenses honest with double-digit scoring from both posts and shooting threats on the outside.
James is capable of being that inside threat to take the heat off of scorers McAdoo and P.J. Hairston. He'll also make Marcus Paige's duties of driving and distributing a lot easier. And if he can haul in eight or more rebounds a game, the Tar Heels will be pretty nasty.
Will that happen this year? We can't really know until we see him in game action again. But if his head gets out of the way of his body, look out ACC.
The North Carolina Tar Heels will be back in contention.