The North Carolina Tar Heels will be playing in their first official exhibition game this Friday, and the 2013-14 season will officially tip off with Oakland a week later. That means we have some preseason ground to make up with predictions and expectations for this year's UNC squad.
Today, we're posting pass-fail marks for the Tar Heels' top players.
By no means should these marks be considered goals for these players. They are simply the minimum standard, and anything below that could warrant a failing grade.
To be fair, I avoided using per-game stats, as many factors play into those numbers. We'll be focusing more on percentages than anything over the next few slides.
Brice Johnson, Joel James and Kennedy Meeks are three post players who will likely play major roles for the Tar Heels in 2013-14. The only issue is that nobody knows how much these guys will contribute. This is also why they were lumped together as a group.
Will James or Meeks be the starting center? Will they split the time?
How will Brice Johnson get his minutes with James Michael McAdoo in front of him?
This is a prime example of why we can't just throw out some per-game numbers these guys should reach and label them a fail if they don't. But if this trio is to help the Tar Heels make a run for the ACC title, rebounding and field-goal percentage will be crucial.
Last season, Johnson and James averaged one rebound every 3.3 and 3.9 minutes, respectively. All together, they averaged 3.5.
That's a mark they should be able to reach, even with the inclusion of freshman Kennedy Meeks. To put that mark in perspective, both John Henson and Tyler Zeller averaged one rebound every 2.9 minutes in 2011-12.
Also, as post players, they should be expected to shoot 50 percent from the floor or better. James and Johnson achieved that goal last season, and I don't see it being an issue in year two.
Leslie McDonald is another tough one to nail with some preseason pass-fail marks. Though we initially assumed he would be the starting 2-guard, he recently told ESPN he would be fine with a sixth-man role.
His defense could be the deciding factor in which role he plays for the Tar Heels in his fifth year with the program. His production offensively, however, will be the true indicator of how successful his season was.
The Tar Heels will be without their leading three-point shooter in Reggie Bullock. They will also be without their second-leading three-point weapon, P.J. Hairston, for an unknown period of time due to suspension. McDonald's range will be needed more than ever in 2013-14 if UNC is to make an impact on the expanded ACC.
Coming off an ACL surgery as a fourth-year junior, McDonald was setting the nets on fire, burying 25 of his first 58 three-point attempts. Following a set-back with his knee and a suspension, he finished out the season 17-of-59.
McDonald must shoot better than 35.9 percent to give him a pass. He will be expected to contribute in other ways, but nothing will be more crucial than his consistency behind the arc.
But he shot 38.1 percent from downtown as a sophomore, so anything below 38 should be considered unacceptable.
Expectations rise a bit as we move to Marcus Paige. The sophomore floor general appears ready to put his freshman struggles in the past and show he's worthy of being mentioned with the country's best point guards.
Paige struggled to get his bearings as a freshman starter. He was turnover-prone, didn't play at a Carolina pace and struggled mightily with his shooting. But once things clicked with Paige, it was a whole new ball game.
He should start where he left off, becoming one of the Tar Heels' premier three-point weapons. He was 20-of-45 from downtown in his last 12 games of the season. That wasn't an aberration, either. It's what he's been doing since he picked up a basketball.
His mark should be set at 38 percent with McDonald. Anything less is Paige not living up to his potential. The kid can shoot the rock.
What will also be important is his turnover ratio.
Last season, he finished with a 1.9:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Anywhere below 2:1 as a sophomore would be unexpected and very disappointing. I believe he will be somewhere between 2.5:1 and 3:1.
If everything goes as planned, we should see Page land on one of the All-ACC teams.
For P.J. Hairston, this season will be about performing well enough to make fans and scouts forget what happened this summer. That's going take some pretty impressive performances, but that is something Hairston is perfectly capable of achieving.
We know he can light it up from deep, and he probably has the most range of any player in the nation. I remember watching him bury a shot from about 70 feet with three-point form last season. He consistently knocks treys down from 30 feet.
Hairston's shooting percentage is of little concern to me. I have no doubt he will finish somewhere in the range of 40 percent.
What I am concerned about is how often he shoots the three-ball. Sixty-one percent of his field-goal attempts were behind the arc last season. That's fantastic when he is shooting well, but extremely frustrating when he is not.
One of the biggest knocks on Hairston is his lack of a mid-range game. He will have to sacrifice some of those treys to make the half-court offense more efficient. No more than 50 percent of his attempts should be three-pointers.
Not only will this be crucial to the team's balance and efficiency, it will also make him look much better to the scouts. There is no reason a kid this talented shouldn't land in the first round of the NBA draft.
Someone else that should land in the first round is fellow junior James Michael McAdoo. Most pundits thought 2012-13 would be his final season in Chapel Hill, but he just didn't come prepared for the talent he would face as a starter.
Now he knows the drill, and if teams aren't trying to snatch him up as a lottery pick in 2014, something went really wrong.
Once again, percentages will be key.
Last season, McAdoo shot a very disappointing 44.5 percent from the floor. He was often erratic with his shot selection and had a tendency to end up out of control. A lack of a back-to-the-basket game and no additional post presence at center were major factors in his shooting percentage.
Both of those issues should be resolved for 2013-14, so there is no reason he should shoot less than 50 percent from the floor as a post player.
He will also need to get better with his free throws—for the team, at least. We know the NBA doesn't care (Dwight Howard).
McAdoo had one of the worst free-throw percentages on the squad at 57.8. What's worse is that he had 60 more attempts than anyone else. In fact, he accounted for 27 percent of Carolina's free throws.
When you're at the line that much more than everyone else, you have to bury the freebies. There is a reason they call it the charity stripe. He should shoot no worse than 65 percent, though I would like to see him land in the 70s.
There is no reason these talented Tar Heels can't perform well-above these marks. If they don't, it will be a long, painful run through the ACC gauntlet in 2014.