UNC Basketball: Projecting the Tar Heels' Starting Lineup in 2014-15

Doug Brodess@DougbrodessCorrespondent IApril 12, 2014

UNC Basketball: Projecting the Tar Heels' Starting Lineup in 2014-15

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    If North Carolina gets more tough and resilient because of this year's ups and downs, look out ACC. ... Look out NCAA!

    Head coach Roy Williams' team returns 73 percent of its scoring and 79 percent of its rebounding. Because of its depth and talent, losing James Michael McAdoo and Leslie McDonald is not devastating.

    The more optimistic Tar Heel fans see next season as an opportunity for promising returning players and remarkable recruits to develop or even dominate.

    Here's a quick look at UNC's possible 2014-15 starting five.

Point Guard: Joel Berry

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    Andrew Nelles

    Incoming freshman Joel Berry may be the next great North Carolina point guard.

    According to the Orlando Sentinel's Buddy Collings, Berry was the first three-time Florida Mr. Basketball. He is an excellent playmaker and scorer off penetration or the bounce.

    Berry makes good decisions as a floor leader, instinctively knowing when to pass and when to shoot.

    B/R's Rollin Yeatts described the 6'0" phenom this way:

    Many young, athletic points have no clue when it comes to pace. They don't have a feel for the game or their teammates. It's all about dropping the next flashy dime or lighting up the nets. Not with Berry. Nothing is forced. He just takes what the defense gives him. What makes him so deadly is he can make defenses pay in a variety of ways. He's the assignment nobody wants.

    If Berry can come in instantly and be dynamic at the point, the Tar Heels are in store for an exceptional 2014-15 season.



Shooting Guard: Marcus Paige

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    There is no question that Marcus Paige was one of this past season's most improved players in college basketball.

    He went from being a middle-of-the-road first-year point guard to Carolina's leading scorer. Paige doubled his points-per-game average, going from 8.2 PPG as a freshman to 17.5 PPG as a sophomore.

    Even though his scoring production went through the roof, Paige still led the Tar Heels in assists (4.2 APG) and maintained a strong (2.0) assists-to-turnover ratio.

    When UNC needed a big shot this year, Paige almost always had the ball in his hand and was ready to deliver.

    ESPN's Jeff Goodman listed (subscription required) Paige as a first-team "most likely All-American" for the upcoming season.

    With Berry's arrival, Paige should be freed up to focus on slicing up and shooting over opposing defenses.

Small Forward: Justin Jackson

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    Just because incoming small forward Justin Jackson was the McDonald's All-American Game's leading scorer (23 points on 11-of-14 shooting) and co-MVP does not mean that he will automatically start for the Tar Heels. Yeah, right.

    Sports Illustrated's Chris Johnson described Jackson's stellar performance in Chicago:

    He is an instinctual player who repeatedly put himself in prime position to convert from close range and finish putbacks. While not as athletic as some of the other prospects on display, the savvy Jackson distinguished himself by flashing strong fundamentals and a good overall understanding of the game. At one point in the second half, he scored nine consecutive baskets.

    Jackson has no fears or qualms about going into the lane or to the glass. His game and his physique (6'7", 185 lbs) are similar to a young Tayshaun Prince.

    To become a complete player, Jackson will need to improve his on-ball defense and rebounding.

Power Forward: Brice Johnson

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    Power forward Brice Johnson is ready to have a breakout junior year for the Tar Heels.

    During the 2013-14 season, Johnson averaged 10.3 PPG and 6.1 RPG while playing less than 20 minutes per outing. He had 19 double-figure scoring games.

    The 6'9" Orangeburg, S.C., native has an exceptional knack for protecting the rim and blocking shots. He still needs to work hard in the offseason on his overall defensive game.

    It would not be surprising to see Johnson average a double-double next year and be one of the top players in the ACC.

Center: Kennedy Meeks

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    UNC's Kennedy Meeks made gradual progress from the beginning to the end of his freshman year in Chapel Hill.

    Through most of the 2013-14 season, Meeks played superbly in short spurts. He was the team's best rebounder, leading the Tar Heels in offensive (15.6 percent) and defensive (24.9 percent) rebounding percentage (h/t Sports-Reference.com).

    He is not only an outstanding rebounder, but he does a great job of out-letting the ball so that Carolina can get out in transition.

    Meeks' conditioning limited him from being on the court longer. If he can enter the 2013-14 in better shape and be stronger, he, like Brice Johnson, could average a double-double.