They lost just about everything. A four-year All-American and player of the year. The best point guard in the nation. One of the best shooters in the nation. An all-around stat stuffer. Four starters and the four top scorers on the team. Three first-round picks and a second-round pick.
Common practice would assume that this is a rebuilding year for the UNC Tar Heels. But the Heels don't follow common practice. They again field a solid team made up of experienced veterans, maturing sophomores, and ultra-talented freshmen.
Seniors Deon Thompson and Marcus Ginyard will lead this team both on the court and off.
Thompson will most likely be the leading scorer and maybe the leading rebounder for this club. He has taken his momentum from the summer of USA basketball and has translated it onto the college court.
Ginyard will be the defensive stalwart and is looking like a top perimeter scorer for a team who will rely on its post players for most of the scoring. His jump shot looks greatly improved in the two games I saw against Florida International and NC Central.
Also, Will Graves, who was kicked off the team last year for violating team rules, is back and in the starting lineup. He is a great athlete and a good shooter who can make a difference. There seems to be a change in him and he looks like he's playing extremely hard.
The ''maturing sophomores'' I'm talking about are forward/center Ed Davis, point guard Larry Drew, and center/forward Tyler Zeller.
Davis is probably the best NBA prospect on this team. He has bulked up this summer and has developed a solid 6'10", 215 frame. He will continue to benefit from Strength-and-Conditioning Coordinator Jonas Sahratian's workout plans.
His defensive game is outstanding and his offensive game is coming along, especially since he has developed a good jump-hook shot. I can't say enough about this kid. He has a great motor,outstanding athleticism, and he plays hard all the time.
Larry Drew will ultimately determine how far the Heels go this year. As always, UNC will run, run, and run some more and Drew must conduct the offense. Graduated, Ty Lawson knew when to slow it down and play a half-court game, which is one of the things that made him so great. Drew must learn to do that and he has looked good so far. He impressed me in the game against Florida International.
Zeller is going to be the sixth man on this team and will provide matchup nightmares as a seven-footer who can run the floor. Tyler has a solid all-around game and is always playing hard.
These players will be helped by a great recruiting class that includes John Henson, Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald, and Travis and David Wear.
Henson is maybe the best athlete of his recruiting class but will need to put on weight if he's going to bang inside with the big boys in the ACC. He, too, will be a big matchup problem because of his athleticism. I can see him being a good player by the end of the year and a great one next year if he sticks around.
Strickland is a good combo guard who can run the floor very well. He is very quick and can drive to the basket with ease. He will be a solid guard off the bench who can spell either Drew, Ginyard, or Graves.
Leslie McDonald is a big guard (6'5", 215) with big-time potential. He is not polished yet and was at times out of control in the early games. But with time and great coaching, he will become a very solid player over the course of the season.
The Wear twins intrigue me greatly. They are fundamentally sound, good athletes, and tireless workers. They may never be great for UNC, but they will both be physical bigs who will outwork opponents for rebounds and loose balls. They play good defense and their offensive games are both encouraging for freshmen.
Now, with all this said, this doesn't look like a team whose "rebuilding." They look like a team who, though they may go through some growing pains, will make a run for a 19th (and third straight) Final Four appearance. They have the players, the coaching, and the system to take them there.