UNC Basketball: Strengths and Weaknesses of Tar Heels' 2016-17 Roster
North Carolina should once again have a top contender during the 2016-17 season, but the campaign will not be completely smooth sailing.
The Tar Heels will return a lot of talent from last year's squad that went all the way to the national championship before falling to Villanova. While Justin Jackson is still considering a move to the NBA, he hasn't signed an agent and could also be back in Chapel Hill.
Meanwhile, a solid recruiting class of three impact players will help ensure little drop-off from this past season.
However, last year's team had its flaws, and losing Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige will only exacerbate some of the issues. UNC will be able to dominate a lot of its opponents, but question marks will arise against tougher competition.
Although a lot will change throughout the offseason and during the regular season, here is an early look at strengths and weaknesses for the upcoming year at North Carolina.
Strength: Scoring Depth
North Carolina had the No. 1 offense in college basketball last season in terms of efficiency, according to KenPom.com. The group was so difficult to defend because just about anyone on the court could take over for an entire game.
The Tar Heels had four players average at least 12 points per game and two more average at least 8.9 points per game, with all six capable of leading the team in scoring for a night.
Even without Paige and Johnson, next year's squad should have more of the same. Joel Berry and Jackson have already proved themselves as consistent scorers, while big men Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks can easily average double-digit points on the season.
Beyond this core group, Nate Britt, Theo Pinson, Brandon Robinson and others will be able to rise to the occasion for a few possessions or even games.
UNC won't necessarily have the same exact style as a year ago, but a wide variety of options on the court will keep this squad tough to match up against throughout the year.
Weakness: Lack of Go-to Scorer
One of the great parts of watching college basketball is seeing players expand their roles from year to year. Johnson made a big leap from his junior to senior seasons, and someone such as Berry or Jackson can take a similar jump heading into his junior year.
On the other hand, both players spent the past two years as relatively passive options behind more experienced members of the team. The talent is there, but there will be a big adjustment in mentality.
In reality, a lack of a go-to option was an issue throughout the 2015-16 season. Johnson averaged 17 points per contest but wasn't really someone you could trust to make a key shot late in a big game. Paige was that player for the two previous seasons, but inconsistency as a senior caused major issues all year long.
The best basketball teams at any level usually have someone they can count on to create a shot and score when points are needed. Until proved otherwise, UNC might not have that next season.
Few teams could match North Carolina on experience a year ago as the team returned everyone in its rotation besides J.P. Tokoto. Even after losing Paige, Johnson and Joel James, UNC should still have one of the more experienced rosters in college basketball.
The Tar Heels will have six juniors and seniors in the primary rotation, all of whom averaged at least 15 minutes per game last year and have had important roles throughout their careers. Luke Maye and Kenny Williams also could get expanded roles after playing sparingly during their freshmen season.
Other top teams (specifically Duke and Kentucky) rely upon the one-and-done system and are dependent on freshmen having big roles each year. That won't be an issue for North Carolina, which has players who know the system and already have great chemistry together.
North Carolina will have impact freshmen, but it won't push them into important roles where they will be overmatched. They can instead develop slowly. This will be beneficial both next season and beyond.
Weakness: Rim Protection
Perimeter defense was the biggest issue last season, but the post players also provided little help when opponents were able to get into the lane. It wasn't exactly a layup line, but the frontcourt could have done a better job of altering shots.
This will be an even bigger issue without Johnson's 1.5 blocks per game.
Both Meeks and Hicks will have a lot of value on the defensive end. Meeks is tough to score on in one-on-one situations, using his size (6'10") and strength in the post to keep opposing bigs away from the basket. Hicks has plenty of agility and lateral quickness, which will help defend pick-and-rolls away from the basket.
However, neither will be an elite shot-blocker, and freshman Tony Bradley might be a bit too raw to put up big numbers on either end of the court.
This will put a lot more pressure on the North Carolina guards to stop penetration and keep opposing players away from the basket.
Head coach Roy Williams has been coaching long enough that he knows exactly what will fit his system. He wants quick, athletic players who can run up and down the court and score in transition.
Williams will be happy with the roster he has assembled this season.
Each of the three incoming freshmen should turn heads with his athleticism. Seventh Woods is as explosive as anyone in the class despite his size at 6'2" and is certain to have quite a few highlight-reel dunks during the season. Robinson and Bradley can also make an impact on both ends of the court.
They will fit in well with the lightning-quick Berry and the athletic Pinson.
This is a skilled group, but the physical traits might allow the Tar Heels to separate themselves from their competition.
Weakness: Outside Shooting
Outside shooting was arguably the biggest weakness for North Carolina last season. The team ranked 268th in college basketball while making just 32.7 percent from three-point range.
It's hard to imagine this will improve after losing Paige and his team-high 74 makes from beyond the arc.
Berry is by far the best deep shooter returning after knocking down 38.2 percent of his three-pointers last season. Unfortunately, Britt (32.5 percent) is the only player who even hit 30 percent. While Jackson and Pinson are shooting threats, neither has been consistent to this point in his career.
Robinson and Woods are also capable of making some outside shots, although both are best when driving to the lane and finishing inside.
North Carolina shouldn't have much of a problem scoring overall, but there won't be much more balance than there was this past year.
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