Season Preview: 2009-10 North Carolina Tar Heels

Josh ConconCorrespondent IOctober 17, 2009

DETROIT - APRIL 06:  Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels celebrates following the Tar Heels 89-72 win against the Michigan State Spartans during the 2009 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship game at Ford Field on April 6, 2009 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The Tar Heels will be losing four starters, 68.8 points per game, and the ACC All-Time scoring leader. Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Green, and Bobby Frasor have all graduated. Lawson and Ellington chose to forgoe their senior years and enter the NBA draft. 

With Deon Thompson being the only starter returning, Roy Williams had to bring in elite recruits to keep North Carolina at the top of the ACC and a threat to make another run at a national championship.

The class that Williams compiled is ranked among the top three. It seems with Williams, the motto is “Reload not Rebuild.”

Let’s take a look at players who will see the most playing time and contribute the most starting with the freshman.


John Henson 6’10 195

Henson is the most heralded recruit being the No. 2 PF in his class. He is a hybrid 4 and is comfortable on the wing and finishes well around the hoop with both hands. On defense, Henson will block and alter many shots with his nearly 7’5 wingspan. His potential is through the roof and he will make an immediate impact.

Dexter Strickland 6’3 180

Strickland is a combo guard and is capable of playing the point. He is explosive and loves to get to the rim. Great in transition and will benefit from Roy Williams’ offense tremendously. His only knock is that his perimeter game needs work.

Leslie McDonald 6’4 215

Has the word solid written all over him. He defends well and is a consistent shooter. Not really a slasher and is better when coming off screens. He has a great basketball IQ and will have an impact on North Carolina’s thin backcourt. Can defend three positions.

David and Travis Wear 6’10 235

Both play similar to each other and their high school, Mater Dei, was among the nations best last year. The Wear twins are comfortable on the perimeter and on the block. Both have great fundamentals and are not afraid to handle the basketball.

Neither is a jaw-dropping athlete, but both have a great feel for the game, high basketball IQ, and their versatility will only give Roy Williams more ways to implement each on the court.

Returning Players

Marcus Ginyard 6’5 210       Redshirt Senior

Opted to receive a medical redshirt last year and his leadership will be essential to this young Tar Heels team. Ginyard’s excellence on defense will help the Tar Heels shut down the scoring guards that gave Williams’ team so much trouble last year.

Deon Thompson 6’9 245      Senior

The last three years he has played second fiddle to Hansbrough. This year Thompson will be the focal point on offense and will also need to bring leadership. Thompson has gotten better every year he has been at UNC and in his senior year he will be relied on the most.

Ed Davis 6’10 230            Sophomore

His stock was so high last year after the tournament that he could have been drafted in the lottery. Davis bulked up to 230 and added much more of a face-up game. The smooth lefty will start alongside Thompson and provide the Tar Heels with one of the country’s best frontcourts.

Larry Drew II 6’2 180        Sophomore

The only true point guard on the team. Shaky freshman season with ups and downs.  Does not have Lawson’s end-to-end speed, but Williams believes he still can run the offense effectively. Drew does not have to be Lawson or Felton, just run the offense effectively and distribute the ball amongst his talented team.

Tyler Zeller 7’0 240            Sophomore

Carolina’s other returning big man who will receive significant minutes. Prior to his broken wrist, Zeller showed flashes of brilliance and looked comfortable running the floor and on the perimeter.

He could have opted for a medical redshirt, but the decision was made that he would come back towards the end of last year and provide backup in the frontcourt.

This year Zeller will play a much bigger role and a fully healthy Zeller will give Williams another option in his talented pool of big men.

Will Graves 6’6 240            Redshirt Junior

The swingman is back after being suspended towards the end of last year. His shooting will help replace some of the scoring load lost from last year provided he gets minutes.

Justin Watts 6’4 210            Sophomore

Saw little minutes last year and came in mostly towards the end of games. Another guard for Williams to use with so few on the roster and two of them being freshman. Likely will not see many minutes but can help out in a pinch.

Despite losing so many important players, the season outlook of the Tar Heels is still promising. North Carolina will still be near the top of the ACC. The only real threat to North Carolina not repeating is Duke.

Williams’ team is still the most talented in the ACC and it will be up to veterans Ginyard and Thompson to lead this young squad.

Notable games

Coaches vs. Cancer Classic 11/19 and 11/20

Tar Heels will be playing in Madison Square Garden against Ohio State in the first game and the second against California or Syracuse.

12/1/09 vs. Michigan State

A rematch of last year’s National Championship. This will be the most exciting matchup in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, as both sides will likely be in the top 10 at this point in the season barring an early-season upset.

12/5/09 at Kentucky

Carolina will play two of the best teams in the country in the same week. Both MSU and Kentucky should be ranked top 5 in the preseason.

Kentucky has not beaten Carolina since 2004, but Calipari’s squad is loaded after bringing in the best freshman class and returning Patrick Patterson.

Kentucky’s sensational freshman point guard John Wall, was slightly recruited by Williams. This has all the makings of a classic.

12/19/09 vs. Texas

The game will be played at the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium so it is not officially a road game.

Texas will also be ranked among the top ten in the preseason. and Roy Williams has a tough non-conference schedule, which will surely help his younger players come tournament time.

1/20/10 vs. Wake Forest

UNC lost on the road to Wake Forest last year and started off ACC play 0-2. UNC was ranked No. 3 and Wake Forest No. 4.

The Demon Deacons have lost James Johnson and Jeff Teague, but will still be competitive among the ACC led by Al-Farouq Aminu and Tony Woods. These teams will also play on 2/27/10 at Wake Forest.

2/7/10 at Maryland

Last year North Carolina led by 6 with 1:24 to play. The Terrapins came back and forced the game into overtime. Maryland won in overtime ending North Carolina’s 10-game win streak and had the media questioning just how good the Tar Heels were.

2/16/10 at Georgia Tech

Last year Georgia Tech was a pushover and UNC won by 30 at home. This year it would not be surprising to see the Yellow Jackets finish ACC play in third place.

Freshman Derrick Favors is regarded as the best or second best player in the freshman class along with John Wall. He is a pro playing college basketball and will likely leave after his freshman year and get drafted in the top half of the NBA lottery.


2/10/10 vs. Duke: The Tobacco Road Rivalry will see UNC get to host Duke first. Last year the Tar Heels won at home by eight points with a gutsy performance from injured Ty Lawson. Both teams will be ranked in the preseason top 10 and Carolina-Duke is always worth watching no matter where the game is played.

3/6/10 at Duke: The last time the Tar Heels lost at Cameron Indoor Stadium was in 2005. UNC was down by one with 18 seconds left and David Noel dribbled the ball out of bounds as time expired. Tyler Hansbrough and the seniors of last year never lost on Coach K court. Can the streak reach five years?

Williams has scheduled many tough non-conference opponents, which will surely help his younger players come tournament time.

Repeating as National Champions will be tough, but is not out of the question.

Point guard will be Carolina’s most important position this year. Drew is the only true point guard, but Ginyard and Strickland can also play there.

Carolina’s frontcourt will be one of the best in the nation with a solid rotation of Thompson, Davis, Henson, Zeller, David and Travis Wear.

Williams said that how he manages the minutes upfront is not a concern. He also said the Heels will play bigger, possibly with three bigs and a combination of guards who rotate in with Ginyard, McDonald, and the points of Drew and Strickland.

Possible starting lineup

Drew, Ginyard, Henson, Davis, Thompson


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