North Carolina Tar Heels
2014-15 record: 26-12, 11-7 in the ACC (Sweet 16)
Head coach: Roy Williams
Tenure at North Carolina: 13th season
Career coaching record: 750-202
Home court: Dean Smith Center
Starters: G Marcus Paige, G Justin Jackson, G/F Theo Pinson, F Brice Johnson, C Kennedy Meeks
Bench: G Nate Britt, G Joel Berry II, F Isaiah Hicks, C Joel James
Overview: In the age of one-and-dones, a team full of top-talent veterans seems almost too good to be true. But that’s what North Carolina will be working with this season, as head coach Roy Williams returns four starters and nine of his top 10 scorers on a squad that begins the year at the top of the preseason AP poll and with serious national title aspirations.
Senior point guard Marcus Paige highlights the returning Tar Heels after averaging 14.1 points and 4.5 assists per game in 2014-15 despite battling multiple injuries throughout the season. Paige's numbers dipped quite a bit from his sophomore season, during which he was the fourth-highest scorer in the ACC, but a healthy Paige could lead North Carolina to its first Final Four appearance in six years. The floor general was named Preseason ACC Co-Player of the Year and will be looked to as the leader of an already-veteran group.
Fellow Preseason All-ACC pick Brice Johnson averaged 12.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game last season, and sophomore Justin Jackson and junior Kennedy Meeks were also double-digit scorers. After a slump midway through his freshman season, Jackson is poised to increase his scoring output with a year of experience under his belt, and Meeks has gotten into better shape, shedding 30 pounds since his freshman season. The only significant piece missing from the Tar Heels’ 2014-15 squad is starter J.P. Tokoto, who declared early for the NBA draft after leading North Carolina’s perimeter defense last season. Williams will look to sophomores Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson to fill the void left by Tokoto.
The Tar Heels received 35 out of 65 first-place votes in the AP poll. If everything goes North Carolina’s way, it should be no surprise if the Tar Heels make a deep run in the NCAA tournament come March. But if Paige cannot return to his sophomore glory days and his supporting cast does not progress in the way that it is expected to, the Tar Heels may very well get stuck in a similar position to the one they were in last year.
One thing that needs to go right: All of the returners pick up their play from last season to match the hype, and Jackson makes a major jump from his debut season.
One thing that could go wrong: If Paige suffers more injuries this season, the Tar Heels will need to find answers—and scoring—from less experienced guards.
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