North Carolina Tar Heels
2020-21 record: 18-11, 10-6 in the ACC
Head coach: Hubert Davis
Tenure at North Carolina: 1st season
Career coaching record: 0-0
Home court: Dean E. Smith Center
Projected starters: G Caleb Love, G RJ Davis, F Kerwin Walton, F Dawson Garcia, F/C Armando Bacot
Bench: G Anthony Harris, G D'Marco Dunn, G/F Leaky Black, G/F Dontrez Styles, F Puff Johnson, F Justin McKoy, F Brady Manek
Overview: North Carolina, similar to Duke, is coming off an uncharacteristically mediocre season. Although the 18-11 record would be commendable and celebrated by most other programs, for a “blue blood” that perennially has championship aspirations, it was undoubtedly a down year. Add to that the fact that it followed a 2019-20 season that saw them go 14-19 and that it the last campaign for legendary coach Roy Williams, and reality begins to set in that this has truly become uncharted territory for the Tar Heels. While they still managed to snag a No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament, they finished with their third worst win percentage since 2003. The worst came just the year prior, thus marking their most disappointing two-season run since before the turn of the millennium. This is a program that has been a No. 1 seed eight times in that 16-year span and has won three national championships. Could Williams, the mastermind behind it all, leaving at the lowest point of his tenure mean the Tar Heels are headed for a crash landing? Or will new head coach Hubert Davis lift them back up to the top of college basketball and start a legendary run of his own?
Although North Carolina annually has one of the best recruiting classes, they are known to instead dominate with their year-to-year team consistency, chemistry and experience over just pure talent. This team promises to bring those same traits back, as the Tar Heels return Armando Bacot, Caleb Love, RJ Davis, Kerwin Walton and Leaky Black, all five of which are set to be key pieces to their 2021-22 campaign. They do, however, lose star forward Garrison Brooks, who transferred to Mississippi State. The aforementioned Bacot and Love are preseason All-ACC selections and members of the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bob Cousy Award watch lists, respectively. They bring the five-star star power, while transfers Dawson Garcia and Brady Manek bring size and veterans like Black bring experience and leadership. The added chip on their shoulder from being slightly overlooked following Williams' retirement could further fuel a team looking to build on last season.
In the 2020-21 campaign, North Carolina was still trying to find their identity. The majority of the players from the previous year did not return, so they were left with an alarming seven freshmen on the team. It was one of the youngest units in the country with an average of one year of experience. This was following a year where just over 20% of their production was retained. Therefore, it is safe to say that they were plagued by their lack of stability, an anomaly under Roy Williams. In the Tar Heels championship 2016-17 campaign, for example, 68.2% of minutes played were retained from the previous season. That consistency between teams has proven to be a key to North Carolina’s dominance, so it’s fortunate that this season they look to be back on the right track with just two freshmen on the team and a minutes retention rate of over 68%. They are only ranked No. 19 in the preseason AP poll, but do not be surprised if they quickly start looking like the dominant Tar Heels of recent memory.
Team ceiling: Hubert Davis transitions into the spotlight with the bulk of what kept Williams' final team competitive. This team can really only keep trending up with seven sophomores poised for potential breakouts, two new transfers who averaged double-digits and an entire year of unity to build off of. If Bacot is able to be the anchor down low with Love as the maestro up top and everyone else fits into their roles, this team can be a sneaky dark horse to make the Final Four.
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Team floor: That "zero years of head-coaching experience" mark in front of Hubert Davis’ name leaves room for concern and potential disaster. There aren’t many shoes that are harder to fill than Roy Williams'. The consistency of this team makes it hard to envision them performing worse than last year, but Davis' relative lack of experience could prevent them from realizing their full potential and cause them to once again crumble in the first round of the NCAA tournament.