North Carolina Tar Heels
2022-23 Record: 20-13, 11-9 in the ACC
Head coach: Hubert Davis
Tenure at North Carolina: 3rd season
Career coaching record: 49-23
Home court: Dean E. Smith Center
Projected starters: G Elliot Cadeau, G RJ Davis, G Cormac Ryan, F Harrison Ingram, F/C Armando Bacot
Projected bench: G Seth Trimble, G Paxson Wojcik, F James Okonkwo, F Jalen Washington, F Jae’Lyn Withers, F Zayden High
Overview: Last season is a sour memory for many Tar Heel fans; the team’s failure to make the NCAA tournament is something they would like to forget. Following a preseason-No. 1 ranking, North Carolina went 1-9 in Quad 1 games, were the No. 7-seed in the ACC Tournament and declined their invitation to the NIT. It was clear a change — or several — were needed for the Tar Heels to return to glory, and the house was cleaned in Chapel Hill. A whopping nine players left the team, seven of them transfers, headlined by guard Caleb Love’s move to Arizona. A core piece of head coach Hubert Davis’ first three teams, Love’s departure leaves a key spot to fill for North Carolina.
To fill the gaps, the pressure is on two key returners, guard RJ Davis and center Armando Bacot, plus several new faces to the squad. Five transfers, including Notre Dame’s Cormac Ryan and Harrison Ingram from Stanford will look to make big splashes immediately. Ryan shot 36.4% from three over three years with the Fighting Irish, and he’ll look to make up for the team’s loss of Love’s deep-range threat and work as a complement to the Tar Heels’ inside scoring. Ingram will be an essential rebounder alongside Bacot, who led the ACC in that category last year. Bacot, a preseason All-American, is hoping to once again average a double-double this year, and the super-senior will be the star of this team. Davis, a fellow returner, will likely lead the team in points and assists this season, after averaging 16.1 and 3.2 last year, respectively. The senior will help conduct the frontcourt with freshman Elliot Cadeau, a five-star prospect out of Link Academy. The point guard averaged 10.9 points and 7.6 assists in his final season before reclassifying to join North Carolina early. Cadeau will most likely fill the hole left by Love as a designated scorer and passing machine, but time will tell if his youthfulness will hurt his new title-searching team.
The Tar Heels will face several tests early during their non-conference schedule, headlined by a matchup against defending national champion UConn at Madison Square Garden Dec. 5, followed immediately by a trip to Atlanta for a CBS Sports Classic matchup against fellow blue-blood Kentucky. North Carolina will also participate in the Battle 4 Atlantis, a stacked tournament with one certain matchup against either Villinova or Texas Tech. Wins against some of these top-ranked opponents and storied programs before ACC play will be important in determining the trajectory of the Tar Heels’ season.
Conference play should be relatively standard for North Carolina, with its games against Duke and trips to Miami and Virginia serving as the biggest tests. Wins over Pitt, Clemson and NC State will also be key to their success; these three teams all finished above North Carolina last season. Ranked No. 19 in the preseason AP top-25, the Tar Heels are projected to finish third in the ACC behind Duke and Miami, respectively. If last season is any indication, though, predictions do not always pan out.
Team ceiling: There are a wide range of possibilities for this North Carolina team, the most positive being a return to the NCAA tournament. If new additions to the team bring high energy to the Tar Heels and Davis and Bacot show out, expect the team to safely make the NCAA tournament, with a deep run to the Final Four not entirely out of the realm of possibility. North Carolina has proven it can make a charge as a lower seed — see the 2021 season — and if everything goes right, it could do it again in 2024.
Team Floor: If the transfers and freshmen make little to no impact, the Tar Heels might struggle again to get upper-level wins. Dropping their larger non-conference games and some lower ACC matchups means the team finishes 7th or 8th in the conference, and is on the bubble of making the NCAA tournament. Missing the tournament again would be catastrophic for North Carolina, and this season will be crucial to determining the future of the Hubert Davis era.
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