Carolina Trio of Underclassmen Going Pro — UNC Looks Forward

Posted by rtmsf on March 29th, 2012

It’s been assumed for a while now, but the news became official Thursday afternoon. North Carolina’s trio of star underclassmen — John Henson, Harrison Barnes, and Kendall Marshall — will enter this year’s NBA Draft. The press release on the UNC website does not mention any of the group ‘testing the waters’ with a possibility of return, but the quotes therein are highly suggestive that we will not see any of them back in a Tar Heel uniform again.

This Trio of UNC Stars Will Move On to the NBA

Barnes has been considered a high lottery pick since high school, and despite a sophomore season where he failed to meet expectations as a preseason All-America candidate, his stock as a smooth-shooting wing has not appeared to drop much, if at all (DraftExpress has him at #7 overall; NBADraft.net at #5). Henson’s junior season may have helped him a little, as he cut down on his turnovers and showed an improved offensive game while remaining a defensive and rebounding force inside the paint (#16/#8). Marshall is perhaps the player with the most to gain by entering the draft this summer — his outputs improved from his freshman to sophomore year, but he should probably strike while the iron is hot while scouts are enamored with his superb passing and floor leadership abilities (and before they pick apart his offensive game too much) (#13/#14). All three should safely be mid- to high-first round selections in June.

The legacy of this group will be interesting. Henson was brought to Chapel Hill in 2009 to help replace the national championship group of Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Danny Green and Wayne Ellington. Barnes and Marshall arrived one year later, with the Ames, Iowa, player considered the top overall prospect in America. There may not have been an expectation of another national title for the Tar Heels with this group, but there was certainly strong hopes for a Final Four appearance in each of the last two seasons. Instead, and partially due to Marshall’s untimely wrist injury two weekends ago, the trio settled for two Elite Eight appearances with losses to Kentucky and Kansas to show for it. It’s very hard to say that a group that won as much as these guys did underachieved, but then again, how often do teams have three potential lottery picks (plus a borderline player in senior Tyler Zeller) for consecutive seasons and not get to a Final Four?

Looking ahead to next year, the cupboard at North Carolina is far from bare, but there are big holes to fill, and much of the projection for this team may ultimately depend on whether freshman James Michael McAdoo decides to return. Assuming he does, the Heels would also return Dexter Strickland, PJ Hairston, Leslie McDonald and Reggie Bullock in a strong backcourt to go along with McAdoo and several good-not-great freshmen up front. Unless Roy Williams finds a way back into the Nerlens Noel sweepstakes (the shot-blocking fiend recently narrowed his choices to Kentucky, Syracuse and Georgetown) or picks up UConn expat Alex Oriakhi, next year’s Tar Heels might be a very fast but inexperienced and skinny team inside, a role reversal from having the tallest team in the country last year. Williams has in the past appeared to have more fun on the sidelines with teams that are more of an underdog than a favorite, but at Carolina, the expectations do not change — Final Fours and national championships are the goal. After this season’s exodus, he’ll need to clean up on the recruiting trail with the Class of 2013 to get UNC back where it typically expects to be.

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5 Responses to “Carolina Trio of Underclassmen Going Pro — UNC Looks Forward”

  1. Eric says:

    They already have two big-time commits from the class of 2013: Isaiah Hicks (#11 ESPNU Super 60) and Nate Britt (#17 ESPNU Super 60). It sounds like they have a great shot at Julius Randle (#2 ESPNU Super 60) as well. Combined with a very solid class of 2012 (ranked #5, with 4 players from ESPNU Top 100), the Tar Heels will be fine. None of the 2012 commits are one-and-done, so ol’ Roy will build back up towards another title-contending team in 2014, with a team next year (especially if they add Alex Oriakhi) that could make a Final-Four run if they play their best at the end of the year and get favorable match-ups in the tournament.

  2. DMoore says:

    A Final Four run in 2012? Please, be serious.

    When you lose 3 lottery picks, as well as someone who was a better college player than any of them, your hope is to make the NCAAs with a decent seed so you have a fair chance to make it to the second weekend.

    Considering that other programs in the ACC are on the rise, e.g. State, Maryland & FSU, and considering the talent that was lost, finishing in the top half of the ACC should be the expectation.

  3. Eric says:

    Agree on the ACC’s rise next year–FSU, Maryland, NC State SHOULD all be very good. Just saying that UNC COULD have the firepower to make it to the Sweet 16 and be a sleeper Final Four team. Never said they’d be a shoe-in for the FF. Obviously, I’m a UNC fan so I’m overly optimistic, which is way more fun that the opposite at this point.

  4. Ron says:

    Agree. A number of teams in college hoop can make a FF run each year. UNC has the guard play next year and one of elite coaches in the game. I could see that.

  5. DMoore says:

    OK, I get being optimistic. There is a lot of returning guard talent. My point is that the ONLY inside guy you have is McAdoo, a power forward. No center, no small forward, no subs. In the incoming class, you have a 6’8 guy and a 6’6′ guy, both of which only weigh 190 pounds, and they’re top 30 and top 50 freshmen, not top 10. Usually, that means they aren’t the kind of players who are ready to come in and contribute that much right away.

    It may be a fun team to coach and watch, because they’ll be small and they’ll HAVE to run. But Roy’s teams aren’t trained to live and die by the three, which is really the only hope for a team this size.

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