ACC Summer Recess: North Carolina Tar HeelsPosted by KCarpenter on August 6th, 2012
Over the next four weeks we’ll be taking a step back and looking at each team in the ACC to assess where each program — and the conference as a whole — stands before we totally turn our attention to the 2013-14 season later this fall. Today’s target: North Carolina.
Where They Stand Now
What do you do when you have a team that goes 14-2 during conference play and loses in the Elite Eight after its record-shattering point guard goes down with an injury? In Chapel Hill, you are deeply disappointed in a team that arguably underperformed. The loaded Tar Heels were near helpless after Kendall Marshall‘s injury, struggling to execute on offense, and the surfeit of NBA-caliber talent all amounted to nothing against a Kansas team that came prepared to capitalize on North Carolina’s weaknesses. Most teams would still call a season like that a success, but for UNC fans, the 2012-13 ended in incredibly disappointing fashion.
Everyone. Well, not quite, but like Florida State, the Tar Heels are facing quite a bit of turnover. ACC Player of the Year Tyler Zeller now plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers. ACC Defensive Player of the Year John Henson now plays for the Milwaukee Bucks. Harrison Barnes, an All-ACC First Team selection, is now with the Golden State Warriors, while Kendall Marshall, the all-time assists in a season record-holder for the conference and Bob Cousy Award winner for the nation’s top point guard, is now with the Phoenix Suns. Stilman White, the team”s back-up point guard, is leaving for two years to work as a Mormon missionary. The team is also losing the services of the versatile fan-favorite Justin Watts to that scourge called graduation. In short, next year’s team will be near unrecognizable from last year’s team.
Both Leslie Mcdonald and Dexter Strickland will be coming back from injuries to lead the team as the veterans in the back court. Reggie Bullock will look to build on a sophomore campaign where he very quietly assumed the mantle as the team’s best perimeter defender, three-point shooter, and all around efficient offensive force. Rising sophomores James Michael McAdoo and P.J. Hairston will try to play more consistently after putting together streaky freshman seasons that saw the two pair flashes of basketball brilliance with frustrating, error-filled play. Reserve bigs Desmond Hubert and Jackson Simmons will also look to fill more time in a frontcourt with no clear starters beyond McAdoo. The key to the mix are Bullock and McAdoo. While McAdoo’s potential to become a truly elite power forward was evident in flashes, Bullock’s excellence has been a little more under the radar. Aside from usage rate, Bullock, in terms of tempo-free stats, appears to have been a better player last season than Barnes. If the rest of the team can keep defenses honest, Bullock might be in for a really big year.
North Carolina brings in a ridiculously solid recruiting class, yet again, boasting four-star recruits at every position but shooting guard. The star of the class is point guard Marcus Paige, a big talent who will be counted on to contribute for this team very early. While Dexter Strickland is likely to begin the season as the starting point guard, Paige’s position as the only true point man on the roster means that he will get big minutes as soon as he is ready. Brice Johnson and Joel James are both big and talented and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see at least one of them in the opening day starting line-up with McAdoo. Swingman J.P. Tokoto‘s minutes will likely come as an energy guy off the bench. Tokoto is a super-athletic freak who might be the best dunker the ACC has seen in a while, but with the surplus of skilled players at the wing, he’s going to have to play well to earn time over Hairston and McDonald.
North Carolina has a year of rebuilding ahead. The last time UNC faced trying to replace this much production was during the disastrous 2009-10 season that ended in the NIT. While it seems unlikely that the Tar Heels will fall that far next season, it’s clear that it will take time before this team is ready to compete on the level of last year’s team.