When the North Carolina Tar Heels were knocked out in the 2018 tourney by Auburn, it was the end of an era for many great players. Seniors Luke Maye, Cam Johnson, and Kenny Williams have completed their four years. Freshmen Coby White and Nassir Little decided it was time to pursue a career in the NBA.
The big picture: It will be a completely different team in Chapel Hill. But, the 2019 season brings a lot of hope for Tar Heel fans for a few reasons.
Returning players: With the popularity of one-and-dones in the NCAA, coach Roy Williams lost key contributors in Coby White and Nassir Little to the NBA. But, they do return a bunch of key players from last year’s squad.
These are the main guys who will have an extended role in the 2019-2020 season.
- Garrison Brooks: Brooks started all 36 games last season and averaged 8.6 points per game, which is the best average out of all the returning players. He will most likely start at center to begin the season.
- Sterling Manley: Manley was a solid backup for Brooks and played a big role for the Tar Heels coming off the bench. He will most likely split time with freshman Armando Bacot in the frontcourt rotation.
- Brandon Robinson: With guards White, Williams, and Little all gone, the expectation is that Robinson will get more playing time. The senior will be heavily relied on by Roy Williams for his experience and athleticism.
Freshman studs: As usual, North Carolina brings in one of the best recruiting classes in the nation. The Tar Heels ranked eighth nationally and second in the ACC.
Here are the freshman to watch for this season.
- Cole Anthony: The son of former NBA player Greg Anthony, Cole is the No. 2 overall recruit in the 2019 class will replace Coby White at point guard for the Heels. He will be the catalyst for the offense, and he will immediately be a starter.
- Armando Bacot: Bacot is a classic UNC big who plays well on both sides of the ball. Because of his ability to get boards and finish in the paint, his frontcourt presence will be huge for a UNC team that finished.
- Jeremiah Francis: A native of Pickerington, Ohio, Francis is a solid piece in the backcourt who can give good minutes off the bench. He also played with current Tar Heel, Sterling Manley, at Pickerington Central where they were one of the top teams in the state.
Transfer additions: One of the best players for UNC last season was Cam Johnson, who transferred from Pitt and had a great career in Chapel Hill. Coach Williams landed two transfers who could make a big impact for the Tar Heels.
- Christian Keeling: The transfer from Charleston Southern, Keeling is another piece that joins a loaded backcourt. He led the Buccaneers with 18.6 points per game and will be a great offensive weapon alongside Cole Anthony.
- Justin Pierce: Roy Williams continues the trend of recruiting guards as he landed Pierce, who will be another exciting piece in the backcourt. His 46% field goal percentage will be huge for a team that loves to shoot the ball.
What to watch for: The Tar Heels have a loaded team that can terrorize opponents, especially on the offensive end. Once again, Williams brings a team full of studs into Chapel Hill.
These are some of the things to watch for this season.
- Lethal offense: The backcourt is full of shooters. They were fourth in the ACC last years shooting 46% from the field. Expect that number to go up with the additions of Anthony, Keeling, Pierce, and Robinson.
- Big-time bigs: One of Carolina’s strengths every year is their rebounding ability. With Brooks and Manley coming back, they return an experienced backcourt and add Bacot who was a beast for IMG Academy, the best high school team in the country.
- National powerhouse: Once again, North Carolina will be one of the top teams in, not only the ACC, but in the country as well. It will have a complete team with great shooting, good defense, and an experienced coach.
- Duke matchup: Coach K brings in the best recruiting class in the ACC with the Tar Heels ranked second. This rivalry will continue to produce some of the best basketball games all year within the NCAA.
The bottom line: UNC is set up to have a great offensive year with so many weapons, but it comes down to the team’s defense. The Tar Heels gave up the second most points in the ACC last season, so they need to improve in that area if they want to make it back to the national championship for the third time in five years.