As hard as it is to believe, college basketball starts... TODAY - and to get you ready for the season, Aaron Torres Online will be giving you 30 previews in the coming 30 days to get you ready for the start of the year, written by the Torres Online team.
In case you missed it, we've already previewed the Memphis Tigers, then hit the Illinois Fighting Illini, Wyoming Cowboys, Xavier Musketeers, Michigan State Spartans, Alabama Crimson Tide, Arizona Wildcats, San Diego State Aztecs, UConn Huskies, Texas Longhorns, Auburn Tigers,
Last week, it was the biggest of big boys, as we hit on the Gonzaga Bulldogs, Duke Blue Devils, UCLA Bruins and the defending champion Kansas Jayhawks. We also covered Dayton, a Top 25 team at A-10 Media Days
Today, we look at this year's preseason No. 1 team - the North Carolina Tar Heels. UNC is coming off a title game run and brings four starters back. Will it be enough to hang another banner in Chapel Hill?
North Carolina Tar Heels
How it Went Down in 2021-2022
North Carolina overcame a roller coaster of a season to end up in the National Championship game, only to lose in heartbreaking fashion to Kansas.
Roy Williams unexpectedly retired after the 2020-2021 season after the Tar Heels got blown out in that NCAA Tournament, and then the Tar Heels promoted from within, and hired Hubert Davis, who was one of Roy Williams’ assistants on staff. He also became the first African American Head Coach in North Carolina basketball history. Davis was well-respected, but he had never been a head coach before so that was a question mark.
The roster saw some turnover with Walker Kessler and Garrison Brooks transferring out, while Brady Manek and Dawson Garcia transferred in. Day’Ron Sharpe also left and declared for the 2021 NBA Draft. Armando Bacot also tested the NBA waters but decided to withdraw from the draft and come back to school. Dontrez Styles and D’Marco Dunn were the lone freshmen that joined the roster too.
The schedule was a roller coaster for the Tar Heels with them starting out 4-0 before the Hall of Fame Tip Off Tournament. They then played a top-10 team in Purdue in a top-20 matchup of a game and they lost by double digits. They then lost by double digits to another ranked opponent in Tennessee. The rest of their non-conference slate consisted of a blowout win against Michigan at home and then a blowout loss to Kentucky in Las Vegas, with those three losses (Purdue, Tennessee and Kentucky) all coming by double-digits.
After a few blowout losses to begin league play (including the Tar Heels' first meeting with rival Duke) many questioned if Davis was the right man for the job.
But then, all of a sudden, the Tar Heels got hot.
Following that first loss to Duke, the Tar Heels won six of seven, setting up a fascinating final game of the regular season at Duke. The game was supposed to be a coronation of Coach K's 40+ years at the school in his final home game, but no one told the Tar Heels. After playing things close to halftime, the Tar Heels blew the doors off the building, ruining Coach K's final home game with a 13-point win of their own.
From there, they carried that momentum into the NCAA Tournament, destroying Marquette in Round 1, before a wild overtime win against the defending champion Baylor Bears. In it, the Tar Heels had a 25-point lead in the second half, before Manek was (questionably) ejected from the game, yet despite it, the Tar Heels held on to win.
The next game was against UCLA, and a late shot from Caleb Love lifted the Tar Heels over them. They blew out Saint Peter’s in the Elite Eight and set the stage for the first meeting between Duke and North Carolina in NCAA Tournament history. The game ended up being an all-time classic, and thanks to a clutch shot from Caleb Love, the Tar Heels ended up on the winning side. However, the magic ran out when North Carolina blew a lead in the National Championship and lost to Kansas.
This unbelievable run by North Carolina was unexpected and set the stage for a huge 2022-2023 year.
What to Expect in 2022-2023
Key Returnees: Armando Bacot, Leaky Black, R.J. Davis, Caleb Love, Puff Johnson, D'Marco Dunn, Seth Trimble, Dontrez Styles, Justin McKoy
Key Losses: Brady Manek, Dawson Garcia, Kerwin Walton
Key Transfers: Pete Nance (Northwestern)
Key Recruits: Jalen Washington, Seth Trimble, Tyler Nickel, Will Shaver
National Title Odds via Betfred Sportsbook: +1000
While the Tar Heels are really going to miss what Brady Manek was able to give them last year, the rest of this roster is absolutely stacked.
The Tar Heel backcourt is loaded this year. Caleb Love comes back after having a monster NCAA Tournament last year and should compete for first-team All-ACC and even All-American honors this year. His partner in the backcourt is RJ Davis, who also has improved a lot. Either one of these guys can play point guard and shooting guard. Both can facilitate and take the load off each other. The bench has a lot of talent too, but it’s unproven. Dontrez Styles will make a difference as a sophomore especially on defense and rebounding with his size athleticism. D’Marco Dunn is another sophomore in the backcourt that’ll see a lot of time after not seeing the court much last year due to the log jam at guard North Carolina originally had. Seth Trimble is the other player in the backcourt that’ll see time and he’s the highest ranked freshman on the team at #29. The backcourt is the strength of the team.
The wing and the frontcourt for the Tar Heels is also loaded. Leaky Black is back on the wing as Carolina’s best perimeter defender, and even though he can’t do much on offense, his defense is enough. Expect to see Pete Nance fill out a Brady Manek like role this year. He shot a career best 45.2% from 3-point range last year at Northwestern, but it will be interesting to see if he takes more a game at North Carolina than he did in Northwestern. The center position will be held by arguably North Carolina’s best player in Armando Bacot. With Bacot coming back, everything is on the table from ACC Player of the Year, All-ACC team, and All-America. Expect his averages of 16.3 points, 13.1 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, and a 56.9% field goal percentage. The bench is filled with a lot wing and frontcourt depth. Puff Johnson stands out, especially after a breakout game in the National Championship game as the top bench player in the frontcourt. More help will come by the way of Justin McKoy, who’s been a good role player for the Tar Heels so far this year. Will Shaver, Tyler Nickel, and Jalen Washington are all other pieces to the frontcourt that could all see varying amounts of time this year, with Jalen Washington being the most likely of all of them.
The Tar Heels don’t face a true test until the Phil Knight Invitational at the end of November and should be 4-0 heading to Portland. They get the tournament started against Portland, then assuming they win, they’ll get either Iowa State who could be dangerous after last year or a Villanova team that is still a top-20 team even after Jay Wright retired. If the Tar Heels make it to the final, they will face no shortage of potential tests. Alabama and Oregon are the two ranked teams that they could face and both teams have a very high ceiling this year. UConn and Michigan State are the other two potential opponents and while neither are ranked, both are primed to make some noise in college basketball this season.
Their next game will be a huge test against Indiana in Bloomington for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Hoosiers are of course the preseason Big Ten favorites, and this could be a matchup of Top 10 teams by the time they take the court. They’ll then face two consecutive opponents to get ACC play started in early December in both a road game at Virginia Tech and a home game against Georgia Tech. They should win their next game against the Citadel before playing consecutive neutral site games against Ohio State in New York for the CBS Sports Classic and then a ranked matchup against Michigan in the Jumpman Invitational in Charlotte.
The ACC slate will be difficult this year after being more down than usual last year. The Tar Heels have potential roadblocks at home against Miami, on the road against Notre Dame, another game on the road against Virginia Tech, games at home and on the road against Duke, and games at home and on the road against Virginia.
The schedule is set up well for the Tar Heels, with some challenges, but overall, they’ll be set up for another deep run in March.
What to Expect in 2022-2023:
The stage is set for the Tar Heels to be the best team in the country this year, and pollsters seem to think so as they were ranked No. 1 in the preseason AP Poll. They are bringing back the core of a team that went far in March and were so close to winning a National Championship. It’ll be interesting to see this North Carolina team with all the expectations it has as compared to last year when there was no pressure. Hubert Davis also had a lot of questions surrounding him with how bad North Carolina looked early last season. Are those questions completely answered? Only time will tell this season. My prediction for the Tar Heels is that I do think they win the ACC Title and end up with one of the No. 1 seeds, potentially the No. 1 overall seed. I also think they at the very least make the Final Four again this year and have potential to win the National Championship, but at the very least the bar is set at making the Final Four.
Catch up on the other teams in our countdown