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30 teams in 30 days college basketball preview: North Carolina Tar Heels

Credit: UNC Athletics

As hard as it is to believe, college basketball tips off in just a few DAYS from now, with the "Champions Classic" getting things rolling on November 9th at Madison Square Garden.

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, all written by college basketball nut and recruiting guru Jacob Polacheck.

We are smack dab in the midst of these previews, with thoughts on defending champ Baylor, Indiana, USC, LSU, Maryland Saint Bonaventure, Colorado State, Florida State, Virginia Alabama, Michigan and UConn. Plus, last week, we got an exclusive sit down with Bruce Pearl to preview the Auburn Tigers.

Today, it's time to take a look at one of the most fascinating teams in college basketball - the North Carolina Tar Heels.

Roy Williams is out and Hubert Davis is, but expectations haven't changed for this historically great program.

North Carolina Tar Heels

How it went down in 2020-21

In what turned out to be the 18th and final season for head coach Roy Williams in Chapel Hill, the North Carolina Tar Heels rebounded from their underwhelming 2019-20 campaign with a 18-11 record and an NCAA Tournament berth.

Led by sophomore forward Armando Bacot, who led the team in both points (12.3) and rebounds (7.8), North Carolina was a mixed bag of exciting wins and disappointing losses, going 5-2 in non-conference play including wins over UNLV, Stanford and Kentucky, but losses to Texas and Iowa.

The Tar Heels had some impressive victories once ACC play hit including two wins over Duke and a 78-70 win over No. 11 Florida State, finishing the regular season at 16-9 (10-6 ACC) and entering the ACC Tournament as the No. 6 seed.

After blowing past No. 11 seed Notre Dame in the first round 101-59, the Tar Heels kept the positive momentum going with an 81-73 win over No. 3 seed and No. 22 ranked Virginia Tech in the second round. However, after falling to No. 2 seed and No. 15 ranked Florida State in the ACC Tournament Semifinals, UNC entered the NCAA Tournament as a No. 8 seed, falling by 23 points in the first round to No. 9 seed Wisconsin. It was, ironically, the only opening round loss ever for Roy Williams in the Big Dance.

Outside of Bacot, freshman guard Caleb Love and senior forward Garrison Brooks were the only other two Tar Heels to average double-figures on the season at 10.5 points and 10.1 points per game respectively. Despite only starting in four games and averaging 19.2 minutes per game, freshman big Day’Ron Sharpe was a solid contributor, averaging 9.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.

Overall, it wasn’t the best year for North Carolina, but the team had bright spots all across the roster, many of which are back in 2021-2022.

What You Need to Know About 2021-2022:

Key Returnees: Caleb Love, Armando Bacot, Kerwin Walton, Leaky Black, RJ Davis, Anthony Harris, Puff Johnson

Key Losses: Garrison Brooks, Day’Ron Sharpe, Walker Kessler

Key Transfers: Brady Manek, Justin McKoy, Dawson Garcia

Key Recruits: D’Marco Dunn, Dontrez Styles

The biggest departure of the offseason was in Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams, who announced his retirement after 18 seasons as the head coach of the Tar Heels. He was replaced by long-time assistant Hubert Davis.

On the negative, Davis lost some key contributors off last year's team. Garrison Brooks - last year's preseason ACC Player of the Year - elected to use his extra season of eligibility playing for his father, an assistant coach at Mississippi State. And Walker Kessler, a former McDonald's All-American, who was expected to have a big role this season, decided to leave for Auburn. Day'Ron Sharpe, elected to enter the NBA Draft after just one season, where he drafted No. 29 overall to the Brooklyn Nets in the 2021 NBA Draft, UNC will be without some of its top performers from a year ago.

Still, Davis did a great job of retaining other key pieces and also bringing in new players to supplement the players who departed this off-season.

The first big move was retaining Love, a former McDonald's All-American who had highs and lows as a freshman - but now back has a chance to be one of the best guards in college basketball. Bacot, again, this team's leading scorer and rebounder is also back, after briefly testing the NBA Draft waters. So too are key role players such as Leaky Black, Kerwin Walton, RJ Davis, Anthony Harris and Puff Johnson. Davis was a standout as a freshman last season, while Black brings some much-needed veteran experience.

To his credit though, Davis hit the transfer portal hard, adding forwards Brady Manek (Oklahoma), Justin McKoy (Virginia) and Dawson Garcia (Marquette). Manek averaged 10.8 points and 5.0 rebounds for an NCAA Tournament squad in Oklahoma last season, while Garcia is a former McDonald's All-American, who averaged 13.0 points and 6.6 rebounds at Marquette. McKoy didn’t see much playing time at Virginia over the past two seasons, but should have a more prominent role with UNC.

Add a pair of Top-70 recruits in D’Marco Dunn and Dontrez Styles and the Tar Heels are well-equipped to make a run come March. After last season’s roster featured a logjam of frontcourt players, this should be a more well-balanced roster for first-year head coach Hubert Davis to work with.

With elite talent, plenty of depth and an overall well-balanced roster, North Carolina should once again compete for an ACC Title and perhaps make an NCAA Tournament run.

Schedule Breakdown:

After a relatively down year for the ACC last season, the conference is expected to bounce back a bit, making UNC’s pursuit of a conference title a difficult one. Duke, Florida State and Virginia are all expected to be Top-25 teams with key returnees and some of the nation’s top recruits. Add to that a loaded non-conference schedule and the Tar Heels should be a team in the spotlight.

UNC will open the season with matchups against Loyola-Maryland (Nov. 9), Brown (Nov. 12) and College of Charleston (Nov. 16), setting up a huge Nov. 20 matchup against Purdue in the Hall of Fame Tipoff. They will then face either Villanova or Tennessee in the next game.

Put simply, we cannot express how loaded that field is at Mohegan Sun Arena, as all four teams start the season in the AP Top 20. Both the Boilermakers and Wildcats are Top 10, per the AP voters.

A home matchup against UNC Asheville preludes another huge contest as the Tar Heels host ranked Michigan in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Dec. 1, another team in the AP Top 10. The Tar Heels will then travel to Georgia Tech on Dec. 5 for their ACC opener, before two home matchups which should be wins against Elon and Furman.

UNC’s penultimate and perhaps biggest non-conference contest comes on Dec. 18 in Las Vegas, NV against last year’s final-four surprise UCLA with a Bruins roster that brings back nearly everyone from last season.

With games against Purdue, Michigan, UCLA and either Villanova or Tennessee, trust us when we say: We'll know how good North Carolina truly is by the start of non-conference play.

After closing out non-conference with a home contest against Appalachian State, the Tar Heels open its full conference slate against Virginia Tech (Dec. 29). They have two very winnable road games (Boston College and Notre Dame) before the first major test of conference play, when Virginia visits Chapel Hill on January 8th, for a showdown of preseason Top 25 teams.

From there, the back-half of January is manageable before three games that will play a large role in determining the pecking order in the ACC: A home date with rival NC State, at Louisville and the first matchup with Duke on February 5th.

The final stretch includes a second game at NC State on February 28th, the only matchup of the year with Syracuse and finally, a road game at Duke, which will of course go down as the final regular season game of Coach K's career.

Considering the Tar Heels only play Virginia, Florida State and Syracuse once (all NCAA Tournament caliber teams) this schedule could be a lot harder.

What to Expect in 2021-2022

In Hubert Davis’ first season at the helm of North Carolina, he has plenty of pieces that could form a NCAA Tournament contender. Love and Bacot are expected to be the leaders of this team, but newcomers Manek, McKoy and Garcia could provide the spark this team needs to return to its status among the nation’s best. They also should allow Davis to play his preferred style, with fewer back to the basket low post players, and more versatile bigs in Garcia and Manek.

The ceiling is high for this team and only time will tell how far it will take them.

UNC has the talent, experience and depth, but in Davis’ first year, and the early schedule is absolutely daunting.

At worst, UNC will be a very fun team to watch in 2021-22.

At best, we could be seeing another deep run in March for one of college basketball’s blue-blood programs.

Also catch up on our other articles below


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