When the North Carolina Tar Heels begin their season, it’ll be as the 16th-ranked team in the AP poll. Last season was one of the worst in school history. In conference play, they were 6-14 and finished 14-19 overall. Despite the poor record, there was a major bright spot that emerged. Garrison Brooks broke out in a big way and was UNC’s best player after Cole Anthony got injured. He’s a preseason all-American and is the senior leader of a very young team. Along with Brooks, UNC is bringing in six freshmen, and four of them are McDonald’s All Americans. Despite not being Final Four picks by media, this is why UNC can make the Final Four in 2021.
Why UNC Can Make The Final Four In 2021
Their Freshman Class Is Loaded
The freshman class Roy Williams is bringing in is the second-ranked class in the country. It’s also an incredibly diverse class, with two lead guards, two wings, and two post players. Entering the year, Williams could start both his freshmen all-American guards. Caleb Love and RJ Davis are similar in their playstyles. Both have score first mentalities but have point guard skills needed to play in UNC’s system. Love is a projected lottery pick in the 2021 draft and Davis averaged 26.5 points in high school last year. These two will push the tempo as hard as UNC’s system asks, and they’ll feast in the transition game. If they can run the half-court offense efficiently, these two will have big years playing off each other.
Along with playing at a slow pace, abysmal three-point shooting was at fault for UNC’s record. It was the worst three-point shooting team in school history. That’s where Puff Johnson and Kerwin Walton come into play. Both have reputations as marksmen shooters, especially Walton. But Johnson provides more physicality and is familiar with UNC’s system thanks to his older brother Cam Johnson‘s time at UNC. Both players project to be multi-year players but will have the chance to make big buckets this year.
Finally, we have the two post players who were also all-Americans. Day’Ron Sharp and Walker Kessler will join Brooks and sophomore all-American Armando Bacot in the nation’s deepest frontcourt. Kessler has an incredibly unique skill set on offense and is seven feet. He can hit shots and will continue to get better as he grows into his body and gains strength. Sharp is a traditional big who will protect the rim, get lots of boards, and is ready to contribute immediately. UNC can make the final four thanks to this class.
Their Returnees Complete The Puzzle
Brooks isn’t the only returning Tar Heel who remembers the misery of last season. I mentioned Bacot earlier, and he’s a wild card. In his freshmen season, he put up 9.6 points and 8.3 rebounds each game. He showed flashes of greatness against Oregon, with numbers of 23 points, 12 boards, and 6 blocks. Bacot’s true potential is being able to play consistently at that level. He doesn’t need to put up those kinds of points every night, but being able to rebound and protect the rim at an elite effort will be needed in order to keep his starting spot from the hungry freshmen. But if Bacot can do that, UNC can make the final four.
The other key returnee who projects to start with Brooks and Bacot is Leaky Black. Black will play the small forward position but is versatile enough to play positions one through four. Injuries have stopped Black from realizing his potential through two years, but he’s healthier than ever now. At his best, Black can be the best perimeter defender on the Heels, and fill up the stat sheet. For what Black lacks in shot-making, Anthony Harris makes up for. Harris is a redshirt freshman who provided an offensive spark in his five games in 2019. Unfortunately, he’s rehabbing a torn ACL and isn’t going to be ready for the opener. But whence he’s healthy, he’ll join senior Andrew Platek in rounding out the two and three positions.
What’s Working Against Them
At its best, UNC can make the final four because the roster has a bit of everything. There are two guards who can score in bunches, push the tempo, and run the offense. There’s a swiss army knife player in Black who has two sharpshooters behind him on the bench. And there’s arguably the most talented frontcourt in the country with four studs in Brooks, Bacot, Sharp, and Kessler. The biggest thing working against the Tar Heels is having to rely on six freshmen. Even though they’re all immensely talented, the best teams in Roy Williams’s tenure have been teams with experience. Brooks, Bacot, and Black are veterans but don’t play guard. And the point guard position is very hard to learn at UNC because of how much is asked of the position. So Love and Davis will have a lot riding on their shoulders.
Playing in the ACC also means a rigid schedule. And this season, UNC only has seven games before conference play to figure out their rotations. The non-conference schedule a couple of tough games in Iowa and Ohio State. In conference play, the Heels will have to prove their merit against Duke and Florida State twice, as well as Virginia. Not having fans could be a benefit for the Heels because of their youth. Games at NC State, Duke, and Virginia where the crowds make a ton of difference won’t be as challenging in an empty arena.
UNC Can Make The Final Four
In a year where the Miami Heat surprised the world and made the NBA Finals, there’s no reason UNC should be counted out of the final four. The biggest strengths UNC will have will be rebounding and their post players. If foul trouble happens, the Heels have depth which wasn’t the case last year. There are question marks such as will they get enough shooting from the wings, and what’s the ceiling of their guards? Whence those questions get answered, we’ll have an idea of how far UNC can go.