Love it or hate it, you’re going to respect it. This is what UNC basketball is, a program that many love and some hate, however, there is no way you can look through their body of work and not respect what they have done.
This year’s team lost a lot, with Coby White and Cam Johnson getting drafted in the lottery, Nas Little being drafted in the first round and Luke Maye on the Milwaukee pre-season roster. That is a lot of firepower gone, but UNC has adapted. They brought in talent, they went down the grad transfer route as well as back down the McDonald’s All-American route. Each of these players will play a role with this team, as well as meshing with some of the holdovers.
Depth may be a thing with this team, they will need to get and stay, healthy this year.
Let’s take a look at what we saw…
Even a freshman, Cole Anthony comes into Chapel Hill as a rock star. All eyes will be on him from day 1, and this includes, media, fans, opposing teams, NBA execs…all eyes. He is the son of Greg Anthony, who played with the famed UNLV teams in the early 90s and then with the Patrick Ewing Knicks. Anthony is an excellent player in this own right, his ability to score the ball as well as facilitate for his team going beyond his years. The high light reel is expected to be a Top 3 pick in next year’s draft, and he will need to put up huge numbers for this team to make a run like they’re expected. What Coby White did last year was spectacular, but you could see Anthony putting up Jay Williams (Duke) type numbers this season.
6’4”/175 senior Christian Keeling came over as a graduate transfer after he averaged 18.7 points with Charleston Southern last season. Obviously the pace of play and athleticism between the Big South and ACC will be a difference, but UNC will need Keeling to come in and average double figures this year. That is not far out of reach as he shot 38% from 3 last year with a .591 true shooting percentage and 113.5 offensive rating. Keeling is able to act as a facilitator as well with a 17.8 assist rate (2.7 assists per game) last year. Keeling can really shoot the ball and plays with the utmost confidence. His presence will take some pressure off Anthony, which could be just what the doctor ordered.
One is a known commodity around the UNC campus, who is finally able to play his true position. The other is a highly touted freshman who will have a lot asked of him quickly.
6’9”/230 junior Garrison Brooks was a four-star recruit coming in. Last season he played 23 minutes per game while shooting 57% from the field playing out of position as the center. Now, with the addition of Bacot, Brooks will be moved down to his more natural power forward position, giving Roy his more favorable two traditional big line up. Brooks put up good analytics last year with a 125.7 offensive rating and a 98.5 defensive rating with a box plus/minus of 8.7. With extended minutes, look for more production.
6’10” McDonald’s All American Armando Bacot comes in with a lot of fanfare, and rightfully so. Bacot is a traditional big, wielding a 7’2” wingspan. He has good timing, able to block shots with both hands, and is an excellent rebounder. Bacot has great footwork around the block and can finish over both shoulders. He is also a good passer and patient with the ball in his hands. As mentioned before, Bacot’s presence allows Roy to play his two traditional bigs like he prefers, it also allows Brooks to move down the 4 position.
Bring a McDonald’s All American and thrust right into the starting lineup, this is a good situation for Bacot as the weight of the world will not be asked of him immediately. He can be eased into his game and produce comfortably to start.
The UNC Wing
What we mean by this is, the upperclassman, who knows the system, knows his role and is very solid. This year’s UNC Wing is Brandon Robinson, who will round out the starting 5. Robinson is a do-it-all glue piece, as last year his per 40 totals were 11.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.3 steals per game, he also shot 46% from 3. He will be asked to play more than 11.9 minutes per game, but he is a steadying force for this team.
6’7”/190 sophomore Leaky Black is a unique player. He will be the primary backup at the point, two and small forward. Depending on health and how UNC is playing, he could possibly step in as some four as well. Black missed some of the Summer with injury, but he is in line to take a huge step this year. He could eventually step into Brandon Robinson’s role as a starter, but his value is clearly on the bench right now, seeing him on the floor a lot.
6’3/200 junior Andrew Platek will look for minutes at the wing spots. He is a high energy guy, who can shoot the ball. With a defensive rating at 98.5 and defensive box plus/minus at 3.7, his hustle and strength can play on the defensive end. The question this year is will he make shots, he shot 37% from 3 as a freshman, and then 33% last year. There is a clear path to playing time for him, with Anthony Harris and Jeremiah Francis still nursing injuries, will Platek take full advantage.
6’10”/250 junior Brandon Huffman is exactly what he is. He is a long-armed brutish big man who will come in, grab a couple of boards, alter a couple of shots, dunk a couple of balls and use up a couple of fouls. He won’t look to do any more than that and as long as he limits his turnovers, the team will look for him to do this in spurts this coming season. With the uncertainty of Sterling Manley, Huffman will have to play minutes this year.
6’7”/215 senior Justin Pierce will get on the floor as soon as he catches up to the speed of the game. He has good size and comes in as a theoretical shooter (42% from 3 his sophomore year, 32% from 3 last year) and floor stretcher. However, Pierce does have some other stuff to his game as well like play creation and the ability to defend in the passing lanes. His IQ should have him figure it out sooner rather than later, 8.9 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.1 steals per game last year, but his ability to make shots will be what keeps him on the floor. A player who won’t hurt you, but could really help you in key moments.