The 2018-19 North Carolina Tar Heels kick off their 2018-19 season vs Wofford Tuesday night. The Heels have one of the most difficult schedules in the country this year and will depend on senior leadership throughout the season.
The class of Luke Maye and Kenny Williams didnt impress many back in 2015 when they arrived on campus. Williams was known in high school as a 3 star defender and 3 point shooter. Luke Maye was a top 100 kid with offers from many top Division I schools, but chose to attend UNC and walk on as a freshman to the basketball team. While Williams suffered injuries early in his career, Maye slowly carved out minutes in the rotation, culminating in the last second shot vs Kentucky in the 2017 Elite Eight that sent Carolina to the Final Four and ultimately the National Title. Maye meanwhile became a star overnight.
Last year, Maye didnt disappoint heightened expectations. The Forward averaged 16.9 points per game, 10.1 rebounds and shot 43% from three point range. The last kid to do that in college? Some guy named Kevin Durant.
Maye enters this year as a team captain and preseason first team All American. He’s a favorite to win ACC player of the year. However, Im betting that Kenny Williams will show the most growth from last year to this year. Williams has turned up his game, playing the best ball of his career so far. He’s comfortable in his role on the team as starting Shooting Guard and captain and will be looked upon to help push the blend of young and older players on the Tar Heels this year.
Maye and Williams are joined by Cameron Johnson, the former Pitt Transfer that added his shooting and play making ability last season. Johnson had surgery during the off-season, and looks to be fully healthy coming into the 2018-19 season. Johnson should join Maye and Williams in the starting lineup at Small Forward.
Head Coach Roy Williams typically likes to run a two bigs lineup but recent classes have prevented that from happening. While Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley showed promise last season, neither emerged as the main post player. In the final exhibition game vs Mount Olive, Garrison Brooks received the start. But that doesn’t mean that its his position. Look for Manley to get starts as well as Roy plays with a deep rotation of 10-11 players.
A major question going into the season was the PG position. Who would start? Seventh Woods? Or Freshman Coby White? Woods has been in the system 3 years and counting now. He’s had some bad luck with injuries that have stunted his growth at the college level. He’s also played behind Marcus Paige and Joel Berry, Carolina stars in their own right. I thought that Woods would get the nod at first, but Williams started White in the final exhibition and it appears he will start on Tuesday Night.
White is a bucket getter. He holds the North Carolina state record for points in a season. I watched him drop 40 in the Josh Level Classic earlier in the year in Greensboro. He’s a baller. I expect Woods to take on a “Nate Britt” type of role, running the second unit, keeping opposing teams honest and getting into the paint. We may also see a lot of two guard lineups with both Woods and White on the floor, Williams likes to run 2 point guards at times to have multiple ball handlers on the floor.
Freshman Small Forward Nassir Little may be the gem of the season. Rated the #3 incoming freshman in the country, Little will have a major impact on the Tar Heels this season. Easily the most athletic player on the squad, Little may not be starting due the log jam of Seniors ahead of him, but he will play starter minutes, 25-30 minutes a game by March. Little may only be in Chapel Hill for one season, he’s already projected to be a top 5 pick in the 2019 NBA draft. But Little is focused…not on the NBA but winning a national title with Carolina.
Rechon “Leaky” Black is the third freshman in the 2018-19 class. A wing that can play multiple positions, including Point Guard, will allow Black to get minutes this year and grow with this team.
Expect guys like Junior Wing Brandon Robinson and sharp shooter Andrew Platek to get minutes also. Williams and truly go 10-11 deep with this team and will more than likely do so for the first two months of the season.
My projected starting lineup and rotation:
PG: Coby White
SG: Kenny Williams
SF: Cam Johnson
PF: Luke Maye
C: Sterling Manley
SF: Nassir Little
SF: Rechon “Leaky” Black
PG: Seventh Woods
PF: Garrison Brooks
SF: Brandon Robinson
SG: Andrew Platek
Team predictions: UConn is the only team to win the National championship and not start the preseason in the BPI (Basketball Power Index) top 4. UConn did it…twice. Who is the top four preseason in the BPI? 1. Kansas 2. North Carolina 3. Virginia 4. Gonzaga. Thats a good omen for the Heels.
College basketball is ruled in Nov-Dec by the superstar freshmen. By the time we get to March, teams with veteran talent usually are the ones left standing. I think UNC will have a great shot to win the ACC regular season, finishing no worse than 3rd in league play. I do think the Heels can make it back to the final four…but they will be joined by a familiar foe. All four of my Final Four teams have a healthy mix of veteran talent and young pups looking for action. And then there is Duke…who may have one of the best freshmen led teams ever, outside of Michigan’s Fab Five.
Final Four prediction:
North Carolina, Duke, Syracuse, Kentucky.
The Tar Heels tip-off the 2018-19 season vs Wofford Tuesday Nov 6th at 7pm on ESPN2