Odds to win Title: +2800
2017-18 Record: 26-11 (11-7 ACC)
NCAA Tournament: Lost to Texas in Second Round
Despite losing a number of key players, expect the North Carolina Tar Heels to be right back in the mix of things—because that is what Tar Heel fans and foes have come to expect from coach Roy Williams. The team suffers the loss of Theo Pinson and Joel Berry II, but expectations naturally still run high with an All-American candidate in senior Luke Maye as well as a surrounding cast of shooters that should prove formidable.
Adding a few talented freshmen to the mix, and UNC is still the feared top ACC program it is, even if Duke is well-expected to best it in Conference play.
Williams usually is known for playing two traditional bigs at the 4/5 spots, but last year he departed from that and he probably will again this season.
Maye will receive a lion’s share of the minutes at power forward, and he averaged 16 and 10 a year ago, as he became the sixth player in the last 40 years to average a double-double for the Tar Heels. He also knocks down 41.7 percent from three, which lends enough versatility to consider him a major prospect in the “New NBA,” a league reliant on the three-point shot like never before. Maye may need help more so on the interior, where Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley both had issues with consistency last year.
Brooks is not an outstanding athlete, but he has a lot of intangibles that make up for it. He has a knack for knowing where a rebound will land and he boxes out to grab them. Manley is more of a physical specimen, but he has tendencies to fade during games. Brandon Huffman will be a factor if only because he is an outstanding rebounder, as well. His offensive talents linger far behind his board work, though.
Seventh Woods enters his junior season and Coby White will vie with him for the role of replacing Berry as the starting 1. Woods is a great athlete, but he missed 17 games with a broken right foot last year, and he is still trying to tap into his immense (that word again) potential. White was excellent with the U18 Team USA group, and fellow freshman Rechon Black will also be a playmaking wing to alleviate some of the pressure on Woods and White at the point guard spot.
Nasser Little is a freshman who is expected to be a star eventually, while Kenny Williams and Cameron Johnson will both serve valuable roles as shooters. Williams shot 40.2 percent from three and while Johnson was good for just 34 percent, his percentage should rise as he gains comfort on the court and works with his already superb defensive talents.
Carolina this year has the versatility to match up with a variety of play styles, and that should work towards its advantage, particularly come tournament time. Williams cites the 5 and 1 spots as his biggest areas of concern, but Maye, Williams, and Johnson should be a talented enough trio to guide UNC deep into the tournament if not all the way to the Final Four. North Carolina could be anywhere from very good to great, but it certainly will not be “bad.”