Odds to win title: +1000
2014-15 Record: 26-12, 11-7 ACC
Betting odds c/o Bovada
The North Carolina Tar Heels return four of five starters and five key reserves from a team that got to the Sweet 16 last year. This year the sites are on a national title, with a well balanced and experienced roster.
The Tar Heels have not won the conference outright since 2012 and have not won the ACC tourney since 2008, though. Vegas oddsmakers set the odds at +1000 for a title.
Marcus Paige is a deadeye three-point shooter and he is good at creating for himself and others off the dribble. Paige has a chance to win ACC Player of the Year and Brice Johnson and Justin Jackson could make first-team All-ACC.
Forward J.P. Tokoto departed for the NBA, but Nate Britt can hit well in mid-range and Joel Berry will play some role this season after averaging just 4.2 points per game last year. Sophomore Theo Pinson will get his chance but his shot is lacking, while Kenny Williams is a good three-point shooter and strong athlete, but he needs refining.
Britt averaged 5.5 points and 1.4 rebounds per game, while Paige posted 14.1 points, 2.9 rebound and 4.5 assists per game. Britt is going to have to be the guy that steps up to give Paige the help he needs in the backcourt. He is a good combo guard to offset Paige and can shoot the ball well enough to make it work.
The frontcourt is relatively stacked with 6’9” senior Brice Johnson and 6’9” Kennedy Meeks. Johnson is a good rebounder and shot blocker. Last season he averaged 12.9 points and 7.8 boards per game. Sophomore Justin Jackson looks to be a good inside/outside player and junior Isaiah Hicks is a good defensive rebounder and presence.
Jackson averaged 10.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. 6’10” 280 pound senior Joel James is a huge body but he struggles to stay in game shape. He averaged just 2.5 points and 1.9 rebounds in limited action. Freshman Luke Maye will start out a role player but has a lot of potential given his skill set.
The Tar Heels are a strong team with a lot of options, but it does lack depth. The guards are good but not great, and Paige will have to shoulder a huge load this year. He probably can, but one has to wonder what happens when his shot is not falling and he is not getting the help. This is a team that can be beat, even as big as its frontcourt is relative to other programs.
The strength of the frontcourt alone renders UNC a top program, because it will require other teams to react and counter with a big lineup, which may not always be to its opponent’s advantage. Kenny Williams’ shooting ability may loom larger than this has indicated: he can absolutely light it up.
If Paige, Williams and the frontcourt all does its job, this team will be there deep in March.