North Carolina Tar Heels 2016-17 College Basketball Preview

Atlantic Coast Conference College Basketball Preview
Don’t mind the age of the photo: the timeless rivalry renews between Duke and UNC, but Duke has the upper-hand in 2017.

North Carolina Tar Heels

Title Odds: +2000

Odds c/o Bovada

The North Carolina Tar Heels made their run last year: They got to the NCAA title game and lost to a Cinderella. It was their first time reaching the championship game since 2009, and a season in which the program won its first ACC title in eight years. It was a success, but can UNC build on it? Losing Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige certainly do little to help that cause, and college basketball oddsmakers at Bovada agree in setting UNC at +2000 to win the 2017 title. Let us examine that possibility.

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The Tar Heels first off will hope for more from Kennedy Meeks. He had an injury-riddled season last year, and he was mostly a disappointment after arriving to campus out of playing shape. His lack of athleticism hurts, but it could be improving with some conditioning it seems.

Finishing was a challenge for the 6’10” senior and that really should not the case at the NCAA level for such a talent. His nine points and six boards per game were the overwhelming disappointment for Tar Heels fans last season, and if this team is going to make strides towards another run in March, it cannot happen without Meeks making some serious progression.

Alongside Meeks will be Isaiah Hicks, a 6’9” senior who averaged 8.9 points and 4.6 boards per game. Not that inspiring, but the biggest improvement will have to be cutting down on the silly fouls for Hicks. He averaged a foul every 5.98 minutes per game last season, and UNC does not have the depth to weather him sitting frequently due to careless reaching. Both Hicks and Meeks are seniors with a lot to prove and mostly question marks around them.

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Freshman Tony Bradley could represent both a better and more long-term solution. Bradley will be the third big in the rotation to start the season, but it stands to reason he could easily be starting by December. Sophomore Luke Made will add some court-stretching with his shooting ability, but he is not much a threat on the interior and UNC could have rebounding issues this year because of it. The frontcourt is just mediocre soup, really.

The backcourt, too, may suffer. The loss of Marcus Paige zaps UNC’s leadership, and the best thing going at the 1/2 spots is depth. Joel Berry II will be the primary point guard, and he finished second on the team last year in scoring while keeping a 2.4:1 A/TO ratio. He can dial up the three at a 38 percent clip and his composure will be key in March.

Nate Britt backs him up and also brings leadership and experience. Freshman Seventh Woods is a highly billed athlete, and his defense should be a major boon initially. He has a lot of development to undergo, but is a highly billed prospect who could make his impact felt sooner with some of the other struggles this roster is bound to have.

Justin Jackson is the wild card. He chose to forgo the NBA Draft, and he is an effective scorer in mid-range who can get buckets in transition. His 29 percent three point shooting is a major black mark, and that same complaint applies to Theo Pinson, who at this point is also mostly a defender with major offensive improvements to be made. Jackson averaged 12.2 points per game last season, though, which is the highest mark of any returning Tar Heel.

UNC cannot be written off, but it would be a stretch to call this “their year” after losing Paige and Johnson. Berry and Jackson basically have to make quantum leaps this year for UNC to make another deep run in March, and Bradley will have to be a freshman sensation, as well. That is banking on a lot, but sine when have we counted out Roy Williams?

Get in on the winnings for 2016-17 NCAA and NBA basketball. We’ll be dominating the books as usual, so get in on the gravy!

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