For the Tar Heels, the less said about last year the better, despite putting it together long enough to advance through some mediocre teams to the NIT Championship game. Given the talent and the expectations, an NIT berth was unacceptable, regardless of whatever bad luck may have cropped up during the year. Even after losing 80 percent of their NCAA-title winning starting lineup, with three of those guys headed to the NBA, the Tar Heels didn’t expect to have to rebuild, because, as the saying goes, they just reload. Well, talented players like Marcus Ginyard and Deon Thompson have used up their eligibility and promising forward Ed Davis decided to peddle his wares at the next level, and what do the Tar Heels do? Little more than bringing in three more five-star recruits to reload again. Small forward Harrison Barnes is the most highly touted of that threesome and, depending on who you listen to, perhaps the best incoming freshman in the country, but big guard Reggie Bullock will step in and make an impact immediately as well, and even point guard Kendall Marshall may figure prominently in Roy Williams’ plans.

Fair or not, point guard Larry Drew took a lot of the blame for Carolina’s poor play in 2009-10, despite starting in every game and handing out six assists a night. Drew is not a great shooter, not a terrific pressure defender and not a flashy player. There was some talk after the season ended that he might decide to transfer somewhere else to escape some of the pressure, but such talk has since been rejected and Drew will be back next season. Whether he will retain the starting point position remains to be seen, however, as Marshall will definitely give him a push, and even sophomore Dexter Strickland may something to say there as well, despite the fact that he is decidedly not a pure point guard. More likely, Strickland will compete to start at the two-guard with Bullock, with fellow sophomore Leslie McDonald getting some minutes there as well.

Up front, this Tar Heel team will be significantly less physical than the best of the best UNC squads. Junior Tyler Zeller is a skilled shotmaker around the hoop and a hard-worker, but has yet to get through a season without injury issues. Sophomore John Henson may start next to Zeller, but he’ll need to improve his physicality as well; for all his phenomenal athleticism and length, he is paper thin and needs to add strength. The Wear twins, David and Travis, will also compete for time up front, but will more likely provide depth, with Travis, in particular, providing excellent offensive rebounding.

Barnes has got to be the favorite to start at the three-spot, and he is a versatile performer that can match some guard skills with the ability to fight inside as well. Junior Will Graves is the incumbent starter at that spot, and the leading returning scorer, but it will be awful hard for Graves to hold onto his spot over Barnes. It is possible that both players could wind up in the starting lineup (either at the 2/3 spots if UNC wants to go big or at the 3/4 if they want to go smaller and more athletic), but either way it would seem that Barnes will be stealing some of the shots that Graves got this year.

No doubt about it, this is yet another talented Tar Heel team, but there are some holes and some question marks that need to be answered before we can pencil UNC back in the tournament, let alone as the national championship contender that folks around Chapel Hill expect. Who is going to do the dirty work inside? Who is going to run the offense? There is plenty of flashy athleticism up and down the roster, but until there are answers to those two questions, the long-term viability of this UNC team will remain in doubt.

 


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