The University of North Carolina has a lot to be thankful for because last season was not exactly a wash for them. They nor any other team were able to compete in the NCAA March Madness Tournament. However, they did not exactly have a tremendous season either. The UNC Basketball team had a record of 14-19 during the 2019-2020 season, which was clearly not wonderful.
However, they had a lot of promise and were able to beat teams like Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, and UCLA. Yet they were not at their normal powerhouse level and that is something that has worried many Tarheel fans about this "upcoming" season. If the season proceeds as normal, can they get back to the top-level they were at beforehand? In the 2018-2019 season, they finished the regular season with a record of 29-7.
This is a far cry from what they were able to put up this past season, even accounting for the covid-19 shortened season and the stoppage of the ACC Tournament. Now let's dive into what you need to know about UNC basketball before and if the 2020 - 2021 season begins as normal.
UNC BASKETBALL'S CURRENT STATE
Like all teams, the current state of the UNC Basketball team is sort of in limbo. It's hard to truly know where they will be this season. However, North Carolina rarely has a season like what we saw from them last season. They're too good for that. In fact, they have not been in the Top 25 rankings since December of 2019. This is the first time since 2014 that they were not somewhere in those Top 25 rankings too!
Of course, Head Coach Roy Williams does not take this kind of failure lying down. He knows that they would have to have won the ACC Tournament to even get into the March Madness Tournament. Under Williams, it has been VERY rare for them to miss the NCAA Tournament. So much so, they had not missed it at all since the 2009-2010 season.
In fact, before that very season, they had not missed it since the 2002-2003 season after the team had made 27 straight appearances. Why were they likely going to miss it this past season? Simple. It's the same reason they did a decade ago. That season saw the loss of several top players with another issue of injuries cropping up.
This season, they notably lost some major players to the pros too. Cameron Johnson, Coby White, and Nassir Little all left for the NBA and were eventually taken by teams they played for this season. While the team still had great players like Cole Anthony, the bottom fell out when Anthony tore his meniscus in December....again, the last time UNC ranked. This is truly what led to the downfall, resulting in that 14-19 record.
However, the team has a rich history that they want to get back to. The UNC Basketball program became a powerhouse in college basketball due to being well-known winners. They have the third-most National Championships in history for a men's college basketball team with 6. In fact, three of those National Titles have been won under Roy Williams. The last one was not even that long ago, 2017!
This upcoming season, they will have an uphill battle. Keep in mind, schedule-wise, many ACC teams have to worry because they're playing in the freakin ACC! They have to take on teams like Duke, Virginia, Florida State, and Louisville in just their own conference. This is not including the teams they'll play out-of-conference.
UNC BASKETBALL RECRUITING HISTORY & THE 2020 RECRUITING CLASS
It cannot be overlooked that the UNC Basketball program has had an amazing history bringing in a lot of great 4 and 5-star prospects over the years. In some ways, you want them to get an old school great player back. One who is tremendous for the team and is able to stay all 4 years he's eligible to play. However, the one-and-done concept has been the idea for many, outside of going to play overseas.
Convincing a player to sign with you is certainly not easy due to that. However, the NBA has decided to allow graduating High School players to jump to the pros yet again, during the one-year mandate via the NBA G League. This will allow many to bypass college, so they'll need to cater to players the way they used to. Does this mean UNC will get players like Tyler Hansbrough to sign with them again? It's hard to say.
However, they have managed to play the game well in this new form and will likely do so again. They were able to sign the likes of Cole Anthony, Harrison Barnes, Ty Lawson, Raymond Felton, Tyler Zeller, Brice Johnson, and Sean May over the years. These young men were great for the overall team because Williams always wanted to find prospects that fit in the system well. It was rarely just about one or two great players.
There might have been a few but they blended in well with the team overall, which is why UNC Basketball has been so successful. It was this past season that saw problems because of the several departing stars and injuries.
This season, there seems to be some good news for the Tarheels. Roy Williams managed to get three 5-star recruits to sign: Day'Ron Sharpe, Walker Kessler, and Caleb Love. It is a huge get for Williams, especially Love. As he's one of the best young guards in this recruiting class. This is not to forget some 4-star players signed like RJ Davis, Kerwin Walton & Puff Johnson, who could both prove useful this upcoming season too.
UNC BASKETBALL ROSTER & PLAYERS DEPARTING/STAYING
While there are additions that are pretty big, there are also some that have chosen to depart. We already mentioned Anthony but some have chosen not to jump to the NBA but transfer from the UNC Basketball program and to another. Seventh Woods, for example, transferred to South Carolina while Jeremiah Francis transferred to New Mexico.
Of course, we know by now that Cole Anthony has decided to go pro. However, Garrison Brooks has decided to stick around. Last year, during his Junior Season, Brooks put up nearly 17 points & 8.5 rebounds per game on average. This was, of course, his best season to date. It is possible that Brooks plays Small Forward this season more often than PowerForward, mostly to allow room for either Sharpe or Kessler to play alongside him.
The Senior will be looked to as the official on-court leader of this team for sure. Along with Garrison, Leaky Black will also return. A Freshman last year, the Sophomore will be expected to be a top guard for the team this season. Many feel that he showed a lot of promise after Anthony went down, so given another year....Black could truly be a great player that teams will have trouble stopping.
Both men very well could jump to the NBA after this season if they do indeed have a good year. However, time will tell.
UNC PLAYERS IN THE NBA
You could write an endless list of North Carolina Tarheels that have been stars for both at UNC and the NBA. In the old school section, you have major NBA Legends like Robert McAdoo & Bobby Jones. Yet you can then jump forward just a bit to see the likes of Brad Daughtery, James Worthy, Kenny Smith, and obviously the great Michael Jordan. However, the list does not end there as others like Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, Antawn Jamison and obviously Vince Carter were all great players at UNC before they were great NBA Players too. Of course, there are some recent stars too like Harrison Barnes & Danny Green who both won NBA Championships.
Today, UNC players are all over the NBA. There are around 14 active (excluding Vince Carter) UNC basketball players in the Association. Some have even had the chance to play together over the years.
On top of this, UNC has also produced great coaches and executives. Larry Brown played for UNC and eventually became a championship-winning Head Coach. Meanwhile, Mitch Kupchak became an executive in the NBA. He was a player that even won 3 NBA Titles. However, he helped the Los Angeles Lakers out a lot as the General Manager, helping put together teams that won 7 NBA Championships.
It is clear that UNC Basketball does not ever fall down for long before getting back up. We're all prepared to see them come back with a vengeance after the 2019-2020 season turned out so bad for them. If there is anything we can say, it's that Roy Williams and UNC have always managed to come back in a major way after bad seasons.
Could this be an NCAA Championship season for the Tarheels? That much is up in the air. However, we cannot put it past them. They look to have yet another great team coming out. Even if some injuries occur, they're deep enough to still get things done. That, at least for UNC, is a huge asset that they did not have a year ago. Therefore, we're expecting good things from them.
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