North Carolina preview capsule
Last season: 26-11, reached second round of NCAA Tournament.
Nickname: Tar Heels.
Coach: Roy Williams.
Conference: Atlantic Coast.
Who’s gone: The program has lost mainstays from its 2017 national championship winner in point guard Joel Berry II — a former Final Four most outstanding player — and swingman Theo Pinson.
Who’s back: Forward Luke Maye followed his last-second shot to beat Kentucky in the 2017 NCAA Elite Eight with a star-turning junior season, averaging 16.9 points and 10.1 points to be an Associated Press third-team All-American. He’s now a preseason AP All-American and picked as ACC player of the year. Starters Cameron Johnson (12.4 points) and Kenny Williams (11.4) are back on the perimeter, which also has junior point guard Seventh Woods competing to take Berry’s job. There’s also a rotation of serviceable big men, led by sophomores Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley.
Who’s new: The Tar Heels have their best recruiting class in years, perhaps not coincidentally as they emerge from years of uncertainty due to a now-resolved NCAA academic case. Wing Nassir Little is the kind of five-star McDonald’s All-American and possible one-and-done talent that shunned the Tar Heels in recent years. There’s another McDonald’s All-American in Coby White, an top-25 national recruit who will compete to be the new point guard after setting a North Carolina state scoring record with more than 3,500 points in high school. And the 6-foot-7 Rechon “Leaky” Black brings size and versatility to the perimeter.
The skinny: There’s no questioning talent and scoring potential on a team with Maye, Johnson and Williams joined by the touted rookie class. There are two main questions here: the Tar Heels need White or Woods to play well at the point with Berry gone, and that revolving door of big men needs to provide some interior toughness that was lacking at times as UNC leaned heavily on a small-ball lineup last year. If the eighth-ranked Tar Heels resolve both issues, this is a Final Four contender.
Expectations: Las Vegas oddsmakers have UNC at 10-to-1 to win it all, tied with Villanova for the fifth-best odds nationally.
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