Friday, March 27, 2015

What To Look Forward To: 2015-16 Tar Heels

The entire starting unit should be back for another crack at a Final
Four run in 2015-16.

Mighty Wisconsin ends the North Carolina Tar Heels season in the Sweet 16.  Better than the past two seasons, but not as good as I felt this team was prior to the start of the year.  Of any Carolina team I've seen in a while, this team certainly was in its place.  Essentially, the Heels beat all the teams it was supposed to beat and all 12 of their losses (with the exception to a loss at Pitt) was to a tournament team.

Carolina was the 2nd best rebounding team and the 2nd best assist team in the nation (and 17th in scoring).

So now we look to next year.  Provided no one leaves (I don't see that happening, but you never cough*Bullock McAdoo*cough know.  Brice Johnson would be the leading candidate to leave, but I don't see that happening, especially with his rather pedestrian tournament showing.


MARCUS PAIGE (Sr):  Paige had a down year to his standards.  Still, he is the heart and soul of this team.  He needs to work on being aggressive.  Now, this isn't all his fault.  He needs to have other guys able to create their own shots and hit perimeter shots to help space the floor and keep defenses from solely focusing on him.  If he can have a healthy season, we could see Paige back in the ACC Player Of The Year race.

JUSTIN JACKSON (So):  Jackson had an up-and-down freshman season.  Still, it says a lot that Ol' Roy stuck with him the entire season.  It paid off.  Over the final few weeks of the season, Jackson found his three-point shot and showed a lot more aggressive play.  He still gets lost out there at times, but his little floater should be one of the Heels' go to moves next season.

J.P. TOKOTO (Sr):  Tokoto is one of the most frustrating players.  His defense is really good and he is one of the best passers on the team.  His ability to play point forwards allows Paige to move without the ball.  That's a big deal.  But Tokoto is known for some bone-headed plays.  He'll throw balls away, take bad shots and take dumb fouls.  If he can shore that up, he'll be one of the most important cogs in a possible Final Four run next year.

BRICE JOHNSON (Sr):  Johnson also frustrates, but in a different manner.  He's so talented but sometimes we just don't know he's on the floor.  Some games he looks unstoppable.  He's got an array of ways to get off his shot and he can receive the ball and get it into shooting position faster than anyone in Chapel Hill since Antawn Jamison.  One thing he really needs to work on is his fouling.  He reaches in way to much and doesn't move his feet well on defense.  Essentially, he cheats defensively and it puts him in foul trouble.  He fouled out against Arkansas in the 3rd round and was in foul trouble all game against Wisconsin.  When he gets into a rhythm, he's tough.  But he can't do so when he's not on the floor.  Also, like Paige, he needs to be more aggressive offensively all game long.

KENNEDY MEEKS (Jr):  Meeks had health issues in the postseason (flu, knee sprain) which limited his effectiveness.  He, like Johnson, also has a tendency to foul a lot.  Meeks was a beast at times during the season and then looked ... meek ... at others.  He's an under the rim kind of player, and I'd love to see him be able to get more like Sean May or Tyler Hansbrough where they became decent mid-range shooters.  Also, it seems as if Meeks has a good game, Johnson doesn't.  They need to figure a way to make that work better and if Meeks had a more consistent jumper like Johnson does, it would do a world of good.


JOEL BERRY II (So):  Funny how a guy gets hurt and gets better when he returns.  That's Berry.  He missed several weeks with a groin injury, but Berry really wasn't performing well when he got hurt.  When he came back, he became Paige's main backup and one of Roy's trusted defenders.  Later in the year, he started hitting from three (one of the big parts of his game in high school).  That helped with the Heels rise.  If he can keep that confidence and keep learning from his coaches, he will be a huge part of this team's success over the next few years.

NATE BRITT II (Jr):  Britt is one of my favorite players.  He got thrown into a starting role as a freshman and (despite his look) plays hard when he's out there.  He's one of the few money free throw shooters we have and his outside shot has been developing.  I'm not sure where he fits with Ol' Roy since he'll barely play one game and then get huge minutes the next.  He also works well playing with Paige or Berry in the backcourt.

ISIAH HICKS (Jr):  I also love Hicks, but he frustrates me as well.  In high school, he was a huge scorer and rebounder.  He's always active and very athletic.  But he's not a good shooter at all and has some clumsy and rushed play.  If he can focus and play within himself, he can improve much more than he has from his freshman to sophomore seasons.  I just would love to see him develop a jumper.
JOEL JAMES (Sr):  James is a huge body who has one of the softest touches of any big man I've seen in a while.  His hands aren't great and he's not a great rebounder for a guy his size.  He is a master screen-setter.  The only improvement I think he can make is just his confidence and decision making.  Oh, and the fact that he's become the biggest whiner I've seen at UNC in a long time.  He complains to the officials a lot (his frown to an official when Frank Kaminsky flopped, then took a fade away jumper while Kaminsky is lying on the floor will never leave my memory).  Still, I like James a lot.  He was a project coming in to UNC and probably would've had a more important career somewhere else but he does a lot of the dirty work for Carolina.

THEO PINSON (So):  A broken foot really hurt his freshman season.  Pinson is a guy that Roy loves.  He is a high energy vocal guy.  A kind-of Danny Green cat.  He's athletic and not shy at all.  He does rush and make some dumb decisions like any freshman.  I feel he could have a Tokoto or Green type career at UNC.  Just learn the offense better and work on that jumper.

STILLMAN WHITE (Jr):  White famously started a Sweet 16 game and the last time the Heels were in the Elite 8 back in 2012.  Kendall Marshall had a broken wrist and seldom used White was shoved into the spotlight.  After that game, White spent two years on a Mormon mission.  He came back this year with a much different numbers game at his position.  He sits behind three other guys.  White barely played and probably won't play much next year either.  He does bring a scrappy guy who is willing to do the grunt work.

LUKE MAYE (Fr):  Maye will probably take on the Jackson Simmons role.  Like Simmons, Maye wasn't a high level recruit.  He's a guy that will bang inside and do the things the coaches want him to do.  Anything he offers will be icing on the cake.


This means a lot.

In ACC play, the Heels will get Duke and NC State twice like always -- two good teams next year.  They will also play Boston College and Syracuse twice.  That is interesting since BC was one of the worst teams in the league this past year and will be losing one of their all time great players in Olivier Hanlan.  Syracuse will be without Jim Boeheim for nine ACC games, meaning it is likely one of those will be against UNC.

The home dates only are with Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami, Pitt and Wake Forest.  That means the Heels will go to Florida State, Louisville, Notre Dame, Virginia and Virginia Tech.  Ouch. That is arguably the toughest slate in the ACC.  That means the Heels will have to go on the road to Virginia, Duke, Notre Dame, Louisville and NC State ... the other five tournament teams and only Duke and State have to make a trip to Chapel Hill.  Wow.

Non-conference, the Heels will be in the CBE Hall Of Fame Classic which also has Missouri, Kansas State and Northwestern in it.  An interesting collection of teams.  UNC will play UCLA in Brooklyn for the CBS Sports Classic.  There will also be the ACC-Big Ten Challenge game which should see UNC play on the road (maybe Wisconsin?).   And there will be the game against Kentucky at the Dean Smith Center.

It will be a difficult schedule, but one an apparent experienced Tar Heel team can deal with.  It hurts now, but it gives the motivation to improve as a team to hopefully make the end of next season a celebratory one.

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