|Will Isaiah Hicks become the star of the 2016-17 Tar Heels?|
The North Carolina Tar Heels men's basketball season will end this weekend. Either it will end with the Heels' celebrating their 6th NCAA Tournament championship or it will end with a heartbreaking loss at the Final Four.
Either way, we are going to sneak a peak at what next season's team could look like. They won't be a preseason No. 1 team since seniors Brice Johnson, Marcus Paige and Joel James will graduate (Johnson and Paige will both have their jerseys hung in the rafters), but they won't be as decimated as people thought as they did the season after their titles in 2005 and 2009.
What will be back? What will the roster look like?
POINT GUARD: JOEL BERRY (Jr)
Backups: Nate Britt (Sr), Seventh Woods (Fr.), Stilman White (Sr).
Berry has come into his own this season. He has taken over the offense and become a huge part of the Heels' success. He has that Ty Lawson quality of driving to the rim and getting baskets. He also has a pretty good, if not inconsistent, perimeter shot. Britt is back for his senior season and will be what he has been his entire UNC career -- a capable backup who usually makes good decisions and has a game or two where his offense comes up big. Woods is a combo guard that is some sort of athlete. He could struggle is freshman season all while showing some glimpses of what Tar Heel fans will love down the road. White is more of a garbage time guard.
SHOOTING GUARD: THEO PINSON (Jr)
Backups: Brandon Robinson (Fr), Woods, Kenny Williams (So), Shea Rush (So)
Pinson was the starter at this spot at the beginning of the year when Paige was out with a hand injury. He's a very good defender, hustles and is quick to the basket. His shooting isn't there yet, but he has a ton of confidence. With a variety of other players' roles likely to expand next year, Pinson may not be asked to score as much. Robinson is a smooth shooting freshman who should get minutes depending on how quickly his shot translates to college. Williams is known as a great shooter, but made just one three-point shot in his freshman season at Carolina. Woods should see time here as well. He is a combo guard and Roy Williams has shown he is willing to play two small guards in the backcourt.
SMALL FORWARD: JUSTIN JACKSON (Jr)
Backups: Robinson, Pinson.
Jackson could leave for the NBA, though it is unlikely. He is that guy that people tend to forget about on this year's team but in games he becomes so tough to deal with. His smooth moves, that floater and his transition game is already there. If he can polish off his three-point shooting, he will be the star of next year's team. Behind him will be more or less a variety of lineup shifts. They could go small and have Pinson in this spot or go big and have Isaiah Hicks. There is still some recruiting going on as well.
POWER FORWARD: ISAIAH HICKS (Sr)
Backups: Luke Maye (So), Meeks
Hicks was the ACC's Sixth Man of the Year. Next year he will take over Brice Johnson's slot as starter. He is certainly ready for it. He's powerful, athletic and experienced. If he can stay out of foul trouble, he could make All-ACC next year. He's that good. Maye got some run earlier this season and was nothing more than a body. However, he could develop into a nice pick-and-pop guy once his confidence rises. Meeks could also slide into this spot if the Heels go big and he and Tony Bradley are on the floor at the same time. Jackson could slide down to this spot if the Heels want to go small.
CENTER: KENNEDY MEEKS (Sr)
Backups: Tony Bradley (Fr), Hicks, Maye
Meeks is back and will again anchor the middle. His leg injury during this past season has hindered his play but he shows signs of his old self every now and then. A solid offseason and knowing his role will increase should bring it back out of him next year. Bradley is the next big thing in Chapel Hill. A big, smooth player, he brings to mind some of the more typical centers in the Roy Williams era. A Brice Johnson/Brandan Wright/Tyler Zeller/John Henson kind of player. That's pretty good. Maye could see minutes here as well as Hicks.
No, this isn't a great Heels team that will be fielded next season, but it is far from the turnover after the exodus of 2005, 2009 or 2012. Johnson and Paige will be tough to replace, but there are guys certainly capable of taking up a lot of that slack. This should be a top 20 team at least and could be a Sweet 16 team or even an Elite 8 squad next year.
Normally, Roy Williams builds his teams up on 3-4 year cycles. The 2005 title team (which was in Williams' 2nd year as head coach at North Carolina) was made up of juniors and seniors. The 2009 team was the same. So was the 2012 team and the current squad. And, actually, so will next year's team. So who knows.