Monday, August 15, 2022

North Carolina basketball roster: Starting lineup prediction, bench rotation, depth outlook for 2022-23 season

As late as mid-February, it seemed uncertain whether North Carolina would even qualify for the 2022 NCAA Tournament, let alone be positioned to make a deep run. But the Tar Heels turned it on down the stretch in coach Hubert Davis’ first season and made an improbable run to the national title game as a No. 8 seed.

Now, with four of five starters returning from that team, expectations for UNC are sky-high as the dust settles on college basketball’s cycle of offseason player movement. North Carolina sits at No. 2 in Gary Parrish’s Top 25 and 1, and will likely be favored to win the ACC over rival Duke, which will have seven true freshmen on scholarship under new coach Jon Scheyer.

While North Carolina’s core of players appear settled, led by familiar names such as Caleb Love and Armando Bacot, there are still questions about the roster’s makeup. The Tar Heels ranked 348th of 358 teams nationally last season in bench minutes, per KenPom, but Davis has filled all 13 scholarships for the season ahead.

Will the second-year coach find a way to get more substantive contributions from those outside the starting lineup as he welcomes the nation’s No. 11 recruiting class  to campus? Here is a glance at how the Tar Heels’ roster — and a potential rotation — shake up with a roster that appears settled.

Projected starting lineup

1. Caleb Love

6-4 | 195 | Jr.

After a disappointing freshman season, Love took big strides as a sophomore and began living up to his five-star prospect billing. His legendary 27-point outburst in the second half against UCLA in the Sweet 16 helped propel the Tar Heels on their Final Four run. He followed up with 27 against Duke as UNC secured a spot in the national title game. Love still has room to grow by becoming more efficient offensively, and another leap will put him in the running for first-team All-ACC honors.

2. RJ Davis

6-0 | 160 | Jr.

Davis also took a nice step forward in his sophomore season, averaging 13.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game while starting all 39 of UNC’s contests. He and Love make for a dynamic one-two punch offensively, as both can facilitate the offense or explode for a scoring run of their own. If one or both can become lockdown defenders as juniors, it would go a long way toward helping UNC reach its full potential after the Tar Heels struggled defensively at times last season.

3. Leaky Black

6-8 | 195 | Sr.

Though offensively insignificant in a starting lineup full of scoring threats, Black again proved his value last season as the Tar Heels’ top perimeter defender. Now returning for his fifth season with 122 career games already under his belt, Black should again serve as the ultimate role player for UNC.

4. Pete Nance

6-10 | 225 | Sr.

Nance appears to be the top candidate to fill the starting role vacated by Brady Manek, who shot 40.3% from 3-point range as a graduate transfer from Oklahoma in his lone season with the Tar Heels. Like Manek, Nance is a stretch power forward and graduate transfer with plenty of high-level experience under his belt. He shot a career-best 45.2% from 3-point range for Northwestern last season, though he attempted just 3.1 per game compared to Manek’s 6.2 with the Tar Heels.

5. Armando Bacot

6-10 | 240 | Sr.

Thankfully for North Carolina, the NBA Draft holds little appetite for traditional big men who specialize in bruising on the block. Because of that reality, it made sense for Bacot to return for his senior season and make a run at ACC Player of the Year. He finished second in the voting last season while leading the Tar Heels in points (16.3), rebounds (13.1), blocks (1.7) and field goal percentage (56.9%). He was a third-team CBS Sports All-American and should only improve on that designation as he gives Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe some competition for best big man in the country.

Bench

Dontrez Styles

6-6 | 210 | So.

Styles logged just 5.8 minutes per game as a true freshman but flashed his potential at times, such as when he played 25 huge minutes in UNC’s second-round win over Baylor in the NCAA Tournament. His offensive game needs to be refined, but he can help the Tar Heels as defender and rebounder with his size and athleticism.

Puff Johnson

6-8 | 205 | Jr.

He’s the younger brother of former UNC sharpshooter and current Phoenix Suns wing Cam Johnson, and it’s reasonable to compare their skillsets due to their similar frames and strengths. Cam was a collegiate late-bloomer who broke out as a junior at Pitt before transferring to North Carolina for his final two seasons. A similar junior-year jump is unlikely for Puff due to the surplus of depth on the Tar Heels’ roster, but his 11-point outing off the bench in the national title game was a good omen for his chances of carving out a steadier role this season.

Justin McKoy

6-8 | 220 | Sr.

McKoy appeared in 30 games for North Carolina last season after transferring in following two seasons as a role player at Virginia. His contributions were minimal, but he’s a veteran who can help in the frontcourt as necessitated by foul trouble or injuries.

D’Marco Dunn

6-4 | 185 | So.

Dunn made occasional appearances on the floor as a true freshman and should be in line for a larger role following the departures of fellow reserve guards Anthony Harris and Kerwin Walton. The former four-star prospect just needs some a little bit of run to get comfortable and find a rhythm.

Seth Trimble

6-3 | 185 | Fr.

As the No. 29 overall player in the 2022 class, according to 247Sports, Trimble is the highest-ranked incoming freshman at UNC and will have a chance to crack the rotation early. While Love and Davis have roles locked down, Trimble should be able to compete with Dunn for minutes off the bench as a combo guard who can play on or off the ball.

Depth

Will Shaver | 6-10 | 265 | r-Fr.

Jalen Washington | 6-9 | 210 | Fr.

Tyler Nickel | 6-8 | 210 | Fr.

Shaver is a former three-star prospect who enrolled midway through last season. He brings good size, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he’s still a season away from competing for a regular role. Washington is a four-star true freshman with tremendous length who could become the program’s stretch forward of the future. For now, he’s working back from knee injuries that plagued him in high school. Nickel is a bit of a wild card with positional versatility and a smooth offensive game. Any of the three could play themselves onto the court, but due to their youth and the experience ahead of them, they seem more likely to spend the next season in development.

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