There’s a lot of change happening in Chapel Hill. After 33 year as a head coach, 18 of which were spent at UNC, Roy Williams has retired. In his place is Hubert Davis, a North Carolina alum and assistant for the program since 2012.
It wasn’t a spectacular campaign for the Tar Heels in 2020-21, and while UNC isn’t a preseason favorite for the national title in 2021-22, it is expected that the team will improve from a season ago. Let’s preview what we can expect from UNC men’s basketball this year.
UNC Men’s Basketball Preview 2021-22
UNC Men’s Basketball Preview: Departures
There will be a few names from last year that you won’t hear this time around.
Garrison Brooks transferred to Mississippi State, taking with him a lot of size and 10.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per contest. Walker Kessler transferred out, too, opting to continue his college career at Auburn. Day’Ron Sharpe is the other notable absentee, leaving Chapel Hill after one season to pursue a professional career – he was selected No. 29 overall by the Phoenix Suns, then was traded to the Brooklyn Nets not long after.
That trio of interior players were playing in a time share with Armando Bacot, but that situation will be no more. It’ll be a much different look for UNC around the rim in 2021-22.
UNC Men’s Basketball Preview: Additions
Dawson Garcia was one of Marquette’s best players a year ago, and he’s now spending his sophomore season at North Carolina. He’s a 6-foot-11 and one of the biggest pieces of the frontcourt transition Hubert Davis is ushering in for his first campaign. He put up 13 points and 6.6 rebounds per game as a Golden Eagle in 2020-21, and it’s possible for him to replicate or improve on that production in Chapel Hill.
Oklahoma transfer Brady Manek offers Davis a 6-foot-9 forward who can stretch the floor with his shooting and driving abilities and chip in adequately on defense. For me, he’s been an undervalued player in college basketball for years, and now that he’s at UNC, he might finally get more of his due, even if it’s off the bench. And most importantly, THE HAIR IS BACK!
Justin McKoy is the other notable transfer, coming from Virginia. He wasn’t a huge part of the Cavs’ rotation the last two seasons, but he showed clear improvement between his freshman and sophomore years, and he could take another step forward to serve as a worthy depth piece for the Tar Heels in 2021-22. A small recruiting class with just two commits – Dontrez Styles and D’Marco Dunn – rounds out the newcomers to the roster.
UNC Men’s Basketball Preview: Returners
Davis has a good chunk of the top talent from 2020-21 to work with in his first campaign.
Caleb Love is back for his sophomore season, and he will be a massive key to how well 2021-22 goes in Chapel Hill. He has plenty of talent but had a difficult freshman year, converting a 25.9 usage percentage into a .368 effective field-goal percentage and offering -0.1 offensive win shares to his team. The ceiling will not be the roof if Love repeats numbers like those.
Kerwin Walton, RJ Davis, and Anthony Harris will serve as the core of guards surrounding Love, all returners from 2020-21. Walton can be a bit one dimensional as a scoring guard and not much more, but that’s fine if he fill that roles successfully. He shot 42 percent from deep last year, and repeating that again would be a big deal for the Tar Heels. Davis came on strong in the later part of last year, and he has the ability to run the offense if Davis wants to play Love off the ball. Injuries held Harris back last year, but he was a decent piece in the games he was healthy for. If he can feature in full in 2021-22, he offers another serviceable bench option for Davis.
Armando Bacot will be the center of attention for UNC offensively as Davis transitions the team into a more modern look. Bacot won’t be relegated to only living around the rim – he should get more looks from all around the floor.
“We’ve had great discussions about him and his dreams and goals of playing at the next level in the NBA,” Davis told Jeremiah Holloway of The Daily Tar Heel last month. “And one of the things that I told him is, ‘In order for that to happen, you’re gonna have to develop a perimeter game.’
“Last year, we had four unbelievable bigs, but for the most part, we had four traditional bigs that posted up down low on the block,” he continued. “So one of the things from an offensive standpoint is I’ve always loved versatile bigs.”
Davis will have Bacot shooting threes, receiving the ball further from the basket at times, and developing a more well-rounded offensive attack. We’ll see that goes, but if Davis can transform Bacot into a threat of all over the floor, this offense can kick into another gear.
UNC Men’s Basketball Preview: Verdict
This team has a very high ceiling, but with a first-year head coach, a young point guard who struggled mightily last season, and a new offense requiring new things from players, it’s possible that this team won’t reach its full potential.
However, the amount of talent at Davis’s disposal makes me think there’s a relatively-high floor for 2021-22 UNC. Could a team with this much talent fail to make the NCAA Tournament? I don’t see that being possible. At worst, a repeat of last season is in the cards.
That wouldn’t be a good season by Carolina standards, though. The team has to be better than last year to be viewed as a success, and if Love can solve his offensive issues, UNC will be significantly better than it was in 2020-21. Note: the operative word in that sentence is, “if.”