According to Aaron Beard of The Associated Press.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, also known as UNC, had a difficult season last year and faced unprecedented challenges. New head coach Hubert Davis recognized the need for immediate changes, including adjusting the team’s players and playing style to increase the pace of the game.
He completed the first task during the offseason. The outcome of the second task could significantly impact the success of the 19th-ranked Tar Heels this season.
Armando Bacot and RJ Davis, key players for the Tar Heels during their surprising 2022 run to the NCAA championship game, have returned for another season under head coach Hubert Davis. This comes after Davis took over for the legendary Roy Williams, who retired after a Hall of Fame career. The team has also added five transfers and seven new players, making a total of seven newcomers. Despite being ranked No.1 in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll, the Tar Heels were unable to make it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since its expansion to 64 teams in 1985.
Davis expressed a desire to improve the team’s pace this year, stating that he wants them to play faster regardless of the outcome of a shot.
This has been a consistent characteristic of UNC squads for a while. However, in KenPom’s adjusted tempo ranking, the Tar Heels only placed 99th (with 68.8 possessions), in contrast to 39th in Davis’ initial year and frequently ranking well under Williams. They frequently became stagnant while trying to find Bacot for inside shots, relied on 3-pointers despite having a team that struggled with shooting (31.2%), and were never able to find a cohesive rhythm.
Six players left the team, and versatile defender Leaky Black finished his time at the school. The group that left included top scorer Caleb Love, a guard who was inconsistent with his decision-making and shot selection, but also had some impressive moments. Love transferred to the University of Arizona, and Puff Johnson, a backup forward, transferred to Penn State.
Davis received assistance from the portal, recruiting a former three-time captain at Notre Dame, guard Cormac Ryan, and Stanford forward Harrison Ingram. He also gained a five-star point guard, Elliot Cadeau, who accelerated his graduation to join the team a year ahead, and a four-star forward, Zayden High.
RJ Davis stated that the new and first-year students appear as though they have been here for four years. He also mentioned that the team has been developing good chemistry and understanding among each other, and it will only improve in the future.
MAKING PIECES FIT
The updates deal with concerns from the previous year, such as improving 3-point shooting with the addition of Ryan and Brown through a trade with Paxson Wojcik, or enhancing passing skills with Cadeau’s natural ability.
Bacot expressed that currently, RJ is our primary scorer off the dribble, while Cormac is skilled at hitting shots. Additionally, Cadeau excels at passing, and Paxson is a strong shooter. This allows for a clearer distribution of roles on the team, as opposed to having two main guards who both prioritize scoring.
Last year, Seth Trimble, a reserve guard for UNC, was their most highly rated recruit. However, he experienced a decrease in playing time. He focused on rebuilding his confidence and enhancing his ability to shoot from the outside.
Trimble stated that they experienced a period of mental decline last year, which then led to a downward spiral. They made a promise to themselves to never let that happen again.
The Tar Heels are hoping for a bigger contribution from 6-10 sophomore Jalen Washington. He only averaged 2.2 points last season due to a knee injury he sustained in high school, causing him to miss play time.
“The level of play and energy was high,” stated Washington. “I believe I have made significant progress this summer compared to last year when I first arrived.”
On November 6th, the North Carolina Tar Heels will begin their season against Radford. During Thanksgiving, they will participate in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, where they will face off against highly ranked teams like Arkansas (ranked 14th) and Villanova (ranked 22nd). After the tournament, they will return home to play against Tennessee (ranked 9th). The team’s schedule also includes games against Connecticut (ranked 6th and the current national champions) on December 5th at Madison Square Garden and Kentucky (ranked 16th) on December 16th.
The ACC season for UNC begins on December 2nd against Florida State. Their regular season will conclude with a trip to face No. 2 Duke on March 9th.