While the No. 1 North Carolina men’s basketball team heads into a new season with 4 of 5 starters returning, the Heels do face a tall task of replacing Brady Manek.

Manek was a transfer portal gem for the Tar Heels in 2021-22, joining them after 4 years at Oklahoma. He averaged 15.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game for the Tar Heels, leading the team in 3-pointers with 98 long-range makes while shooting at a 40% clip from beyond the arc.

He offered Carolina a great stretch forward to play off the strengths of Armando Bacot as a true post threat, and his ability to both knock down jumpers and play inside greatly helped the Heels in their run to the Final Four.

But Manek is gone, and replacing his production is one of the biggest offseason tasks facing Hubert Davis and his staff. The good news for Carolina is that through depth players already on the team and another transfer-portal find, it has a few players who could play a big role in filling that void.

Here are 3 players who will be key in replacing Manek:

Pete Nance

Davis and staff went out and got one of the nation’s best transfer-portal players, as Pete Nance joins the Heels from Northwestern.

At 6-foot-11, Nance offers some great size to play inside along with Bacot, but he still can knock down shots and do his scoring from the outside, too. Nance averaged 14.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per game last season , and he also added 2.7 assists per contest.

He’s a good shooter, too. He hit 49.7% of his shots from the field last season, and he knocked down 45.2% of his 3-point attempts while making 1.4 3-pointers per game. Compare that to Manek, who shot 40.3% from beyond the arc with 2.5 3-pointers made per game.

Nance had a 26.2% usage rate, higher than Manek’s 22.4%, though a lot of that had to do with Northwestern’s roster around him. His true shooting percentage, which factors in the value of 3-pointers and free throws, was 59%, just a couple points shy of Maneks’ 61.7%.

All in all, Nance does a lot of things fairly similarly to Manek. He can shoot from the outside, but he can also get in the paint and make shots, grab rebounds and play defense. He can pass the ball well and doesn’t turn it over much, and he’s a really strong candidate to start for the Tar Heels at the power forward.

Leaky Black

Leaky Black started 38 of the Tar Heels’ 39 games last season and played nearly 30 minutes per contest in 2021-22, but the team could use a little more from him production-wise in his final season.

Black averaged just 4.9 points and 4.3 rebounds last season, and his usage rate was a pretty lowly 8.8%.

But Black isn’t a bad player by any means. He’s strong defensively, and he also has some offensive capabilities that have been displayed at times. His scoring average was 6.2 points per game over the Heels’ final 21 games of last season, and he shot better than 50% from the field and topped 36% from 3-point range during that stretch.

Entering his 5th year with the program, there are limitations to Black’s offensive game that aren’t going to magically disappear. But he also has shown he can score in bunches, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t shoulder a little bit more of the scoring with Manek gone.

He averaged 6.5 points per game as a sophomore and 5.6 as a junior. Carolina doesn’t need him to score 15 per game like Manek did, but it would be a massive boost for the Heels if he can get closer to 10 than he was a season ago. And he’s perfectly capable of that.

Puff Johnson

A really interesting piece of the puzzle for Carolina is Puff Johnson, a 3rd-year player and former 4-star recruit who could be primed for a breakout season.

Johnson played just 10 minutes per game and averaged only 3.1 points per contest last season, but he showed some glimpses of what he’s capable of at times last season. Johnson had a 16-point performance in a big win against NC State late in the regular season, and he also scored in double digits in 2 of Carolina’s 6 NCAA Tournament games.

There are a lot of things Johnson does really well. He’s a strong shooter from the field, with a 45.9% FG percentage a season ago, though not nearly as dangerous as Manek or Nance from 3-point range. Still, he can get to the rim and make his shots.

With Manek gone and Johnson older, there’s a good chance he’ll see the court much more than 10 minutes per game this season. He came on and played a bigger role toward the end of last season, averaging nearly 13 minutes per game over the course of the ACC and NCAA tournaments.

If a breakout season is in store for Johnson, that could go a long way in helping make up for some of the lost production from Manek. He isn’t the same player. He’s not going to knock down 3-pointers at a high clip, but he certainly is capable of contributing more than he has. He’s a player in the ACC to keep an eye on.