Don't sleep on North Carolina basketball this season
Lost in the madness of Mike Krzyzewski’s final season at Duke is the beginning of a new era in Chapel Hill.
While most of the attention — and some of it, rightfully so — goes to the Blue Devils and Krzyzewski’s farewell tour this year, Hubert Davis appears to be building something exciting at North Carolina.
Davis has quietly built a veteran squad that’s filled with blue-chip pedigree and high-level college basketball experience.
Armando Bacot, Kerwin Walton, RJ Davis and Caleb Love started a combined 84 games for the Tar Heels last season. Davis’ staff also added transfers Brady Manek (Oklahoma) and Dawson Garcia (Marquette) who both bring experience and valuable skillsets.
There’s also 4-star prospects Dontrez Styles and D’Marco Dunn who should provide good minutes off the bench this season.
That’s why it’s so surprising to see North Carolina at No. 40 in KenPom.com’s preseason rankings. That puts the Tar Heels at No. 6 in the ACC, behind programs like Louisville and Virginia Tech. KenPom projects UNC to go 19-11 overall and 11-9 in ACC play.
North Carolina will be able to play with a rare flexibility this season thanks to Manek and Garcia’s shooting ability. Manek is one of the most prolific 3-point shooters in Oklahoma history. Garcia shot 35.6 percent from deep as a freshman last season with Marquette.
Bacot will need to make a leap in production, but that shouldn’t be too hard to ask for — he was already a very good player in a more limited role for the Tar Heels the last two seasons.
The tipping point for North Carolina will be in the back court, specifically with Caleb Love. A former 5-star recruit, Love struggled at time last season. He shot just 31.6 percent from the floor and 26.6 percent from long range.
The good news? Love’s athleticism and (theoretical) scoring ability is at a level that can’t be taught. If he, and RJ Davis to a lesser degree, is able to significantly improve on his freshman campaign, it would significantly raise UNC’s ceiling.
It’s tough, maybe impossible, to replace a legend like Roy Williams. But Davis has the roster talent to make serious in-roads in his first season — and perhaps take a chunk of attention away from Krzyzewski’s final year in Durham.
North Carolina opens its season with Loyola (MD.) on Nov. 9. The Tar Heels will face Duke on Feb. 5 (Chapel Hill) and March 5 (Durham).