North Carolina’s “Iron Five” starting lineup took college basketball by storm in March and got all the way to the National Championship game.

Looking ahead to next season, there’s only 1 member of that starting 5 who will definitely not be back: forward Brady Manek. He played his final year of eligibility in Chapel Hill this season after a successful 4-year career at Oklahoma.

Manek’s offensive skillset is a big reason why UNC’s offense took such a step forward in March. His ability to stretch the floor gave space for Caleb Love, R.J. Davis and Armando Bacot. He was also a productive rebounder and an excellent passer for his position.

So what are UNC’s options for replacing Manek on next year’s squad? Let’s break it down.

Internal options

North Carolina doesn’t have any internal options, but Puff Johnson certainly played himself onto the radar with his National Championship Game performance.

Johnson scored 11 points vs. Kansas as stepped in for Leaky Black, who was in foul trouble. Johnson hit a corner 3-pointer that helped keep the Tar Heels in the game after KU’s big run in the second half.

Johnson is listed at 6-foot-8 and is more athletic than Manek, but he doesn’t have his shooting chops. He’s 7-for-35 (20%) from 3-point range over his first two seasons with the Tar Heels. His opportunities have been limited, so perhaps a larger sample size and more consistent playing time could lead to better results.

Still, that’s a risky gamble to make if you’re Hubert Davis going into Year 2.

Incoming freshmen

North Carolina does have a potential stretch 4 in its 2022 recruiting class. The Tar Heels have signed 4-star forward Tyler Nickel, who is the No. 81 overall player in the country, per 247Sports Composite rankings.

Here’s some analysis from 247Sports’ director of basketball scouting, Jerry Meyer:

Not an explosive athlete but can make plays and draw fouls in contact with his physical strength and aggressive mindset. Can post up and has an array of turn around fade away shots. More importantly for the next level, he is a marksman from behind the line. Is developing deep range.

Here’s some video that backs up that analysis:

That profile is very similar to Manek’s. However, the question will be — as is the case with all freshmen — if Nickel is ready to contribute right away. If he can at least play off the bench, he could be a plug-and-play solution for replacing (at least part of) Manek’s impact as early as next season.

Transfer portal

If Davis isn’t satisfied with Johnson or Nickel, he could look toward the transfer portal. However, there aren’t many options that fit Manek’s player profile as of early-April. That could — and likely will — change in the coming weeks and months, but there are no obvious solutions.

Ohio’s Ben Vander Plas could theoretically be a fit. Listed at 6-foot-8, Vander Plas made 34% of his 3-point attempts last year on a large volume. He averaged 14.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. 

More portal options are likely to become available later in the offseason. Perhaps a grad transfer like Manek will emerge as a viable candidate.

Regardless, UNC appears to have several possible options in replacing his impact between Johnson, Nickel and a potential transfer addition down the line.