Tar Heels have plenty of questions remaining
North Carolina entered the 2012-13 season surrounded by uncertainty. Four starters had left for the NBA, and the two most experienced returning players were coming off major knee surgeries.
The results were good but not great, at least by UNC’s standards. The Tar Heels made the NCAA Tournament and reached the ACC final but were nowhere close to their customary achievements — first in the ACC standings and an Elite Eight appearance, levels the program had reaches in six of coach Roy Williams’ first nine seasons.
“We’ve got a chance to be a sensational basketball team again.” Williams said after UNC’s round of 32 loss to Kansas.
The answers to these five questions will determine if that happens.
Will anyone leave for the NBA?
Leading scorer P.J. Hairston, leading rebounder James Michael McAdoo and most consistent player Reggie Bullock have decisions to make this month.
“They’re going to be NBA players; there’s no doubt in my mind,” Williams said. “Is it going to be next year? I think that’s a big question. I think each one of those kids can gain a great deal from coming back and improving their game.”
McAdoo went through the process a year ago before deciding to return — and then saw his stock actually decline. Will that experience convince him to go before he falls further or will he spend next season developing inside moves and becoming more attractive to pro teams?
At least McAdoo still is projected to be a mid-to-late first-round pick. Bullock and Hairston haven’t reached that level, and no underclassman has left UNC without being selected in the first round since junior Jeff McInnis in 1996.
Still, none of the three players have announced their intentions, so each is at least considering leaving.
Will Williams be forced to stay with a small lineup?
Even while it led to UNC’s late-season resurgence, Williams said how uncomfortable he was with the perimeter-oriented lineup.
“The rest of my career, I’m not going to be small, I can tell you that,” Williams said before the ACC Tournament.
The drawbacks became apparent in the loss to Kansas, when the quicker Tar Heels got 23 points off 22 turnovers but were outrebounded 50-36 and couldn’t get points in the paint to compensate for 30.1 percent shooting.
But will the coach have a choice? The reason he went to a four-guard lineup was because he couldn’t find a reliable big man to complement McAdoo. Sophomore Desmond Hubert and freshmen Joel James and Brice Johnson all had their chances to start at center, and no one could win the job.
With Leslie McDonald and J.P. Tokoto on the bench next season, Williams again could be looking at a lineup with more talented wings than post players.
Who will be the fifth starter?
Even if McAdoo, Bullock and Hairston all come back to play alongside point guard Marcus Paige, that still leaves one unknown starter. Williams will have at least six options to fill the opening in the frontcourt — Hubert, James, Johnson, sophomore Jackson Simmons and incoming recruits Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks.
Hubert is an outstanding defensive player but a liability on offense, while Johnson is the opposite. James may have the most potential but still is raw, and Simmons is strong fundamentally but has limited upside.
Clearly Meeks or Hicks have the opportunity to start as freshmen, but there are concerns with them, as well. Meeks has solid post moves and great hands but needs to work on conditioning, while Hicks is an excellent rebounder and shot blocker but will need time to adjust to the college game.
Will there by any last-minute additions?
UNC will have at least three newcomers — Meeks, Hicks and lefty point guard Nate Britt. But there’s still a possibility for more. Andrew Wiggins, the consensus No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2013, is deciding among Kentucky, Kansas, Florida State and UNC, where he made his official visit on the weekend the Tar Heels hosted Duke.
Top talent has tended to gravitate toward Kentucky under John Calipari, and both of Wiggins’ parents went to Florida State. But Williams has shown the ability to get the nation’s top recruit by landing Harrison Barnes three seasons ago.
If Williams is unhappy with his options in the post, he could also get a graduate student transfer, like when Alabama’s Justin Knox went to UNC for the 2010-11 season after Ed Davis declared for the NBA and David and Travis Wear left for UCLA.
Can UNC win any trophies next season?
After finishing third in the ACC regular season, losing the league tournament final and winning one game in the NCAA Tournament, UNC is hoping for championships in 2013-14.
“It hurts not to win anything,” McAdoo said after the Kansas loss.
The opportunity certainly is there. ACC champion Miami is losing at least four starters and possibly all five if sophomore Shane Larkin decides to leave early. Duke is graduating its three best players, and N.C. State is losing five of its top six.
The toughest competition in the 15-team ACC may come from the newcomers. Syracuse will be coming off a Final Four appearance, and Notre Dame and Pittsburgh traditionally are strong programs.
The Tar Heels could lose four starters for a second straight year and fail to develop a consistent inside game. Or P.J. Hairston could lead the league in scoring, and 11 returning scholarship players could continue the momentum from this past season and become an ACC and NCAA title contender.
Projected 2013-14 Roster
Reggie Bullock, G, 6-7, Sr.
Leslie McDonald, G, 6-5, Sr.
James Michael McAdoo, F, 6-9, Jr.
P.J. Hairston, G, 6-5, Jr.
Luke Davis, G, 6-0, Jr.
Desmond Hubert, F, 6-9, Jr.
Jackson Simmons, F, 6-7, Jr.
Marcus Paige, G, 6-1, So.
J.P. Tokoto, F, 6-5, So.
Joel James, C, 6-10, So.
Brice Johnson, F, 6-9, So.
Kennedy Meeks, C, 6-8, Fr.
Isaiah Hicks, F, 6-8, Fr.
Nate Britt, G, 6-0, Fr.
G Marcus Paige
G P.J. Hairston
F Reggie Bullock
F James Michael McAdoo
C Kennedy Meeks