The 2018-2019 college basketball season is back and the state of North Carolina is whole again! The Tar Heels will begin their pursuit to Minnesota against Wofford University at 7:00 PM EST tonight on ESPN2. A talented recruiting class comes in with two potential starters in Nassir Little and Coby White. UNC potentially has an 11 man deep team, a refreshing and rare sight in Carolina.
Experience is the common narrative in Chapel Hill and nothing has changed this season with Luke Maye and Kenny Williams ready to lead and show the young guys how to accomplish every goal on UNC’s agenda. Their level of productivity is expected to increase, but the supporting class is exciting and intriguing to say the least. With that being said, there are a few questions every Carolina fan has before the season starts and here at Basketball Society we will provide for some clarity before tonight’s game.
Who Will Be The Leading Point Guard?
Coby White is in good standing to start tonight; Roy Williams told the News Observer that there is a “great possibility” that White will start against the Terriers. White’s biggest threat to start is Seventh Woods who’s finally healthy and has a noticeable improvement in his confidence. A gratifying sight for Carolina fans to see the junior guard from South Carolina bringing down the house in the Bahamas and letting everybody know that he is hungry to prove his worth!
Freshman Coby White comes in to UNC with a knack for scoring and a speed that Roy Williams loved. If White starts he will be the first freshman point guard to start the season for Roy since Marcus Paige in 2012. In the exhibition game against Mt. Olive on Friday, White posted 7 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists in 22 minutes. Woods finished the night with 8 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists on 16 minutes of play.
One key stat that both guards ended the game with is four turnovers apiece.
Roy Williams spoke post game about the turnovers by the guards in the exhibition game Friday. “I don’t like point guards that have those kind of turnover totals. But it was a high possession game, and our press offense, we haven’t had an opportunity to go against that very much.”
As the season progresses either Coby White will show that he is not as ball-dominant as projected and he is able to keep the offense flowing at the point guard position or Seventh Woods will prove his knowledge of the system and that his athleticism to get to the free throw line is a good match with the starting lineup.
How Deep Does Roy Go Into the Bench and How Long?
Expect 11 players to participate tonight in the game which means that North Carolina fans will have to be patient as Williams will have to put together unusual lineups to find a feel for this team. With a void for a consistent number one at the center position, there are also questions as to who backs up Kenny Williams as well. Nassir Little will definitively be best player off of the bench to begin the season as Roy works him into the starting lineup. Guards Rechon ‘Leaky’ Black and Andrew Platek have a unique opportunity to obtain the back-up shooting guard position depending on their defensive ability early in the season.
In his freshman season, Platek played 7.5 minutes per game while averaging two points, 1.1 rebounds, and half an assist per game. That included him also shooting a solid 37% from the three (10/27). A bigger role is expected this season with Theo Pinson’s departure and Platek’s potential shooting ability combined with his aggressive defense, which will be needed in conference play. Black is the third freshman in this class that has more of a unique game that Williams loves to plug in.
Black is unlike anything seen before in Chapel Hill. He’s able to defend the 1-4 with his 6’8″ frame and the athletic ability will bring fans out of their seats. He is a pass first player with impressive ball-handling for his size and is a perfect fit in this system. He’s got a similar archetype to Pinson, but his offensive ceiling is higher due to the skills the Charlotte native already possesses.
Black could see time at point guard due to his skilled ball handling, while his size garnishes his defensive ability to match-up with the opposing teams best forward. Roy could move Cam Johnson to the two and let Black play some point tonight just to see how it flows. Platek has the defensive ability and knowledge of the system, while Black brings a unique set of skills and pass first mentality to Carolina.
Who’s the Leading Big Man For The Heels?
Garrison Brooks, Brandon Huffman, Walker Miller, and Sterling Manley are all vowing for big minutes in the starting line-up for the Tarheels. Since March of last year, according to Williams, the three returning big guys haven’t separated themselves as the definitive go-to:
“None of the big guys have stepped forward,” Williams told the NewsObserver. “All of them have gotten a little better. But not at the level I want them to get better yet.”
So what’s next? Does Williams play two big men within the starting line-up? But how well will that old school set match-up as the season progresses? The smaller line-up with Pinson and Johnson was the undoubtedly the most efficient line-up for Carolina last season, so will they try to replicate that in some way this season?
As I’ve said, so many questions.
Garrison Brooks grabbed 16 rebounds Friday and hopes to build on that tonight. Sterling Manley has an elite skill set and has the most potential as far as an NBA talent. Manley was the highest touted recruit of the three and hopes to begin to separate himself from fellow sophomore Brooks for the starting nod. Consistency is key and you hope that he is able to take that leap before conference play.
Brandon Huffman is a 6-foot-10, 250 pound forward from Raleigh looking to show that his skills are elite enough to consistently play for the Heels. But, if you will play on the floor you will have to be able to rebound. Huffman has the athleticism to contribute consistently, and it’s expected that he puts it together earlier in the season and continues to improve.
When asked about the challenging position that Williams faced in regards to the big man battle, Williams spoke after the exhibition game Friday. “Of all the bug guys, (Brooks) had a better preseason than the other guys.” “You think about 6-for-9 and the three misses were from eight inches away, you know, so it’d be helpful if he’d make those, but he’s had a better preseason than the other big guys.
Brooks understands that he has to make the easy shots. He talked to the media after the game as well upset about the little things. “Missed two free throws. Missed the easy ones. Didn’t talk on defense as well as I should have. I mean, it was okay, but it wasn’t outstanding.”
The big men will have plenty of opportunities to show their full capability and it starts tonight with Brooks most likely starting.
What Will Nassir Little’s Productivity Look Like?
The number three recruit in the 2018 class de-committed from Arizona amid FBI scandal, leaving Carolina one more shot to secure him. As we know, they did, and he enrolled in June and has been working non-stop to improve his game. Roy has been on record stating that Little is the most athletic player he has ever coached. Players have raved about some of the things he has done in practice:
Junior Guard Brandon Robinson: “Nas is crazy athletic. He plays above the rim.”
Sophmore Guard Andrew Platek: “One of the more athletic kids I have ever seen in my life.”
The McDonald’s All American has shown that he is a multi-dimensional scorer who plans on using his size on slower defenders in the post. But, his sharp shooting from the perimeter will separate him in NBA scouts’ eyes as the season progresses.
He has constantly improved since June and Roy Williams praised Little for that during ACC Media day a few weeks ago. “I would say probably his best practice was yesterday, so I like those guys that keep getting better instead of hitting a wall. He is an athlete who can shoot the basketball that instinctively gives it up.”
Those quotes get you excited to see Little on the floor and he will not disappoint this season on either side of the ball. But, the biggest question surrounding Little is not his productivity, but if he will have an impact so massive that he has to be fit into the starting lineup. Don’t get me wrong Little has the intangibles and ability to start, but with Johnson and Maye coming into their last season where does he fit?
There has to be a traditional big man on the floor and you need Kenny Williams there for his defense, experience, and shooting ability. Little will start on the bench and play starter minutes, but Roy will have time to figure out what line-up will give him the best chance to succeed as the season progresses.
The Tar Heels have loads of potential and with this amount of talent winning the National Championship does not seem far-fetched.