The North Carolina Tar Heels never rebuild - they reload. Despite losing four starters who were all first-round picks in the 2012 NBA Draft, North Carolina has a talented squad, though there are some questions marks.
The strength of the Tar Heels will be their talented collection of wing players. Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston are more than capable of filling it up from deep and also bring good size to the floor. Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald are both returning from season-ending injuries. Strickland suffered a torn ACL in January, while McDonald missed all of last season with the same injury. Strickland is the lone senior on the roster, so his leadership and ability to play lockdown defense will be vital for North Carolina to succeed. Crazy athletic freshman J.P. Tokoto will find playing time hard to come by.
With Kendall Marshall in the NBA, the keys to the team's offense are handed to freshman Marcus Paige. Paige is a more skilled scorer than Marshall, and while he is a solid distributor, doesn't have the extremely high level of court vision that Marshall did. Stillman White would have served as the backup to Paige, but he will be taking a basketball hiatus while serves a Mormon mission. That means Strickland or maybe McDonald will have to see some minutes at the one.
With the starting frontcourt Tyler Zeller, John Henson, and Harrison Barnes all gone, it is now James Michael McAdoo's turn to emerge as the star of this team. He arrived on Tobacco Road with a ton of hype, but never fully put it all together since he was stuck coming off the bench. McAdoo has all the potential to be a superstar, but is that a role he ready to take on right away?
There is a ton of inexperience alongside McAdoo in the frontcourt. Desmond Hubert was used sparingly last year but figures to start in the middle. He is nowhere near the defensive presence of Henson or Zeller, meaning Carolina won't have a true rim protector. Freshman Joel James should see plenty of playing time because of his size, while Jackson Simmons and Brice Johnson will compete for leftover minutes. I also wouldn't be surprised to see Roy Williams use a smaller four-guard lineup with Bullock at the four and McAdoo maybe playing some five.
Can McAdoo reach his potential? How will Paige fair replacing Marshall? Which of the young frontcourt players can take on starter's minutes? There are just too many questions to put North Carolin any higher in my rankings.
Player to Watch: Marcus Paige, PG
Because of Williams' desire to run at every possible opportunity, the point guard position is crucial to the Tar Heels' success. Think Marshall; think Ty Lawson. Paige doesn't getting to dip his toes into the water since he will be thrown to the wolves right away, and how he controls the tempo makes a huge difference for North Carolina this year.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/16 at Long Beach State
11/19 vs. Mississippi State (Maui Invitational)
11/20 vs. Marquette/Butler (Maui Invitational)
11/19 vs. Texas/Chaminade/Illinois/USC (Maui Invitational)