What to expect from NCAA National Champs: North Carolina Tar Heels

Molly Glus, Lifestyle Section Editor

With college basketball tip off less than two weeks away, the University of North Carolina (UNC) Tar Heels are hoping to have another successful year following their national championship victory.

The Tar Heels have been in each of the last two NCAA national championships. With a devastating loss to Villanova in the final seconds of the 2015-2016 season, they bounced back during the 2016-2017 season to defeat Gonzaga for the title.

There were many factors that contributed to UNC’s success last season, however, some of the most noted were the key senior players such as Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, and Tony Bradley. According to Sports Illustrated, these players helped with UNC’s control of the backcourt, domination of the boards, and key offensive plays.

According to Athlon Sports, Justin Jackson, forward, averaged 18.3 points per game and five rebounds. Similarly, forwards Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks both averaged more than ten points per game and upwards of ten rebounds. Forward Tony Bradley also dominated the offense with an average of seven points and five rebounds per game.

UNC’s size was pivotal for their success during their national championship season. According to Athlon Sports, UNC led the nation in rebound margin and offensive rebound percentage last season. Due to the majority of the size of UNC’s players gone, Sports Illustrated predicts junior forward Luke Maye to have a lead role going into the 2017-2018 season.

Additionally, Sports Illustrated reports UNC received some help in size with the four-star, 6’10’’ power forward Garrison Brooks. Brooks is known as a solid rebounder and floor runner, proving ideal for the Tar Heel offense. Despite strong recruiting for the Tar Heels, they may struggle in the paint.

(Credit to UNC Athletics) Here UNC is playing their ACC rival, the Duke Blue Devils in the Dean Smith Center. The Dean Smith Center is home to the UNC home basketball games.

Despite the size issue, there are many returning star players. Joel Berry II, senior; Theo Pinson, senior; five-star recruit Jalek Felton, freshmen, will bring momentum to the offense. Additionally, University of Pittsburgh transfer Cameron Johnson makes his North Carolina debut this season and has two years of eligibility remaining. Johnson is a strong three point shooter with a  .417 average last season and knows the high level of play of the ACC conference.

According to ESPN and Athlon Sports, Berry is, without a doubt, the key player for this season. Winning Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four despite numerous ankle injuries last season, Berry displayed toughness and leadership on and off the court. With his decision to return for his senior season, ESPN reports that he is a favorite to win ACC Player of the Year. However, Berry suffered a broken hand and will be out for the first four weeks of the season.

According to ESPN, while the Tar Heels have many talented players on their roster, the team is dealing with a “rearranging” year to help them regain the depth they had last season. With the level of play in the ACC constantly improving, this season is sure to be a competitive one.