Roller Coaster Ride for the Tar Heels
The North Carolina Tar Heels’ offseason began very abruptly after Kris Jenkins took the pass from Ryan Arcidiacono and sunk the game winning shot. Just moments earlier, Marcus Paige made the shot that looked like it would define his career and live in college basketball lore for years to come.The future was extremely uncertain for the school and it began to materialize that perhaps they would have insult added to injury.
NCAA sanctions were not unknown to UNC. For quite some time they have been under investigation by the NCAA for an academic scandal involving academic courses. There were rumors that, after this prolific group of players left the school, they could be in for some penalties that would stunt the reboot effort by Roy Williams and Company.
Another event this off-season was the graduation of Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson. These two seniors made major contributions to the program. Paige was one of the most talented distributors that the school has had in the past decade. Johnson, on the other hand, was a double-double machine averaging 17 points and just over ten rebounds last season. They were a huge part of the team’s road to the Final Four. However, they will be sorely missed as they have no remaining eligibility.
The unknown commodity enters when a discussion is started on players leaving early for the draft. Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks each made the declaration that they would at least look into the NBA Draft as a possibility for their future this off-season. The loss of both would leave the team with only one of its top five scorers in Joel Berry II.
Then, in mid-April, the school received a notice of allegations from the NCAA that surprised many. The men’s basketball team was not mentioned in the notice. This was quite unexpected from the NCAA and has many people questioning the reasoning behind it, especially after the school voluntarily submitted additional violations to the NCAA. In fact, the voluntary submission may have kept the school eligible for post season contention, due to the fact that it further delayed the investigation. Without that, we may have never seen the dramatic conclusion to this season in the title game.
The next bits of good news come from both players that had originally entered the draft. Kennedy Meeks and Justin Jackson will each return to North Carolina. In Meeks, the school returns its second leading rebounder behind the graduated Brice Johnson. While Meeks is not as dynamic of a player as Johnson, he does bring a strong post presence and strength. His size is off the charts even after he has shed a significant amount of weight in the past academic year. Justin Jackson is a lanky wing player that brings some unpredictability to the Tar Heels game. His overall field goal percentage is good, but his outside shooting leaves something to be desired. This likely was a factor in his return, as the outside scoring left something to be desired in a transition to the professional level.
Jackson and Meeks’ return should benefit them in improving their games and the school in attempting a second straight run to the title game. Other notable returnees include, Joel Berry II, Isaiah Hicks, Nate Britt and Theo Pinson. Additionally, the Tar Heels have three more ESPN Top 100 recruits to supplement their roster. Tony Bradley will add some size down low to compliment and back up Meeks. Seventh Woods and Brandon Robinson will add explosive athleticism as well as some shooting depth to help replace Marcus Paige’s production.
All in all, there was a lot that could have gone wrong for the Tar Heels. As is, it will be business as usual for the Tarheels. With their returnees, as well as the recruiting classes of Florida State and Duke coming in, ACC basketball will be quite interesting in the upcoming season. We still await a few draft decisions, that could shape the conference’s story for the year to come. However, the Tar Heels had a great outcome for the off-season that has prepared them for the next phase of the program.