The college basketball season is a little under 10 weeks away, and before you know it, the preseason awards list will be coming out, along with the preseason rankings. Well, The Athletic wasted no time putting together an updated preseason top 25 list.
You’re typically used to seeing UNC ranked inside the top 5, at the minimum inside the top 10, but after an off-season that saw Hubert Davis overall his entire roster, after a 20-13 season, and missing out on the NCAA Tournament, Carolina checked in at No. 18 on the list.
Here is how The Athletic detailed their assessment of the Tar Heels entering the 2023 season: Following arguably the most disappointing season in college basketball last season, the Tar Heels hit the transfer portal hard and entirely re-tooled their roster around pivot points R.J. Davis in the backcourt and Armando Bacot at the five. They got Stanford point forward Harrison Ingram, a grab-and-go 6-foot-8 wing/forward who will run the floor and get a chance to create offense. They added Cormac Ryan, the kind of unselfish, team-first shooter the team desperately lacked last season. Then they also brought in solid depth pieces in Jae’Lyn Withers, Paxson Wojcik, and James Okonkwo. How quickly will all of this gel together? That’s the big question. Ingram is probably best suited as a four, but he might be asked to play a bit more at the three. Withers, Okonkwo, and rising sophomore Jalen Washington all are probably best suited as college fives, but Bacot is there and might shift a couple of them up the lineup to the four. The player who could make all of this come together is Elliot Cadeu, the point guard who reclassified over the summer. Cadeau is one of the best passers and playmakers to come out of high school basketball in the last decade, a sharp decision-maker who just consistently finds his teammates in the right spots. But Davis is already in Chapel Hill, and playing both together could lead to shooting questions as well as backcourt size questions on defense. Will Hubert Davis throw the young point guard out there and trust him? Can Cadeau earn that right from day one? This is a huge season that will tell us a lot about Huber Davis and his future in Chapel Hill. It’s an excellent opportunity for him to prove himself as the right guy for the job. He needs to make all of these talented pieces fit together and needs to find the answers to all of these potential logjam questions.
Among the strengths listed for UNC entering the 2023 season, they identified rebounding, interior scoring, and creative guard play. The first two make a lot of sense, seeing that Armando Bacot, the most decorated rebounder in Carolina Basketball history is back for his super senior season. With Jalen Washington projected to have a big role off the bench, Carolina will be very formidable in the frontcourt.
As for the concerns, The Athletic is worried about the shooting that exists on the roster. During the two seasons under Hubert Davis, Carolina has been inconsistent from the perimeter, as they shot themselves all the way to the national title game in his first season, and out of the NCAA Tournament picture in the second. With R.J. Davis back, Carolina has at least one known commodity, with production in a Tar Heel uniform. As for transfers like Cormac Ryan, he’s a career 35% three-point shooter. Furthermore, Paxson Wojcik is a career 36% perimeter shooter. Harrison Ingram was the most heralded transfer of the off-season, and Carolina is banking that his being in their system, will get the most out of his five-star talent.
For all the questions the program faced after becoming the first team since the tournament expanded in 1985, to start season #1, and miss the Big Dance, it’s hard to be upset with how the roster came together, and while there are questions that need to be answered, a return to the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend isn’t out of the realm possibility.