After an off-season of hype and anticipation, the 2022-23 college basketball season is officially here, and the #1 preseason ranked Tar Heels begin their journey tomorrow night against an in-state foe, the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks. Four starters from a team that was a rebound away from winning the national championship last season, are back as Carolina has their eyes on getting back to the Final Four in Houston, and winning the program’s eighth national championship. Headlining the returning starters are big man Armando Bacot, who tied the Division I record for most double-doubles in a regular season, and point guard Caleb Love who etched his name in Carolina Basketball lore with a game-sealing triple against Duke, that sent Coach K into retirement.
Tomorrow kicks off the 113th season of Carolina Basketball, and the Tar Heels are 100-12 in season openers all time, they’ve won 17 consecutive season-opening contests, including 20 straight inside the Smith Center. Additionally, Carolina is 5-0 all-time against UNC-Wilmington and is an impressive 176-18 against in-state, non-ACC opponents. They hope to continue that success starting tomorrow night.
UNC-W is a program that has experienced success in recent memory, most notable under now current NC State head coach, Kevin Keatts, and last season was a reminder that the small school from the CAA can win big, as they went 27-9 overall, and 15-3 in the CAA. Despite winning the CAA regular season title, they failed to win their conference tournament and therefore missed out on the NCAA Tournament. After failing to make the Big Dance, the Seahawks accepted an invitation to the CBI Tournament, where they won four games in four days to win the CBI title. Their top two leading scorers from last year, Jaylen Sims and Miles Okaru both graduated from the program, so now the burden falls on Shykeim Phillips, who averaged over 11 points per game, nearly 4 rebounds, and 2 assists last season.
While Carolina enters the season as the #1 team in all of college basketball, the preseason favorite to win the ACC, and the odds-on favorite to win the national championship, there are still questions around Hubert Davis’s squad. Arguably the biggest question is how the team handles from going to be the hunter, to the hunted, and whether are they ready from a mentality standpoint to be ready to play at a championship level every time on the court.
The college basketball season is a long journey, but Carolina has the opportunity to make a statement tomorrow, by validating all the preseason hype this off-season. Here are three keys to ensuring the season gets off to the right start:
Contain Shykeim Phillips: Phillips now moves into a new role, as last year he was the third option, where now he will be the focal point of UNC-W’s attack. With that added pressure, Phillips will be determined to have his best foot forward playing in college basketball’s more historic venues. We’ve seen over the years big-time players from small schools, come to Chapel Hill, and have the game of their lives. Carolina can’t allow that to happen, or they could find themselves in a dogfight, against a team that will be motivated all season long to rebound from a disappointing result in their conference tournament, that forced them to miss the NCAA tourney. Many around the Carolina program believe that Leaky Black is the best defender in college basketball, and he has a chance to prove why tomorrow night.
Win the Battle of the Boards: Last season, Carolina’s rebounding didn’t take the dip we all anticipated with the coaching transition from Roy Williams to Hubert Davis, as Carolina outrebounded its opponent by double digits on average. In the exhibition against Johnson C. Smith, the Tar Heels won the rebounding battle 63-26. It’s unfair to ask the Tar Heels to dominate the glass to that level against a Division I opponent, the best way to set the tone is to dominate the backboards. Carolina wants to play at a faster pace than UNC-Wilmington, the best way to dictate the tempo is to control the rebounding aspect of the game.
Play Aggressive: For all the questions about how this team is going to handle going from the hunter to the hunted, can’t be answered tomorrow, but they can announce to the college basketball world they are ready and capable of handling the pressure. We know their head coach is, as Davis called a timeout in the exhibition after his team didn’t run back on defense, and gave up a transition triple. The Tar Heels would go on to win that game by 61 points. UNC-Wilmington doesn’t have the talent or the depth to compete with Carolina, and if Caleb Love and company, come out in attack mode, this thing could be over before the intermission.
KenPom (Preseason Rankings):
North Carolina - 9th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 112.3 (8th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 88.2 (13th)
UNC-Wilmington - 202nd overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 97.2 (209th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 101.0 (211th)
TV Info: Tomorrow’s season opener will tip off at 9:05 on the ACC Network.
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