What Does 2014 Hold For UNC Basketball?

North Carolina officially learned yesterday that James Michael McAdoo will return for his junior season, while Reggie Bullock will enter his name into the NBA Draft. It ends a month of speculation surrounding the team, who had three potential draftees in McAdoo, Bullock, and PJ Hairston.

This sets the table for the 2013-14 Tar Heels, which will lose only Bullock and senior Dexter Strickland. Due to the large number of returnees, along with a strong recruiting class (that could get even better), UNC could be one of the early favorites to win the ACC next season.

While most of their competitors at the top of the conference are losing key contributors to graduation or the NBA Draft, UNC will return three of five starters and 65.9 percent of their offense from this season. Bullock was the team’s third leading scorer at 13.9 points per game, while Strickland averaged 7.8 points per contest for North Carolina.

While McAdoo had the higher draft stock, Hairston’s return is likely the greater joy to North Carolina fans. The sophomore averaged 18.2 points per game for the Tar Heels after moving into the starting lineup in February. Hairston was a 40.2 percent three-point shooter during those 13 starts, adding another dangerous shooter to a North Carolina offense that already had Bullock and junior Leslie McDonald.

North Carolina’s struggles last season were with interior play. While McAdoo is an incredible athlete who averaged 14.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, he was unable to consistently create his own shot, especially with his back to the basket. Meanwhile, a potpourri of offerings to play center were never able to consistently produce, necessitating the four-guard lineup that brought Hairston off the bench.

Freshman Brice Johnson was the most utilized of North Carolina’s centers, along with being the best offensive option, but at 6-9, 187 lbs., he lacked the size to defend true centers. Sophomore Desmond Hubert was the team’s best defensive center, but his lack of a polished offensive game cost him minutes.

The Tar Heels hope three incoming Top-100 recruits will help provide some balance to the roster. Leading the list is five-star power forward Isaiah Hicks. The Oxford, NC native is the class of 2013’s eighth-best power forward according to both Scout and ESPN. Hicks led J.F. Webb High School to its first state basketball title, recording 34 points, 30 rebounds, and seven blocks in the championship game at Reynolds Coliseum.

Joining Hicks in the frontcourt will be Charlotte’s Kennedy Meeks. A McDonald’s All-American like Hicks, Meeks is considered a top-five center in the class. While he lacks the athleticism of McAdoo or Hicks, Meeks can provide a back-to-the-basket, low post scoring threat currently missing for the Tar Heels.

Another four-star prospect, point guard Nate Britt, has signed with UNC, but it remains to be seen how much time he will spend on the floor after Marcus Paige’s marked improvement to conclude his freshman season. During the ACC Tournament, Paige recorded 27 assists on three turnovers as North Carolina reached the tournament championship, where it lost to Miami.

There’s also the chance North Carolina could add the most coveted prospect of the 2013 class, small forward Andrew Wiggins. The 6’7” Canadian scored 19 points in both the McDonald’s All-American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic, but remains undecided in his college destination. The front runners for Wiggins are Florida State, Kansas, Kentucky, and North Carolina. If Wiggins is as good as advertised, he could fill the hole left by Reggie Bullock in the lineup.

Ultimately, North Carolina in 2012-13 was a team that needed perimeter shooting to be successful. This was particularly evident in their season-ending loss to Kansas in the NCAA Tournament, in which the Tar Heels made just six three-pointers on 21 attempts. While they will lose a strong shooter in Bullock, Hairston and McDonald shoot return enough shooting to maintain that aspect of the offense. With reinforcements coming to shore up the frontcourt and another year of experience underneath the collective belt of a young squad, the 2014 Tar Heels could be a team to watch in the ACC.

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