Word is Harrison Barnes will actually return for his sophomore season at North Carolina. If true, ouch. I don’t know about you, but I felt like when Barnes ditched Duke for a lighter shade of Blue, it was like a knife being stuck in the side of all Blue Devils’ fans. Now as Kyrie Irving leaves and Barnes stays, I feel like he’s twisting the knife just for kicks.
But this isn’t about me. This is about the big picture.
First the obvious…with the departure of Irving, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith, there is little doubt that the pendulum has swung back to the Tar Heels’ corner for at least one season. Let’s face it, the team is stacked.
The starting five will be completely untouched. It’s rare that an entire starting five returns, let alone a starting five that got within one game of the Final Four.
Meanwhile the Duke Blue Devils will need to find a new starting point guard, while asking a freshman to become a legit scoring option on day one. Yes, Austin Rivers is certainly capable. He better be.
Now I’m not guaranteeing that North Carolina will run away with the ACC. Duke has enough talent to steal it from them, just as UNC stole the regular season crown from Duke this past season. The fact is, the two teams will probably split their home and home, so the deciding factor will be how each team performs on the road in the ACC.
I do think Carolina is the favorite though. In fact, I’d go ahead and make them my preseason number one in the nation. Sure Kentucky will probably have 5-6 first-rounders, including three potential lottery picks coming in as freshman next season, but the key word is freshman.
Carolina has talent…and experience now.
Now before Tar Heel nation goes off and has a preseason Miami Heat-style preseason championship celebration, let’s talk flaws. Every team has one, including North Carolina.
First, the Tar Heels will need to continue to improve their outside shooting. Last year they were an awful 33-percent from downtown. Now I know you’re going to say that most of that was Larry Drew and his 20-percent shooting from three. Well, after Drew bolted down, the Tar Heels still only shot 33.5-percent from three.
Second, with Justin Knox gone, the Tar Heels lose their only backup big man from last year. This means they will rely on freshman to step in and gives Ty Zeller and Jon Henson breathers.
Coach Roy Williams has a solid class coming in, one that includes James McAdoo and P.J. Hairston. Since Hairston is a traditional small forward, McAdoo will become the primary big man off the bench. Despite “only” being 6’8, he plays much bigger and can be a nasty rebounder.
On top of that, they have 6’9 center Desmond Hubert coming in. He’s long and athletic, but he’s about as thick as a runway model and he doesn’t have much of an offensive game right now.
Overall, even I believe I’m knit-picking here. Old Roy has certainly pulled off a Coup d’état by getting all three of his best players to return, especially Barnes, who is still being projected as a top-five pick in the NBA.
Throw that wicked front court in with an improving trio of shooting guards (Strickland, McDonald and Bullock), plus arguable the ACC’s best pure point guard, and let’s just say, I’d like to start 2011-2012 with that lineup.
Maybe now the UNC students will actually show up to most of their games.