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ACC Basketball Previews: UNC

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With one of the top frontcourts in the nation, and one of the weakest backcourts in the ACC, UNC is a bit of an old-school team. They plan to win from the inside out, which isn't the way college basketball works these days. UNC is still going to be an up-tempo team, and they'll try to use transition to get easy buckets and make up for their lack of perimeter threats.

As the Heels' only perimeter threat, Marcus Paige is the big key for their season.
As the Heels' only perimeter threat, Marcus Paige is the big key for their season.
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Last year: 24-10 (13-5), 4th in ACC, KenPom #27, RPI #25

Projected Starters:
Nate Britt, G - 5'11" 165, Sophomore
Marcus Paige, G - 6'1" 175, Junior
JP Tokoto, F - 6'5" 200, Junior
Brice Johnson, F - 6'9" 210, Junior
Kennedy Meeks, F - 6'9" 280, Sophomore

Other contributors:
Isaiah Hicks, F - 6'9" 220, Sophomore
Joel Berry II, G - 6'0" 188, Freshman
Theo Pinson, F - 6'6" 192, Freshman
Justin Jackson, F - 6'8" 190, Freshman

Last season was a disappointing one for the Tar Heels, although they still won 24 games and won a game in the NCAA Tournament. After a hot start, the Heels fell apart during the beginning of the ACC season, dropping to 1-4 in conference. Then they won 12 in a row, before dropping 3 out of their last 4.

The turnaround was led by Marcus Paige. Though a PG by trade, he'll spend much of his time at SG this year. That is because he is the only proven perimeter threat on the team. Britt will start the season at PG, but Paige will be the guy with the ball in his hands most of the time. Berry could replace Britt in the starting lineup at any time. Britt is a good perimeter defender, but he can't shoot, can't finish and isn't much of a passer. Berry will provide a lot more offense, at the cost of defense.

This year, the Heels are getting a lot of love from the media pre-season, but it remains to be seen if it is deserved. Everybody is expecting a big year from Paige, but nobody really knows if he can be the team leader that this squad needs.

The majority of UNC's offense this year should come on the inside. They boast perhaps the nation's best frontcourt, led by Meeks. In just over 16 minutes per game, Meeks averaged nearly 8 points and over 6 rebounds per game. He's a beast on the boards and he's a good scorer in the post. The word from UNC camp is that Meeks is in much better shape this year, which should help him stay on the court.

Johnson actually out-produced Meeks, although Meeks is still the better prospect, especially if his off-season changes are legit. Behind Meeks and Johnson is Isaiah Hicks, another tough, aggressive interior player.

Beyond Berry are two talented wing players, who will split time with Tokoto. Pinson, in particular, looks like a future star. He's a slasher, with tremendous athleticism, but he's not much of a shooter, and he's learning how to play defense. Jackson is a shooter, which is a big need for the Heels. But can he do everything else well enough to stay on the floor? Tokoto will still get most of the minutes, largely due to defense. Tokoto is one of the top perimeter defenders in the ACC.

UNC will try to cover up their perimeter woes by getting easy buckets in transition, and off offensive rebounds. Their guards are small, and their wings are untested so they're going to struggle in the half court. But they have the interior bodies to dominate in the paint. How well they're able to handle good half-court teams (such as the Hoos) will determine their success this season.