As the NCAA Men’s basketball season rolls around, preseason number 1, the University of North Carolina, is again in the national spotlight. The Tarheels ended the 2014-15 with a loss in the NCAA Regional semi-finals to the Wisconsin Badgers. The Heels ended the season with an overall record of 26-12, with an 11-7 record in the ACC. However, with the number of starters returning from last year’s team, the voters seem to like the team’s chances due to its depth and experience. UNC landed a whopping 35 first place votes in the preseason coaches’ poll, throttling the second-seeded Kentucky Wildcats who received a total of 10 first-place votes.
What initially appeared to be an ideal season in the making for Coach Roy Williams and his team, composed of a deep bench and a plethora of veteran leadership, might have a slow, if not difficult beginning due to injury. Senior point guard and perennial team leader, Marcus Paige fractured the third metacarpal on his right (non-shooting) hand and is expected to miss the first 3-4 weeks of the season. This could provide some difficulty for the team’s fluidity as Paige plays a pivotal role with his leadership on and off the court. As floor general, he is responsible for leading the team in the execution of floor spacing and serves as the team’s primary and best ball handler. He is also one of the nation’s premier shooters from behind the three point arc, as well as the free-throw line.
Backcourt mates Joel Berry II and Nate Britt will be relied upon early on to take up the slack in Paige’s absence. Berry, a sophomore, had a rocky start to the 2014-15 campaign but improved immensely as the season progressed. He will assume the role of primary ball-handler and facilitator until Paige makes his season debut. Britt, a junior combination guard will also be relied upon to handle much of the ball-handling and a good deal of the perimeter scoring punch.
Where the Tarheels seem to be most talented, dominant in many sportswriters’ eyes, is in the frontcourt. UNC has some quality, experienced big men at their disposal and they are very deep in the paint. Sophomores Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson offer a great deal of agility and athleticism on the wings. Much of the team’s scoring will be provided by its BIGS, at least initially. But the Heels appear to be very talented both inside and out, even in the absence of Marcus Paige.
The good news for this basketball program is that their schedule during the beginning of the season is not extremely difficult. Paige will have to miss the regular season opener game versus Temple in Annapolis, Md. The only major game scheduled for the earlier in the season is against preseason No. 3 Maryland Dec 1, which Coach Williams hopes Paige will be able to play in. However, Carolina is still favored in the first seven games even with this injury and could still start the season out 7-0.
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