In the second year of the Hubert Davis era, North Carolina is back on top as the preseason favorite. The Tar Heels were voted first in the preseason AP Top 25 and the coaches’ poll and was picked to win the Atlantic Coast Conference.
For good reason. North Carolina brings back four starters and 71.2 percent of the scoring production from last year’s team, which won 29 games and was a possession away from winning the national championship.
A lot of folks will be paying attention to what happens in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Monday night when the Tar Heels open the season against in-state foe UNC Wilmington.
The Tar Heels — who went 29-10 last season and 15-5 in ACC play — recently won a preseason exhibition over Division II Johnson C. Smith by a score of 101-40.
Caleb Love led the way with 20 points and eight assists, but Davis was mostly impressed by the way Love hustled and led with his actions. In one moment, Love dove on the court for a loose ball, then bounced up and swished a 3-pointer.
“I told him at the timeout, I said, ‘That’s it. Right there. I know you can score, but those are the type of plays that win you basketball games. Those are the type of plays that endear yourself to your teammates. Those are the type of plays that could change your game,'” Davis said. “That just shows his growth as a player. Those energy and effort plays, those are the things that are the difference-makers when you are out there on the floor.”
Love is joined by fellow returning starters RJ Davis, Leaky Black and ACC Preseason Player of the Year Armando Bacot. Last season, Love led the team in minutes played per game (34.1) while ranking second on the team in scoring (15.9 points per game), assists (139) and 3-pointers made (93).
RJ Davis didn’t play in the exhibition game due to a sprained finger. Reserve forward Puff Johnson has been sidelined because of a sprained muscle in his knee.
The starter who didn’t return to North Carolina after the Heels lost in the national title game to Kansas was forward Brady Manek, who exhausted his eligibility. North Carolina hopes that Pete Nance — a 6-foot-11 graduate transfer from Northwestern — will help fill Manek’s shoes. Nance started in the exhibition and tallied 19 points and six rebounds
“(Nance) had an unbelievable career in the Big Ten, but he’s never been to the NCAA Tournament,” Hubert Davis said. “So there’s a hunger and thirst coming from all different types of directions that’s going to allow us to have depth.”
UNC Wilmington was picked to finish fifth in the Colonial Athletic Association preseason poll this season, but the Seahawks are accustomed to outplaying expectations. Last season, they were picked to came in ninth in the conference, but they won a share of the regular-season title and captured the CBI postseason tournament championship.
“It did a lot for our program and for our returners,” third-year coach Takayo Siddle said of the Seahawks’ CBI run. “It gave us some experience, but we can’t hang our hat on that. This team has to form its identity and pave its own way.”
UNC Wilmington brings back two starters from last year’s squad that won 27 games, and it also added transfers Eric Van Der Heijden (Ole Miss), Maleeck Harden-Hayes (North Dakota State), Victor Enoh (Marist), Nick Farrar (Charleston) and Donovan Newby (Milwaukee).
–Field Level Media