The addition of Cam Johnson fills a significant need for the Tar Heels along the perimeter in the absence of Justin Jackson. But Johnson can’t solve UNC basketball’s biggest problem heading into 2017-18 — the lack of experienced depth in the post.
After losing Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, and Tony Bradley, Roy Williams will be relying on a trio of freshmen post players. Garrison Brooks, Sterling Manley, and Brandon Huffman arrive in Chapel Hill this month in a good scenario for early playing time. With only Luke Maye, a versatile outside-inside player, returning with any meaningful experience in the post; the sky is the limit for these newcomers.
However, none of the incoming freshmen forwards are 5-star, McDonald’s All-American types. None of them are expected to come in and set the ACC on fire as rookies. In the absence of experienced post depth, the Tar Heels will have no choice but to go decidedly smaller a lot of the time. The good news is that Williams has a wealth of perimeter depth at his disposal.
UNC has plenty of guards, including Joel Berry, Kenny Williams, newly-cleared Cameron Johnson, Theo Pinson, Seventh Woods, Brandon Robinson, and incoming freshmen Andrew Platek and Jalek Felton. With this type of depth, Williams can easily work four guards into the rotation at any given time.
There’s also a very realistic scenario that Maye could hold down the post for the Tar Heels as the team’s five. Maye is not your ideal center, of course. But Maye can create matchup problems for opposing big men who can’t keep up with him all over the floor. The inclusion of Maye in the post creates an interesting dynamic for the Tar Heels.
How quickly Brooks, Manley, and Huffman can progress will be key, though. While they won’t be quite ready out of the gate, all three players have a chance to develop significantly as freshmen, without experienced players ahead of them. While the possibility of UNC going smaller in 2017-18 looms large, Brooks, Manley, and Huffman will all have opportunities to make key impacts. And as the season develops, each will have a chance to separate themselves, and earn more minutes.
Relying heavily on guards will force UNC basketball to play more like Duke — four around one. Outside shooting, offensive rebounding, and defense will be imperative for success.
The Tar Heels have typically gotten the rebounding and defense under Williams. So it would seem the biggest key for the Tar Heels in 2017-18 is how well they can shoot from the perimeter as a team. UNC’s outside shooting will make or break their chances of challenging for a third straight Final Four.