Caleb Love will return for junior season; UNC projects as title contender

Caleb Love is back. North Carolina basketball will be very good next season. Hubert Davis has a squad.

Following in the footsteps of Armando Bacot, Leaky Black and RJ Davis, Love announced via social that he would return to Chapel Hill for the 2022-23 season.

A 5-star recruit in the 2020 class, Love appeared in all 68 games over the last two seasons, making 64 starts. Love compiled career totals of 926 points (13.6 per game), 243 assists (3.6 per game) and 127 3-pointers (32.9 3P%).

Despite bouts with streakiness, Love is an explosive scorer. During the 2021-22 season, Love took more of a combo guard role next to Davis; he averaged 15.9 points and 3.6 assists per game. Love does most of his handiwork from beyond the arc, too: 36 percent on 3-point attempts (11.0 3PA per 100 possessions). This was a massive improvement from his freshman year, when Love shot 34-of-128 (26.6 3P%) from downtown.

Overall, Love shot 37.1 percent from the field during his sophomore season. This is the duality of Love: he struggles finishing from inside the arc, but he clearly has good shooting touch, as evidenced by a free throw percentage (84.4 FT% career).

He’s good shooting off the catch; however, what separates Love from some of his peers is his ability to shoot from deep range off the dribble — pull-ups and step-backs. Once again, that aspect of Love’s game will be the ceiling-raiser for North Carolina’s offense.

Speaking of UNC’s ceiling, unsurprisingly, the return of Bacot, Love and Black have greatly boosted the team’s odds for winning the 2023 NCAA Championship.

After the season, Love gathered intel and feedback from NBA organizations, while evaluating his draft stock. By the end of the regular season, Love’s draft stock wasn’t exactly booming. However, Love’s play in the NCAA Tournament — along with his 5-star pedigree and UNC’s brand name — may have pushed him into being a draftable prospect.

After a few weeks of deliberation, though, Love announced his return — on the deadline date for prospects to declare for the 2022 NBA Draft.

During his junior season, Love will need to improve finishing around the rim. For the second straight season, Love shot under 39 percent on his 2-point attempts, including 48.8 percent at the basket, per Bart Torvik’s shot data.

It’d would also behoove Love to show a stronger commitment on the defensive side of the floor. He struggles with staying in front of the ball and navigating ball screens.

With Love back, and as long as no other players enter the transfer portal, North Carolina’s roster for next season is set. The Iron Five has reinforcements; a talented 2022 recruiting class will join the mix.

Love’s return gives North Carolina one of the most talented and experienced backcourts in the county. There’s a level of comfort between Love and Davis, too. Over the last two years, that duo has played a lot of basketball together. This can an amplify the talents of two damn good players.

There will be improved depth next year, too. Seth Trimble, a 4-star guard, will add to the backcourt rotation and provide UNC with another ball handler.

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