'06 or '10? Which way will UNC go?

March, 29, 2012
3/29/12
7:16
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After winning the 2005 national title, North Carolina lost its top seven scorers -- but saw the youth-laden 2006 squad exceed expectations and advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

After winning the 2009 title, the Tar Heels lost their top four players -- and saw the 2010 team fail to even make the NCAA tournament.

Which way will next season's UNC team (which lost in the NCAA regional finals last Sunday) go, after absorbing the early departures of power forward John Henson, wing Harrison Barnes and point guard Kendall Marshall -- plus the graduation of ACC Player of the Year Tyler Zeller and reserve Justin Watts? Much will depend on cohesion, leadership and injuries, three things that didn’t go the Tar Heels’ way in ’10.

A few other very early questions to ponder:

1. Will James Michael McAdoo return?

The freshman’s father, Ronnie, said Wednesday that his son plans to travel home this weekend to discuss the situation (some mock drafts list him as a top-10 pick), but that right now, he expects the forward to be back in a Tar Heels uniform next season. McAdoo’s (6.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg) return would be key, because with starters Henson and Zeller gone, he’ll have the most experience (and be to the go-to guy) in the post.

Defensive-minded forward Desmond Hubert should also get plenty of minutes, and should be helped by an offseason to put on weight and work on his offensive moves. UNC also adds two big guys in freshmen Joel James and Brice Johnson. And UConn transfer Alex Oriakhi is still looking for a new home; might he end up in Chapel Hill?

2. Will the ballhandlers adjust quickly?

Point guard, UNC coach Roy Williams has often said, is the most difficult position for a freshman to grasp, especially in the Tar Heels’ fast-paced system. But the onus will fall on McDonald’s All-American Marcus Paige -- a 6-foot-1 Iowa product who Williams called “a great floor general” -- to do so.

With limited options, he’s the favorite to start next season. But just as important will be his back-ups. UNC doesn’t just lose Marshall, but Stilman White, the former third-string freshman who had to start two NCAA tournament games after Marshall broke his wrist, and because Dexter Strickland suffered a season-ending knee injury in January. White will leave for a two-year Mormon mission after this semester. Strickland, meanwhile, is still rehabilitating after surgery, but said last week he hopes to be able to play again in about two months.

UNC will also have another ballhandler available in sophomore Luke Davis. After transferring from Gardner-Webb, he sat out last season as per NCAA rules, but has had a year to learn the system.

3. How are the knees?

While Strickland is still recovering, the good news is that shooting guard Leslie McDonald, who redshirted in 2011-12 because of reconstructive knee surgery last summer, was able to practice with the team in the final months of the season, and should be eager to get back to his sharpshooting ways come the fall.

With so many wings on the team -- McDonald, Strickland, Reggie Bullock (who took over as starting shooting guard once Strickland was injured), P.J. Hairston and incoming freshman J.P. Tokoto -- it will be interesting to see how the minutes are divvied out. But the shooting guard and small forward positions should be a strength, because of the experience and depth that returns there.

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