No one is going to feel sorry for North Carolina. But a year after losing four of the top six vote-getters for the All-ACC team, the Tar Heels head into 2012-13 short on proven talent. Gone are stalwarts Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Kendall Marshall and Tyler Zeller, who were selected in the first 17 picks of the NBA draft. Only three players on the team - Dexter Strickland, swingman Reggie Bullock and forward James Michael McAdoo -- have started a game.
The scoring burden will fall largely on McAdoo, who blossomed late during his freshman year after a tentative start, showing promise that could make him a consistent double-double threat. McAdoo will get help up front from freshmen Joel James and Brice Johnson. The Tar Heels are also hoping for development from Desmond Hubert, who is limited offensively but can contribute rebounding and shot-blocking.
One key question is can McDonald and Strickland regain their form after ACL surgeries sidelined them last season? Strickland, a defensive stopper who has started at shooting guard the last two years, will get more time at point guard than in the past. He could open the season as the starter at the point, but the job figures to go to freshman left-handed scorer Marcus Paige eventually. The Tar Heels are loaded with shooters on the wing, but they need those shot-takers to become shot-makers. Reggie Bullock, Leslie McDonald and P.J. Hairston love to hoist three-pointers; as a group, 60 percent of their career field goal attempts have come from three-point range.
As usual, UNC welcomes a highly-touted recruiting class. Marcus Paige will get significant minutes at point guard. J.P. Tokoto has the athleticism to be an elite defender on the wing. Joel James is big and strong, while Brice Johnson is thin and bouncy. UNC will count on both to contribute inside, where depth is short. Luke Davis, a transfer from Gardner-Webb who sat out last season, could see limited minutes as a backup point guard.
The ACC isn't as strong as it used to be. So this team, even with the talent it lost, can contend for the league title. A deep run in the NCAA tournament seems less likely. But if UNC gets strong play at point guard, improve their outside shooting and avoid the serious injuries that have short-circuited recent seasons, they'll find themselves in the mix just as the 2005-06 Tar Heels did.