- North Carolina is on the road back from a tough national title game loss. How can they bounce back from a national rupper-up performance?
Using our off-season Power Rankings as a guide, SI.com is asking three questions for each top-10 team in the country. After looking at No. 10 Xavier, No. 9 Arizona, No. 8 Virginia and No. 7 Wisconsin, here is No. 6 North Carolina.
Is there a go-to scorer?
For the Tar Heels, the better question might be: Does a team need a go-to scorer to be great? On its way to the national championship game a year ago, North Carolina didn’t have anyone dominate the ball way; the usage rates of its top seven rotation players ranged from 19.4% to 25%. Expect more of that this year with a roster that features only two returning double-digit scorers (junior point guard Joel Berry at 12.8 points per game and junior forward Justin Jackson at 12.2).
This is probably going to be another spread-the-wealth operation for coach Roy Williams. It stands to reason that the 6-foot, 195-pound Berry will have the ball in his hands at the end of a shot clock or a half, creating for himself or collapsing the defense and finding someone else for a shot. But that’s true of almost any point guard. If Williams needs a bucket in standard game flow, there’s no dynamic scorer to turn to, at least based on past performance. It might be a night-to-night, go-to-the-hot-hand plan.
Will Justin Jackson break out?
Atop the Synergy Sports breakdown of Jackson’s production as a sophomore is his points per possession number (0.98), what percentile nationally that landed in (79th) and then a brief interpretation of what being in the 79th percentile means: Very Good. And that just about sums it up for the lithe 6'8" forward, doesn’t it? He’s been very good, but he hasn’t been excellent, and his third season on campus may reveal whether there is in fact another plane for him to get to.
Assertiveness, especially in the half-court, may be the key. In transition and off cuts, Jackson’s points per possession numbers were in the 80th percentile a year ago (1.227 and 1.294, respectively). But production in those scenarios is often a function of another teammate finding someone for a score. In spot-up scenarios, Jackson rated in the 37th percentile nationally (0.82 PPP). Off screens, he rated in the 42nd percentile (0.836). As a pick-and-roll ball-handler—admittedly something we shouldn’t always expect to be a strength for a small forward—he was in the 23rd percentile (0.588 PPP). He spent all of 16 possessions the entire season in what Synergy deems isolation scenarios (and he was good in those, with his 1.062 PPP ranking in the 92nd percentile). If Jackson, a former consensus top-10 recruit, is to contend for All-America recognition, he must begin by unlocking his aggressiveness.
Will the Tar Heels stay on board?
North Carolina ranked ninth nationally in total rebound percentage last season, grabbing 55.9% of the available boards. The guy who swallowed up a large number of them is gone, though—Brice Johnson graduated after a season in which he averaged 10.4 rebounds per game with a personal rebound rate of 20.4%. It’s arguable that Johnson’s rebounding just didn’t leave a whole lot of opportunity for others, but there was a fairly notable dropoff in the rebounding percentages, with Kennedy Meeks (15.9%) and Isaiah Hicks (14.1%), next in line. Meeks and Hicks will have to improve those figures this year, and although 6'10" freshman Tony Bradley is a top-30 recruit, he's unlikely to make anyone forget Johnson's All-America performance. If the Tar Heels want to get out and run—and we can be pretty sure a Roy Williams team loaded with athleticism wants to get out and run—they must first have the ball to do so. It’s on Meeks and Hicks to be a little more voracious on the glass in order to remain a top-10 team in board work.