Do the young Tar Heels have a chance to repeat their 2017 NCAA basketball championship? We asked students on campus for their takes.
Above: The Tar Heels after winning the 2017 national championship. Photo from the News & Observer.
Just a year ago, fans of the North Carolina men’s basketball team were wondering how the group would continue to compete at a high level without then-departing seniors Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson.
Then, UNC won the NCAA championship, defeating Gonzaga 71-65.
This year, however, the Tar Heels will attempt to recover from even more roster turnover after losing senior forwards Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks, senior guard Nate Britt, junior forward Justin Jackson and freshman forward Tony Bradley.
The Tar Heels’ 2017 recruiting class is ranked no. 18 in the nation, according to 247 Sports. New additions to the roster include guard Jalek Felton, guard Andrew Platek, and the big men trio of Garrison Brooks, Brandon Huffman and Sterling Manley. Felton and Brooks are the only incoming four-star recruits, and Felton is the lone top-100 recruit.
Under head coach Roy Williams, UNC has been known for its strong interior presence and playing “inside out.” With much front court talent departing, the Tar Heels are left with the most inexperienced front court in Williams’ 14-year tenure. This, combined with the loss of a scorer like Jackson, are two of the main reasons why many aren’t so quick to write in UNC to go back-to-back.
Although ESPN has North Carolina ranked no. 9 in its preseason AP Top 25 Poll, students at UNC-Chapel Hill have varying expectations for their Tar Heels.
Kojo Minta, a junior studying environmental science thinks the Tar Heels’ youth is their biggest detriment.
“For this year, I know we lost a lot of seniors,” Minta said. “I’m just hoping that we get back to the [NCAA] tournament and make a deep run. I am not expecting us to repeat, just because we have a lot of youth and inexperienced players.”
However, Minta did say that as long as hall-of-famer Williams is still on the sidelines, he doesn’t expect UNC to have a drastic falloff.
“I think the team has the potential to make it to the Sweet 16 again,” Minta said. “I think with Roy as our coach, we’re always going to be competitive.”
Other students are left with a feeling of “what if” when thinking about some of the team’s early departures to the NBA.
“I think if we kept Tony Bradley, we could’ve made it to the Final Four again,” sophomore computer science major Michael Carreno said. “But now … I think we’ll surprise people. People are underrating us now. We still have Joel [Berry] and Theo [Pinson]. I think we’ll do fine. I just don’t know if we’ll have a deep run in the [NCAA] tournament.”
Junior political science and public policy major Clint Conner still recalls the emotions he felt while watching the 2017 NCAA title game.
“I remember being in my super suite in Morrison [Residence Hall] last year and watching the game with a few pals,” Conner said. “During the last five seconds of the game, we were all screaming. I was crying. Hopefully, I’ll have that same feeling this year.”
For Conner, expectations for the new look Tar Heels remain sky-high.
“I would like to see us at least go to the Final Four,” Conner said. “We usually maintain that, and I would hope we can at least do that this year.”
A third straight Final Four would put Williams in the conversation with the all-time greats — if he wasn’t already in that discussion for some. But winning the 2018 NCAA title would give UNC-CH students endless bragging rights to their neighbors down the road in Durham and Raleigh.
“Hopefully we can still continue to say we’re the ‘University of National Champions,'” Conner said.