UNC basketball roster for 2022-23 season is set. Four things to expect from Tar Heels

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All the offseason questions facing North Carolina after its NCAA national title game loss to Kansas in April have essentially gone in coach Hubert Davis’ favor.

Will forward Armando Bacot and guard Caleb Love be back? Yes and Yes.

How many players will they lose to transfer? They lost three, including Dawson Garcia and Anthony Harris, who were already off the team and didn’t play past January anyway.

Who’s going to replace Brady Manek? They got arguably the best shooting big man in the transfer portal in former Northwestern forward Pete Nance.

The result is a roster that, on paper, will be a contender to be ranked No. 1 when the preseason polls are tallied. Here’s a look at what to expect from the Tar Heels:

Starting core

Carolina will boast one of the most experienced starting fives in the ACC and nation after returning four starters from last season’s national championship game.

Bacot will be a preseason contender for Player of the Year in the ACC and on watch lists for the award nationally. Love and R.J. Davis will be considered one of the best backcourts in the nation after making big leaps as sophomores. Leaky Black should finally get his due as one of the best defenders in the nation too.

Add in Nance as the potential fifth starter and that could mean the Heels play with two juniors, two fifth-year seniors and one fourth-year senior.

The key for Carolina is that the returning starters don’t just rest on what they accomplished last season.

North Carolinas Armando Bacot (5) and R.J. Davis (4) react after securing a lead over Saint Peters in the first half during the NCAA East Regional final on Sunday, March 27, 2022 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa.
North Carolinas Armando Bacot (5) and R.J. Davis (4) react after securing a lead over Saint Peters in the first half during the NCAA East Regional final on Sunday, March 27, 2022 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa.

Goodbye to the Iron Five?

Davis notoriously used a very short bench throughout ACC play, highlighted by the second half at Cameron Indoor Stadium, when Carolina’s starters played the entire 20 minutes of their win.

It almost cost the Heels in the NCAA tournament second round when Manek was ejected and Love fouled out against Baylor. UNC played with a lineup it had never used before, but it still managed to escape with an overtime win.

Next season, they should never face such a dilemma. Carolina could go as deep as 11 players, based on several reasonable assumptions.

The two players most likely to see their roles increase are Puff Johnson, who quietly had his best stretch of the season in the national championship game against Kansas; and Dontrez Styles, whose 3-pointer in the overtime against Baylor was arguably the biggest shot of the game.

Year Two figures to be better for rising senior forward Justin McKoy, who never quite found his rhythm after transferring from Virginia; and rising sophomore guard D’Marco Dunn, who played sparingly as a freshman.

Despite Hubert Davis not playing his freshmen a lot last season, guard Seth Trimble and forward Jalen Washington could change that next season. Both have the skill sets and fit needs for Carolina that will force them into action.

North Carolina head coach Hubert Davis directs his team on defense in the first half against Kansas during the NCAA Championship game on Monday, April 4, 2022 at Caesars Superdome in New Orleans, La.
North Carolina head coach Hubert Davis directs his team on defense in the first half against Kansas during the NCAA Championship game on Monday, April 4, 2022 at Caesars Superdome in New Orleans, La.

Biggest freshman impact

Washington hasn’t been cleared yet to participate in 5-on-5 full court action. He’s still rehabbing from a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) that he had surgery on last summer. Forward Will Shaver joined the team in January and was able to practice and have a front row seat for the Heels’ furious march to the title game. And forward Tyler Nickel was an accomplished scorer in high school.

But Trimble is most likely to play a key role as a reserve for the Heels. He’s a true point guard who will allow Love or R.J. Davis to play off the ball and stay in scoring mode. Love and Davis combined to play 40 or more minutes in nine games last season, each averaging 34 minutes per game.

Trimble’s presence, especially with reserve guards Harris (Rhode Island) and Kerwin Walton (Texas Tech) both transferring, will help keep Love and Davis fresh.

Trimble, the younger brother of former UNC forward J.P. Tokoto, is arguably the most athletic guard on the team.

How will Nance fit?

Walton’s departure paved the way for an open scholarship that Nance ultimately claimed. The 6-foot-10 graduate transfer should lessen the impact of losing Manek’s sharpshooting from the lineup.

Nance isn’t as good shooting on the move as Manek was, but he did shoot 45 percent from 3-point range last season. He was the Wildcats’ leading scorer and rebounder averaging 14.6 points and 6.5 rebounds, which earned him all-Big Ten honorable mention honors.

He played a lot at center for Northwestern last season. So, when Bacot is in foul trouble, he provides a good option for the Heels. Most of Nance’s scoring came from posting up last season. And defensively, he led Northwestern in blocked shots.

Without Nance’s commitment, the Heels would have looked to play small with McKoy, Johnson or Styles as an undersized power forward. Now, they won’t be forced to and Hubert Davis can go small only when he sees an advantage.

There is one thing that Nance shares with Manek. He came to Carolina looking to win on the big stage. Nance never participated in a NCAA tournament in his four seasons with the Wildcats. If all goes as it’s supposed to next season, he’ll have a chance to do that at the very least.