2011-12 ACC Basketball Preview: UNC & NC State
North Carolina Tar Heels
Postseason: Lost to Kentucky in Elite Eight
What They Lost: UNC still has all the big pieces. They are returning their whole starting five from last year’s Elite Eight run, losing only role players. This is despite the fact the phenomenal freshman Harrison Barnes was sure to be an NBA lottery pick. Point guard Larry Drew II, who could have been a valuable backup, left Chapel Hill as a junior half way through last season after he was replaced by the more effective freshman Kendall Marshall. The Tar Heels also lost 6’9 forward Justin Knox who spent his senior year at UNC after transferring from Alabama. Knox logged 15 minutes a game last year spelling UNC’s dynamic frontcourt. Additionally, junior SG Leslie McDonald tore his ACL over the summer and will likely miss the entire season. McDonald averaged 7 points a game last year and was second on the team with 51 threes.
What They Gained: Experience. This team made a deep tournament run with no strong senior leadership. They started two freshman, two sophomores, and a junior, and their only seniors were the one year transfer Knox and some walk-on backups. Now the whole gang is a year older, a year wiser, and should have great team chemistry from the very beginning of the season. The Heels also picked up some big time recruits to bolster their roster. Norfolk’s own 6’8 forward James McAdoo is one of the top 10 from the class of 2011. He would be starting at most schools, but will likely fill Knox’s role from last year as the first big man off the bench while he waits for his time in the sun. Sharpshooter P.J. Hairston will also get a big chance to contribute as the Tar Heels will be looking for someone to step-up and hit 3’s with McDonald out. Rounding out UNC’s recruiting class are forwards Desmond Hubert and Jackson Simmons and PG Stilman White.
Summary: Plain and simple, anything less than a national championship will be a disappointment for this team, especially with UNC’s past success when returning star studded teams. The Tar Heels easily have the best frontcourt in the country. Tyler Zeller is a great inside scorer while John Henson plays stifling defense and wipes the boards clean. They join two time pre-season All American, forward Harrison Barnes, who averaged over 19 points through the final 18 games of last season. Barnes’ offensive explosion was set off when Roy Williams installed, then freshman, PG Kendall Marshall into the starting line-up. Marshall turned the Tar Heels subpar season around while averaging 7.6 assists in his new role. These four, Barnes, Marshall, Zeller, and Henson, each have the individual talent to make the All-ACC team and be high picks in next year’s NBA draft. Together they have the potential to make history.
What They Lost: Head Coach Sidney Lowe. Lowe was unsurprisingly fired after another disappointing year for the Wolfpack. In his 5 years at the helm the team never earned an NCAA tournament berth. This was not a big loss; however Lowe’s dismissal did prompt promising sophomore guard Ryan Harrow to transfer to Kentucky. In his freshman season, Harrow had averaged over 9 points and 3 assists a game. Harrow would have been the team’s starting point guard this season after splitting time with senior Javier Gonzalez last year. Gonzalez has graduated after a rather unspectacular career, despite the promise he showed as an underclassman. Also gone is forward Tracy Smith. Smith was one of state’s best players last year averaging 14 points and 6 rebounds a game. However, the Wolfpack have a lot of young talent in the frontcourt, especially sophomore C.J. Leslie, and Smith missed 10 games last season so they should be able to cope with his departure.
What They Gained: NC State will be led by new head coach Mark Gottfried. Gottfried has spent the past 11 years at Alabama and made the NCAA tournament 5 times in his time their going as far as the elite eight. His first recruiting class is not spectacular but he has already added some good pieces to this team. The headliner is 6’8 forward Tyler Harris, but he will have to earn his minutes this year as the Wolfpack have an abundance of depth at forward. To help out the thin backcourt three new guards have been added to the roster. Alex Johnson is a senior transfer from Cal State Bakersfield who will be trusted to handle the ball whenever sophomore Lorenzo Brown comes out of the game. Freshman guards Jaqwan Raymond and preferred walk-on Staats Battle will likely log few minutes this year but injuries could force them into the lineup. The final addition is freshman forward Thomas de Thaey from Belgium.
Summary: After a disappointing season last year, a change of coaches, and the departure of some significant contributors, not much is expected of the Wolfpack this season. There is definitely some good talent on this roster. Sophomores C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown could have breakout seasons and junior swingman Scott Wood should be a consistent scorer. NC State has a deep stable of decent big men but are lacking in guard depth which will cause problems. This team will likely finish somewhere in the middle of the pack in the ACC again. I doubt they can make the field of 64 but an NIT birth is not out of the question.
The rest of the ACC:
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