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UNC Basketball

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

UNC Basketball 2021-22 Season Preview

UNC Basketball
“The ceiling is the roof.” UNC basketball is back and they are primed for a return to normalcy after last season’s first round tourney exit. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

UNC Basketball 2021-22 Season Preview

In a year where the blue bloods dipped and the new bloods rose to the top, the UNC Tar Heels were no exception. In what became his final season on the Carolina sideline, legendary coach Roy Williams and his team were unable to navigate the rough waters of COVID-19 and shortened offseason. Now Hubert Davis looks to reassemble the pieces at a time when the expectations are once again high in Chapel Hill. The season tips off on Tuesday, so let’s preview UNC basketball.

2020-21 Season Recap

In a year of unpredictability highlighted by canceled games and freshmen performance fluctuation, the Tar Heels fell victim to both. Williams brought in a freshmen class boasting three five-stars in Day’Ron Sharpe, Caleb Love and Walker Kessler, along with guard and wing depth in four-stars R.J. Davis – no relation his new head coach – Donovan “Puff” Johnson and Kerwin Walton. The squad also returned talented big men Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot. Everything appeared to look up for the then-preseason No. 16 team in the country. But the Tar Heels’ season was, in a word, uncharacteristic.

The Heels dropped games to NC State and Georgia Tech – two schools they normally handle. UNC basketball also lost to Clemson and Marquette in late season contests. In contrast, Williams’ side swept Duke in the regular season, including an 18-point drubbing on Brooks’ senior night.

Ultimately, the man who had led the Heels to three national titles this century had his career ended by Brad Davison and Wisconsin in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Williams announced his retirement on April 1st of all days and Davis was soon appointed as the replacement.

Offseason Losses

Garrison Brooks
Garrison Brooks, the 2020 second team All-ACC member, was one of several departures from Chapel Hill that has shifted the team’s style of play this season. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

The Tar Heels lost major production in the frontcourt this summer due in large part to the transfer portal. Brooks, a graduated senior, took advantage of his “COVID year” and headed to Starkville, joining Ben Howland’s squad at Mississippi State.

However, the bigger loss may have come in the departure of Kessler to Auburn. The former five-star center was blossoming into a potential force late in the season – evident by his season-high 20 points in a win against 11th ranked Florida State. His ceiling and leap from freshman to sophomore year was a promising prospect for the Heels, but Bruce Pearl and Auburn will be the benefactor of his talents.

The last of the frontcourt departures was five-star freshman Sharpe, who left for the NBA and was drafted 29th overall by the Brooklyn Nets. Davis will also be without veterans Andrew Platek and Sterling Manley.

Offseason Additions

Davis and UNC basketball wasted no time this offseason in implementing a new system. Almost immediately, rumors out of Chapel Hill surfaced regarding Davis’ decision to spread the Tar Heels out offensively and go away from his predecessor’s log jam in the paint.

This Carolina team will shoot a lot of threes this season, and look no further than their exhibition game against Elizabeth City State that saw the Heels take 23 shots from deep, connecting on nine. Frontcourt transfers Brady Manek (Oklahoma) and Dawson Garcia (Marquette) will give Bacot room to work on the interior, as both players averaged 37.5% and 35.6%, respectively, from beyond the arc last season. Virginia transfer Justin McKoy is another depth piece that will compete for minutes in the frontcourt, and will likely prove his worth on the defensive side of the ball.

It is a slim freshmen class for UNC basketball, with only two members: four-stars D’Marco Dunn and Dontrez Styles. Dunn projects as a more immediate impact player because of his shooting ability, while Styles is a lengthy and athletic wing that will have to battle for minutes against Walton, McKoy and Leaky Black.

2021-22 Season Outlook

Hubert Davis Carolina Presser
Hubert Davis is the man tasked with replacing one of the greatest coaches of all-time in Roy Williams. The believers and naysayers are both in large number, but that’s probably not the first-year head coach’s top priority. (Photo by Jeffrey Camarati / Getty Images)

As of right now, the Tar Heels are set to play eight games against top-25 opponents, with that number likely to increase as the season moves along. This is a team that has question marks, mainly about the man at the helm and how the stars may or may not align in his first season. Regardless, Carolina basketball is one of the cornerstones of college hoops, and when they are competing at a high level, the sport is just more fun to watch.

Non-Conference Schedule

* home; neutral/away

  • Nov. 9 – Loyola (MD)
  • Nov. 12 – Brown
  • Nov. 16 – College of Charleston
  • Nov. 20 – #7 Purdue (Hall of Fame Tip-Off)
  • Nov. 21 – #4 Villanova or #18 Tennessee (Hall of Fame Tip-Off)
  • Nov. 23 – UNC-Asheville
  • Dec. 1 – #6 Michigan (ACC-Big Ten Challenge)
  • Dec. 11 – Elon
  • Dec. 14 – Furman
  • Dec. 18 – #2 UCLA (CBS Sports Classic)
  • Dec. 21 – Appalachian State

This is one of the tougher non-conference slates in all of college basketball. The Heels will face at least three, potentially four, preseason top-seven teams in the country by mid-December. Any issues this team may have will be exposed then. Realistically, a 2-2 record in those four games is something to celebrate – if it’s anything less, questions and rumors will swirl, but if it’s anything more, oh boy is the hype train rolling through Franklin Street.

In a quick scouting report, the battle against Purdue will give us an intriguing Trevion Williams-Bacot duel, as well as a fun Jaden Ivey-Love chess match. I think UNC can beat either opponent in their second Hall of Fame Tip-Off match-up, whether it’s Villanova or Tennessee. Against Michigan, we get another great battle in the frontcourt between Hunter Dickinson and Bacot. And finally, in the game against UCLA, I’m curious as to whether or not this game simply becomes a shootout, or if one team chooses to make it ugly – I think it will be an up-and-down game.

Conference Schedule

Wendell Moore Caleb Love
The Tar Heels swept the Blue Devils last season, but can they do it again? (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

* home; away

  • Dec. 5 – Georgia Tech
  • Dec. 29 – Virginia Tech
  • Jan. 1 – Boston College
  • Jan. 5 – Notre Dame
  • Jan. 8 – #25 Virginia
  • Jan. 15 – Georgia Tech
  • Jan. 18 – Miami
  • Jan. 22 – Wake Forest
  • Jan. 26 – Boston College
  • Jan. 29 – NC State
  • Jan. 31 – Louisville
  • Feb. 5 – #9 Duke
  • Feb. 8 – Clemson
  • Feb. 12 – #20 Florida State
  • Feb. 16 – Pittsburgh
  • Feb. 19 – Virginia Tech
  • Feb. 21 – Louisville
  • Feb. 26 – NC State
  • Feb. 28 – Syracuse
  • Mar. 5 – #9 Duke

It might be a lighter year in terms of traditional ACC depth, but the conference can still provide its fair share of shocks and upsets. Of course, UNC basketball will face Duke in both a February and March bout – the second of which will likely be the hardest ticket to get in college basketball this century. The Heels have the luxury of facing the other three preseason top-25 ACC teams at the Dean Dome, only traveling to Durham this season. Virginia Tech and Louisville are both fringe top-25 teams and will be a challenge for Davis’ team away from home. Road trips to Georgia Tech and Notre Dame will be early tests for a team looking to get off on the right foot in conference play. By all measures, this is a favorable conference slate for the Heels.


Michael Jordan ceiling is the roof speech
The opportunity presented itself * insert shrug emoji *. (GIF by Igray via Tenor/

Carolina’s ceiling is ACC champion. Their ceiling on the national stage is, in my mind, as high as a Final Four run capped off by a national title in the Big Easy. The squad that Davis has assembled can easily win the conference’s regular season title, with Vendetta’s Jimmer Range duo pegging the Heels as the ACC champion. It’s a team with depth at most positions and while the man shouting directions is new, the Tar Heels’ winning traditions likely will remain.

The floor for this team, and it would be a shocking finish, is around fourth or fifth in the conference. Again, right now, I have them winning the ACC, but if Love doesn’t take that expected leap and Walton/Davis hover once again at around 10 ppg, Armando Bacot’s efforts won’t be enough for this team. Regardless, I don’t see that happening, as this team and fanbase should expect a top-three finish in the ACC.


Listen, I’ve rolled with the other team eight miles down Tobacco Road for my entire life, so part of me gags at the thought of this Carolina team souring my memories of Coach K’s farewell tour – but it could happen. Davis’ UNC basketball squad will no longer have the log jam in the paint. It will be a team that spreads you out, with Bacot anchoring the interior and Love running the show. If they can knock down anywhere from 37%-40% of their threes, come March, they will be a tough out. My prediction: this is an Elite Eight-caliber squad that is eliminated in the second weekend by a Big 12 team, hopefully Texas – if you know, you know.


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