North Carolina

Scouting the 2014-15 UNC Tar Heels

North Carolina’s Justin Jackson drives to the basket  against Belmont Abbey in Chapel Hill on Friday.
North Carolina’s Justin Jackson drives to the basket against Belmont Abbey in Chapel Hill on Friday. STAFF PHOTO

54.5 Points returning per game. UNC returns 71.1 percent of its scoring, led by leading scorer Marcus Paige (17.5 ppg) and Brice Johnson (10.3 ppg), who was the team’s fourth-leading scorer. Four players are back who averaged at least 7.6 points a season ago.

Go-to guy: Paige is a preseason All-American, the preseason ACC Player of the Year and a national player of the year candidate. He has a better supporting cast than he did a season ago but, in the end, the Tar Heels likely go as far as Paige takes them.

Impact rookie: Justin Jackson, a 6-foot-8 forward from Tomball, Texas, looks a little like a skinnier version of Harrison Barnes. Jackson can drive and shoot and has the height and length to play on the interior when need be. If he doesn’t start from the get-go, he eventually will.

Best case: Paige is as good as any player in the country and if one of the big men – either Kennedy Meeks or Johnson – emerges to become a consistent difference-maker, then UNC will have what it takes to reach the Final Four. Do that and Roy Williams’ third national title is within reach.

Worst case: It’s difficult to envision this team finishing lower than third in the ACC, barring an injury to Paige or a rash of injuries. At full strength, anything less than a Sweet 16 appearance would have to be viewed as a disappointment.

X-factor: Given his struggles as a freshman a season ago, it’s difficult to remember that Isaiah Hicks arrived at UNC as the best high school prospect in the state. Teammates raved about his progress in the offseason, and if he’s a viable sixth-man he’d add a dimension that not many are thinking about.

Where to attack: Interior defense is a question mark – as is outside shooting. Defensively, Johnson’s limitations have been well documented and he’ll have to show some significant improvement there. Offensively, don’t be surprised if teams collapse on the interior and try to force UNC to make shots from the outside.

62.6 Magic number. That was UNCs free-throw percentage a season ago, which was among the worst in school history. The Tar Heels’ inability to make shots at the line cost them some victories. It has to get better … right?

Schedule

Nov. 14 N.C. Central 8 p.m.
Nov. 16 Robert Morris 6 p.m.
Nov. 22 Davidson (Time Warner Arena, Charlotte) 2 p.m.
Nov. 26 Butler* noon
Nov. 27 Oklahoma or UCLA* TBD
Nov. 28 UAB, Florida, Georgetown or Wisconsin* TBD
Dec. 3 Iowa 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 7 East Carolina 3 p.m.
Dec. 13 at Kentucky noon
Dec. 16 UNC Greensboro (Greensboro Coliseum) 7 p.m.
Dec. 20 Ohio State (United Center, Chicago) 1 p.m.
Dec. 27 Ala.-Birmingham 4 p.m.
Dec. 30 William & Mary TBD
Jan. 3 at Clemson TBD
Jan. 5 Notre Dame TBD
Jan. 10 Louisville TBD
Jan. 14 at N.C. State 7 p.m.
Jan. 18 Virginia Tech 6:30 p.m.
Jan. 21 at Wake Forest 7 p.m.
Jan. 24 Florida State 2 p.m.
Jan. 26 Syracuse 7 p.m.
Jan. 31 at Louisville TBD
Feb. 2 Virginia 7 p.m.
Feb. 7 at Boston College 3 p.m.
Feb. 14 at Pitt noon
Feb. 18 at Duke 9 p.m.
Feb. 21 Georgia Tech noon
Feb. 24 N.C. State 8 p.m.
Feb. 28 at Miami 2 p.m.
March 3 at Georgia Tech 7 p.m.
March 7 Duke TBD

* at Paradise Island, Bahamas

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