Luke DeCock

DeCock: Now it gets interesting for Pack, Tar Heels

For N.C. State and North Carolina, now it gets really interesting. It was no surprise that Lorenzo Brown and C.J. Leslie declared for the NBA draft, and even Rodney Purvis’ decision to transfer isn’t entirely shocking based on the way his playing time declined and the way N.C. State’s season went.

To the degree those three departures were somewhat expected, anything that comes next for the Wolfpack and Tar Heels won’t be, and any further defections would do real damage to next year’s teams.

For N.C. State, it’s down to keeping T.J. Warren and Tyler Lewis. For North Carolina, decisions are still to be made by James Michael McAdoo, Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston.

There’s nothing new about this. N.C. State went through it last spring with Brown and Leslie, Duke with Austin Rivers and Mason Plumlee, North Carolina with Harrison Barnes and John Henson and Kendall Marshall, with only Marshall’s departure even a mild surprise.

What is new are the stakes: Warren is absolutely essential to the Wolfpack’s success next season, and Lewis isn’t far behind. The Tar Heels could stomach losing McAdoo, but losing Bullock or Hairston would put them in a tough spot, and losing both would be disastrous.

Warren’s father has said his son will likely turn pro if he’s projected to be a first-round draft pick, so the NBA’s advisory committee will have a lot to say about his future. With four starters already gone, Warren would be the focal point of the Wolfpack offense next year and a potential superstar in the ACC with his ability to play inside or outside.

Lewis’ name has come up in transfer speculation, as Purvis’ did before. With only one guard recruit currently signed – Anthony Barber – and transfer Ralston Turner the Wolfpack’s only other backcourt option at the moment, the Wolfpack really needs Lewis to stay.

North Carolina is dealing with many of the same issues as N.C. State, with three key players all considering NBA departures. Only McAdoo is a consensus first-round pick, which injects a certain amount of uncertainty into the process.

Of the three, McAdoo might have the most interesting situation. He might have been a lottery pick last year based on the promise he showed during limited action in his freshman season, but his sophomore year wasn’t lottery caliber. McAdoo demonstrated an NBA jump shot, but he didn’t dominate the way scouts would have liked at either end of the court.

Hairston and Bullock’s prospects are murkier. Both have the shooting ability and size to play on the wing in the NBA, but neither is a consensus first-round pick. Their 3-point shooting ability became the Tar Heels’ main offensive weapon this season, and it would be hard for Leslie McDonald and J.P. Tokoto to fill their roles completely if both turned pro.

Oddly enough, the Tar Heels are better equipped to weather McAdoo’s departure than the two players whose draft stock isn’t as high. North Carolina would be a better team with McAdoo, but the Tar Heels have four returning big men on the bench and two potential impact players coming in, Oxford’s Isaiah Hicks and Charlotte’s Kennedy Meeks.

With four starters back, North Carolina would be loaded and ready to challenge Duke and Syracuse for the ACC title next year. Less than that, and the Tar Heels will have some work to do. N.C. State has some work to do either way, but might have too much work to do if Warren leaves.

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