2018 North Carolina Tar Heels Basketball Predictions with Odds and Expert Picks
This year marks a bit of a shift for North Carolina. They played for the title in 2016 and won it the next year, and they did so with a roster built with guys who it seems were in college for a decade. They have not done like Duke and Kentucky and others have done, adding one-and-done kids in bulk hoping to punch their ticket. They have built slowly and steadily. And while some of that is still going on - Luke Maye is back for what feels like his 11th season and will be the star of this team - they have likely top-five pick next year Nassir Little and fellow consensus five-star Coby White. It's as if Roy Williams is dipping his toe into the new way of doing things to see if he likes it. And it will make for an interesting year - and for a team with more variance in expectations than the Tar Heels have had in recent years, which is a product of this approach.
North Carolina Tar Heels Additions/Losses
Gone are a couple of core pieces from the two deep tournament runs - 2017 tournament MOP Joel Berry II and Joel Pinson. Both guys went undrafted but were very valuable glue guys - Berry as a scoring point guard, and Pinson as the guy the offense most often ran through. They will be missed. Also gone is Jalek Felton, the nephew of former Tar Heel great Raymond, who was dismissed from the team in January and is now playing pro in Europe. He had limited impact as a point guard before leaving the team, but his experience would have been useful now with Berry gone.
Nassir Little is the highlight of the class. The forward with the comically large wingspan is, at his best, a much better Pinson. He can score and is defensively excellent. He could play himself into being a top three pick next year in the draft, and he has massive upside. Coby White's path is less certain. He's a good-sized point guard with an incredible scoring touch. He faces a big challenge, though. He will likely be starting, so not only does he have big shoes to fill but he has to figure out in a hurry if he can score at this level and how he can get the ball to other guys who can score as well - most notably Maye. If he can settle in quickly, the upside for the team is significant. If he looks too much like a freshman point guard, though, it could mean bad things for the team.
Also added was Rechon Black, a four-star guard who is big and athletic, and will likely ease into a playing role.
North Carolina Tar Heels Outlook
The pieces are here. Senior Luke Maye may be the best upperclassman in the country, and his blend of talent and experience is a massive asset. He makes up a small-but-deadly front court with senior Cameron Johnson. Add in Little up front, and they will be brutally tough to play against. And off the bench they can bring in a more traditional - and typical for Williams - center-driven frontcourt. And Kenny Williams at shooting guard is another veteran presence who is reliable and often dangerous. But the team is giving up a ton at point guard. And when you look back at the teams that succeed for Williams, it is all driven from the point. White has massive upside, and like Berry he is a guy who likes to score as much as create, but there is uncertainty and likely growing pains here. It's what makes the team tough to judge.
North Carolina Tar Heels Schedule
The schedule starts out easy - they should be able to get to 5-0 without barely having to take their tracksuits off. But then things get more challenging. They open the Las Vegas Invitational with a manageable game against a decent Texas team but then could face Michigan State or perhaps UCLA in the final. Then they play at a Michigan team that is ranked and talented in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. In the middle of December, they host Gonzaga, and then a week later play at Kentucky. Those are two of the very best teams in the country. It's a challenging nonconference schedule, but the optimist would point out that that just means that there are plenty of opportunities to shine.
The ACC schedule is reasonably balanced - tough, but not made any more so by unfair scheduling. They host Duke in the finale, which could potentially be both a massively-entertaining game and a very significant one.
North Carolina Tar Heels Futures Odds
They are the eighth seed in the AP poll, so the fact that they sit sixth at Bovada at +1500 to win the national title suggests that oddsmakers are bullish on the team.
North Carolina Tar Heels Predictions
I am a little uneasy about this team. I like Little's game a lot but am not sure that North Carolina will know how to use a stud youngster as well as some other programs do. And the loss of Berry and Pinson really hurts given the model of this team, and that puts too much pressure on White. The upside is high - they certainly have Final Four potential. But I remain less optimistic than that and expect them to disappoint a little when March comes around. Let me put it this way - as much as I like some pieces here like Maye and Little, there are several teams I find it much easier to trust than this one. I see no value here.
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