It’s redemption time at North Carolina. After becoming the first preseason No. 1 team to ever miss the NCAA Tournament, the Tar Heels have something to prove in coach Hubert Davis’ third season. UNC stunned college basketball by reaching the national title game as a No. 8 seed in 2022, but now it must prove that run wasn’t a fluke.
One of the keys to the program’s late success in 2022 was the knockdown 3-point shooting of power forward Brady Manek, an Oklahoma transfer. Last season, UNC attempted to plug in Northwestern transfer Pete Nance to Manek’s vacated slot, but the results weren’t great. Caleb Love, a hero of the 2022 team’s run, also struggled with efficiency, shooting just 29.9% from 3-point range on 7.4 attempts per game.
Love and Nance have moved on, as has longtime defensive stalwart Leaky Black. Their departures leave senior guard RJ Davis and fifth-year senior Armando Bacot os the only returning starters. They make for an excellent foundation as leaders who have been through the transition to Davis from Roy Williams and the ensuing roller-coaster of the past two seasons.
Joining them are a handful of transfers, including Jae’Lyn Withers from Louisville and Harrison Ingram from Stanford. Both earned all-conference accolades for their performances as freshmen earlier in their careers but have struggled to build on that success. Those two give Davis options for how to handle the power forward position next to Bacot, who has dealt with a rotating cast of starting companions in the front court during his career.
As offseason player movement cycle finally ends, it’s time to start breaking down the rosters of the sport’s top programs. For this installment, we’re taking a look at the Tar Heels and trying to decipher what their lineup could look like when the season begins.
North Carolina was arguably the most disappointing team in college basketball HISTORY last season. It was the only preseason No. 1 to fail to make the NCAA Tournament in the modern era. Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander preview the Tar Heels. Subscribe to Eye on College Basketball, which is available for free on the Audacy app as well as Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts and wherever else you listen to podcasts.
Projected starting lineup
1. Elliot Cadeau
6-1 | 180 | Fr.
With Caleb Love’s transfer to Arizona, Cadeau is primed to start after finishing the 2023 recruiting cycle ranked as the No. 12 overall player and No. 2 point guard by 247Sports. Davis described the New Jersey native as “an elite passer and playmaker.” Having a pass-first point guard who can facilitate will be huge for a Tar Heels team that ranked 273rd nationally in assists per game last game season.
2. RJ Davis
6-0 | 180 | Sr.
Now in his fourth season, Davis is a steady source of perimeter punch for the Tar Heels. He is the team’s leading returning scorer after scoring 16.1 points per game last season and is plenty capable of running the point as needed. He’s also a surprisingly good rebounder for his size and should be a key leader for the Tar Heels.
3. Cormac Ryan
6-5 | 195 | Gr.
UNC ranked No. 329 nationally in 3-point shooting percentage last season at just 31.2%. Ryan should help after hitting 36.4% of his 3-point attempts on 4.9 tries per game in three seasons at Notre Dame. The graduate transfer is in his sixth season of college basketball after beginning his career at Stanford.
4. Harrison Ingram
6-7 | 235 | Jr.
Davis could play Ingram at small forward, but he may fit more comfortably at power forward. Ingram averaged 10.5 points over two seasons at Stanford was a serviceable but not great 3-point shooter at 31.6%. He’s a good playmaker for his size and still has the potential to develop into an NBA Draft prospect.
5. Armando Bacot
6-11 | 240 | Graduate
Bacot is the heart and soul of UNC basketball as he enters Year 5 on campus with the school record for career rebounds and double-doubles already in hand. The interior bruiser has started 131 of 132 games and is a three-time all-ACC performer. Bacot’s production dipped slightly last season, but he remains one of college basketball’s top centers and an All-American candidate.
6-9 | 215 | Gr.
Withers earned a spot on the ACC All-Freshman Team at Louisville in the 2020-21 season. But as the Cardinals struggled the past two seasons, so did Withers. Now the former four-star prospect gets a fresh start. He shot 41.7% from 3-point range last season, and if he can keep that up, he’ll find plenty of playing time.
6-3 | 195 | Jr.
Trimble logged 9.8 minutes per game in 33 appearances as a true freshman. Though his offensive production was limited, Trimble rated as one of UNC’s better defensive guards. With several other reserves moving on, Trimble should have plenty of opportunity to earn minutes.
6-5 | 195 | Gr.
Wojcik enjoyed a senior season explosion at Brown last year, averaging a career-best 14.9 points while shooting 38% from beyond the arc and earning all-Ivy League honors. Wojcik will have to prove his defense and shooting can translate to a higher level of competition.
6-8 | 240 | Jr.
Oknonkwo found a steady role off the bench as a sophomore at West Virginia, averaging 11 minutes per game in 31 appearances. He averaged just 2.5 points but showed promise as a rim protector and rebounder. He’ll provide a dose of physicality off the bench.
6-10 | 230 | So.
Washington appeared in 20 games as a true freshmen while working his way back from knee issues that cost him his entire senior season of high school. He was a four-star prospect and has obvious upside as a skilled big if he’s able to stay healthy.
6-9 | 225 | Fr.
High finished the 2023 recruiting cycle ranked as the No. 88 player in the class by 247Sports. The four-star prospect was described by Davis as “the perfect example of the modern-day big man.” His long-term upside is clear but there is an uphill battle to playing time in Year 1.