New talent surrounds two key returners as the North Carolina Tar Heels and Hubert Davis look to turn things back around after a down year.
As is tradition, CBB Review again ranks the top 100 teams heading into the new college basketball season. We will reveal the next team each day until we reach the team slotted at number one. Follow along with #CBBRank on all our social media channels.
The North Carolina Tar Heels are coming off perhaps one of the most disappointing seasons not only in program history, but all of college hoops history. The majority of people in the college basketball world picked UNC as their preseason number one, and the Heels completely missed the field of 68 in March.
To add insult to injury, Caleb Love promptly left to Arizona and Hubert Davis was left with Armando Bacot, RJ Davis, some role players, and a big gap to fill.
Davis brought in two top 100 recruits, Elliot Cadeau leading the way as the 12th-ranked player in the 2023 class. In the transfer portal, Davis brought in Cormac Ryan from Notre Dame, Paxson Wojcik from Brown, and Harrison Ingram from Stanford to fill out his starting five. Jae’Lyn Withers and James Okonkwo also transferred in to provide more depth off the bench.
North Carolina has a tricky task ahead. Hubert Davis is a walking target, with everyone ready to call his first season a fluke if this one goes the same way last season went. However, veteran leadership, improved shooting, and elite rebounding should put UNC right back at the top of the ACC and back to competing for a National Championship.
Click here to learn more about our preseason top 100 teams heading into the 2023-24 college basketball season.
Head coach: Hubert Davis (3rd season, all at UNC)
2022-23 record: 20-13 (11-9)
2023 postseason finish: No postseason
Notable departures: Caleb Love (Transferred to Arizona), Pete Nance (Graduated), Leaky Black (Graduated), Puff Johnson (Transferred to Penn State), D’Marco Dunn (Transferred to Penn State)
Notable non-conference games: vs. Northern Iowa (Nov. 22, in Bahamas), Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 23-24), vs. Tennessee (Nov. 29), vs. UConn (Dec. 5, at MSG), vs. Kentucky (Dec. 16, in Atlanta), vs. Oklahoma (Dec. 20, Charlotte)
PG: RJ Davis (6-0, 180, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 16.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.1 SPG, 36.2 3P%
SG: Cormac Ryan (6-5, 195, Gr.-Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 12.3 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.3 SPG, 34.4 3P% (Notre Dame)
SF: Paxson Wojcik (6-5, 195, Gr.-Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 14.9 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.3 SPG, 38.0 3P% (Brown)
PF: Harrison Ingram (6-7, 235, Jr.)
2022-23 stats: 10.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.7 APG (Stanford)
C: Armando Bacot (6-11, 216, Rs.-Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 15.9 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.0 BPG, 66.5 FG%
6: Elliot Cadeau (6-1, 180, Fr.)
247Sports Composite No. 12 rated recruit
7: Jalen Washington (6-10, 230, So.)
2022-23 stats: 2.2 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 0.1 APG, 5.6 MPG
8: Zayden High (6-9, 225, Fr.)
247Sports Composite No. 92 rated recruit
9: Jae’Lyn Withers (6-9, 215, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 8.9 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 0.8 APG (Louisville)
10: Seth Trimble (6-3, 195, So.)
2022-23 stats: 1.8 PPG, 0.8 RPG, 0.6 APG, 9.7 MPG
11: James Okonkwo (6-8, 240, Jr.)
2022-23 stats: 2.5 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 0.2 APG, 57.4 FG% (West Virginia)
North Carolina Tar Heels MVP: Armando Bacot
Armando Bacot returns for his fifth season after dominating the ACC the past two seasons. In his junior and senior campaigns, Bacot averaged a double-double, posting 15.9 points per game and 10.4 rebounds per game a season ago, and 16.3 points and 13.1 rebounds the season prior.
Bacot is a force in the paint, and has the ability to create shots facing away from the basket despite drawing multiple defenders. However, what makes him most dominant is his rebounding, as he constantly gets in a good position on the offensive glass, which, in turn, leads to easy put-back buckets.
Over the past two years, Bacot has averaged 4.2 offensive boards per game, leading the charge for UNC’s elite rebounding.
Bacot’s role will be slightly bigger this year with the departure of Caleb Love, as he might be asked to create more shots away from the glass. More importantly, he will be asked to lead an otherwise inexperienced team back to the Final Four. Nonetheless, Bacot is poised for another dominant season down low.
North Carolina Tar Heels make-or-break player: Cormac Ryan
Last season in South Bend, Cormac Ryan did not have the season beyond the arc that the Fighting Irish were expecting. However, Hubert Davis was not recruiting Ryan based on his senior season where he had to hold down the offense at Notre Dame. Rather, Davis needs Ryan to retake his junior year form.
In his junior season, when Ryan was not the centerpiece of ND’s offense, he shot almost two fewer three-point shots than he did in the following year and shot at a clip of six percent higher.
The North Carolina Tar Heels are not asking Ryan to be the star in an offense that has RJ Davis and Armando Bacot. Instead, they need him to make the threes they desperately missed in their disappointing season last year. If Ryan can step into this role effectively, UNC will return to the top of the league.
Key analytic: 3P%
The North Carolina Tar Heels failed to make the NCAA Tournament last season after making it to the championship game the year before despite having almost the same roster. What changed? Well, it seemed as though the Tar Heels were in a season-long slump from three-point land.
UNC shot just 31.2% from beyond the arc last year, which slotted them at 318th in the country, as well as dead last in the ACC. For a team that was picked by most to not only win the conference but possibly return to the national championship and win, those marks are abysmal.
However, Hubert Davis went back to work, finding shooters to come in and fill that void. Not only that, he brought in more rebounding help for Bacot, because if a shot misses, what better than a second chance? Not only was UNC bad in their 3-point clip, they also only made 7.1 three-pointers per game last year, 207th in the country.
The bottom line is this. No team, whether it is UNC or a mid-major new to Division 1, can win in this era without being dominant from beyond the arc. Games are won and lost from the bonus sphere now in college hoops. If UNC as a whole improves on their shooting, they will not be left out of the field this year and will be back to where they belong at the top of the ACC.
North Carolina Tar Heels 2023-24 projections
Projected conference finish: 2nd in the ACC
Projected postseason ceiling: NCAA Tournament – Final Four Exit