You know a special player is coming into your program when he has not even stepped on the floor for a collegiate game but has already been named pre-season All-America. Meet Harrison Barnes. The 6-8 wing is the top incoming freshman in the country and the likely No. 1 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. He can do it all and will have a John Wall-like effect for the Heels this season.
The guard play was incredibly inconsistent a year ago which played a big part in North Carolina's struggles. Larry Drew II enters his second season as the team's starting point guard and should be flanked by sophomore Dexter Strickland, but there will be plenty of competition for minutes in the backcourt.
Sophomore Leslie McDonald never truly acclimated himself to the college game last season but is a much better player than he displayed. Carolina also brings in top 25 recruits Kendall Marshall and Reggie Bullock who are often overlooked since Barnes receives all the press. The talent is certainly there at guard, but the experience factor is still a bit of a question mark.
The starting frontcourt boasts good size, length and athleticism, but not much physicality inside. Six-foot-10, 210-pound John Henson arrived in Chapel Hill with high expectations but had a fairly disappointing freshman season. He did come on strong down the stretch but is still incredibly thin. He makes up for his lack of muscle with his explosiveness at the rim and shot blocking on the defensive end. Henson can also step outside and has range out to the three-point line.
Starting center Tyler Zeller has suffered through an injury-riddled two years at UNC. He is a skilled big man who will need to stay healthy this season since the surprising transfer of the Wear twins and early exit of Ed Davis to the NBA leaves the Heels thin up front. Fortunately, they bring in Alabama transfer Justin Knox who becomes immediately eligible because he is a grad student. He will provide some much needed muscle off the bench behind the thin Zeller and Henson. Expect to see Barnes and junior wing Justin Watts play some four this season as Roy Williams will have to go with a smaller lineup at times.
As always, North Carolina is one of the most talented teams in the country. But with only one senior, who comes in as a transfer, the leadership and experience factor remains unsettled. But if Barnes is as good as advertised, we should be hearing a lot from the Heels this season... and not because they are playing in the NIT Finals.
Player to Watch: Kendall Marshall, PG
A true point guard in every sense of the phrase, Marshall might be the most talented distributor and playmaker in the 2010 class. His ability to create and find teammates is well beyond what you would expect from a freshman. He will definitely push Drew for playing time at the point and should flourish in North Carolina's up-tempo offense.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/19 vs. Minnesota/Western Kentucky (Puerto Rico Tip-Off)
11/21 vs. West Virginia/Davidson/Vanderbilt/Nebraska (Puerto Rico Tip-Off)