Coach Roy Williams is already sick of repeating the key to the Tar Heels' success this season: At least one of their big men must become the kind of go-to inside presence that helped lift the program to NCAA titles in 2005 (with center Sean May) and in '09 (forward Tyler Hansbrough). Fortunately for Williams, North Carolina has two promising options.
Junior 6'9" power forward Brice Johnson has bulked up to 228 pounds—41 more than when he arrived as a true freshman—and offers more of a true post-up option than James Michael McAdoo ever did. And 6'9" sophomore center Kennedy Meeks, who averaged 7.6 points and 6.1 rebounds in just 16.3 minutes last season, is more explosive and better conditioned after shedding nearly 50 pounds since he arrived in Chapel Hill. He now has the stamina to keep up with the high-tempo UNC offense. "He's running better," says junior point guard Marcus Paige, the ACC player of the year favorite. "[And that means] we can get him more post touches, and he can give us more effort on the boards. He just looks like a new person."
Solid contributions from Johnson and Meeks will take the pressure off Paige, who averaged a team-high 17.5 points but also forced too many shots. It's good to have options, as Williams well knows.
With 2014--15 Projected Stats
ROUND OF 32
ROUND OF 32
TELLING NUMBER 58.9
Percentage of the team's 146 three-pointers that were made by Marcus Paige, the second highest in school history. Only two other Heels have hit more than half the team's treys: Hubert Davis (59.0% in 1991--92) and Shammond Williams (50.5% in '96--97).
Paige—finally—has some help in the post.