CAPABLE, DEEP AND FULLY HEALED
Point guard Marcus Paige led the Tar Heels in points (14.1 per game), assists (4.5) and steals (1.7) last year, despite suffering from a foot injury that severely limited his practice time from late December on. "My whole right foot was pretty much jacked up," he says.
Surgery last April removed the bone spurs that were complicating his plantar fasciitis, and now the 6'2" Paige can jump into the season with both feet—a major reason why North Carolina is SI's choice to win the 2016 NCAA championship. With nine of the top 10 players back from last year's Sweet 16 team, including dependable pass-first sophomore point guard Joel Berry and sixth man junior guard Nate Britt, the Tar Heels have a rare blend of talent, experience and depth in today's one-and-done world.
Paige will still run the point in late-game situations, but he'll spend more time off the ball, making the most of his marksmanship. (He is eight three-pointers shy of Shammond Williams's school record.) With 6'10" senior Brice Johnson and 6'10" junior Kennedy Meeks spearheading the nation's best frontcourt, the Tar Heels should dominate the boards, which will spark Roy Williams's high-octane secondary break.
For the first time in years North Carolina begins the season with more answers than questions.
PROJECTED TEAM STATS
OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY 120.3 (2nd)
DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY 95.4 (45th)
ACC RECORD 13--5 (T-1st)
If Brice Johnson can become a consistent post scorer and stay on the court (13 fouls in three NCAA tournament games last year), he would keep defenses from cheating on the Tar Heels' perimeter shooters.
With 2015--16 projections for the top six scorers
Coach Roy Williams (13th season)
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
Marcus Paige* 6'2" Sr.
Brice Johnson* 6'10" Sr.
Justin Jackson* 6'8" Soph.
Kennedy Meeks* 6'10" Jr.
Isaiah Hicks 6'9" Jr.
Nate Britt 6'1" Jr.
[The following text appears within a chart. Please see hardcopy or PDF for actual chart.]
ROUND OF 32
ROUND OF 64
CHRIS KEANE FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (PAIGE)
PEYTON WILLIAMS/UNC/GETTY IMAGES (JOHNSON)