The 2016-17 North Carolina Basketball season truly was an amazing one. From winning the Maui invitational, to crushing NC State by 51 points, to Luke Maye‘s game winner, to achieving redemption in Phoenix, the 2016-17 Tar Heels made sure they would never be forgotten. As much as Carolina fans loved and cherished this past season, three months later, their minds have become completely fixated onto the next one. With the return of leaders Joel Berry and Theo Pinson, as well as key additions such as Cameron Johnson and Jalek Felton, the 2017-18 campaign has the potential to be just about as amazing as the previous one. One of this past years team’s strengths was its depth down low and its rebounding. With the departure of big men Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, and Tony Bradely, this will be a major issue for this upcoming season’s Tar Heel squad. To offset this, next season’s Tar Heels will have to improve in other areas of the game. Coach Roy Williams and his staff know what they’re getting in Berry, Pinson, and Maye, but beyond that nobody on the current roster has completely proven themselves while in Carolina blue. For the Heels to be anywhere near as good as last season, several players will have to step up and have a breakout year. Three of the players with the best chance to break out next year are Seventh Woods, Brandon Robinson, and Cameron Johnson.
In his Freshman year at Carolina, Seventh Woods averaged 7.7 MPG, 1.5 PPG, 1.4 RPG, and 1.2 APG. The 6-2, 180 pound guard will certainly earn more minutes this season, with the departure of Nate Britt. While Woods went through a up and down year, he showed real flashes of greatness. Through several great moments he displayed that he posseses superb court vision and athleticism. History is also on Woods‘ side. UNC point guards have often seen huge leaps from their Freshman to Sophomore seasons, the most recent example being Carolina legend Marcus Paige. If Woods can cut down on the mistakes and improve his decision making, he could be a fantastic change-of-pace option off the bench for the Heels. With a full offseason to work with the UNC staff, don’t be surprised if he reaches that level next year.
Brandon Robinson had a promising start to the 2016-17 season, but did not have much of an impact during ACC play or the post-season. The 6-5, 162 pound wing has great length and has shown the potential to become a great defender and a knockdown shooter. But before he can do any of these things he must put on more weight. It was clear during conference play that Robinson could not match up well against bigger and stronger players on either side of the ball last season. If he can add some weight this offseason, the rest will fall into place. UNC could really benefit from a breakout from Robinson, as he would be a great option to back up Cameron Johnson would be very useful in small ball lineups that Roy Williams will be forced to use more next year.
Out of the three breakout candidates listed in this article, Cameron Johnson has the highest ceiling of all of them for next season. The transfer from the University of Pittsburgh is a lights out shooter, as he has shot 47% from downtown over his college career. The Tar Heels hope that Johnson can fill the hole left by ACC player of the year Justin Jackson, who was selected 16th overall by the Sacramento Kings in the NBA draft. The two have very similar games, both based on their length and outside shooting. Johnson is actually the same exact height and weight as Jackson, making the comparison even more clear. Last season it was obvious that Johnson was held back in the Pitt offense, which was led by ball dominant guards James Artis and Micheal Young. For the Heels however, Johnson could easily be the leading scorer. Making an all-ACC team is a very realistic expectation for Johnson next year, and if it happens, Carolina could find itself playing into April for the third straight year.