CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Little went right for North Carolina last season on the way to making unwanted history. Hubert Davis knew things had to change quickly, from the composition of the roster to how the Tar Heels push tempo.
He accomplished the first in the offseason. The second could determine the 19th-ranked Tar Heels' success this season.
Program mainstays Armando Bacot and RJ Davis are back, familiar names from from the unexpected 2022 run to the NCAA championship game in Hubert Davis' first season after taking over for retired Hall of Famer Roy Williams. There are also five transfers among seven newcomers after the Tar Heels became the first team to open at No. 1 in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll and miss the NCAA Tournament since its expansion to 64 teams in 1985.
“One of the things that I wanted to change or do a better job this year compared to last year was just our tempo,” Davis said. “I wanted to play faster. Whether it's a make or miss, I want us to go.”
That has long been a hallmark of UNC teams. But the Tar Heels ranked just 99th in KenPom's adjusted tempo (68.8 possessions) compared to 39th in Davis' first year and routinely ranking highly under Williams. They often got stagnant in looking for Bacot inside, settled for 3-pointers with a team that just couldn't shoot (31.2%) and never found a cohesive form.
Six players transferred out, while versatile defender Leaky Black graduated. The departures included scoring leader Caleb Love, a streaky guard who sandwiched head-scratching decisions and shaky shot selection around thrilling shot-making moments. Love transferred to No. 12 Arizona, while reserve forward Puff Johnson transferred to Penn State.
Davis found help in the portal, including a three-time Notre Dame captain in guard Cormac Ryan and Stanford forward Harrison Ingram. There was also the addition of five-star point guard Elliot Cadeau, who reclassified to arrive a year early, and four-star forward Zayden High.
“You would think the newcomers and the freshmen, like they were here for four years,” RJ Davis said, adding: “I think we're all understanding each other and the chemistry's been going well, and it's only going to continue to get better.”
MAKING PIECES FIT
The additions address last year's issues on paper, such as Ryan and Brown transfer Paxson Wojcik offering 3-point shooting or Cadeau's penchant for passing.
“I think we look at the team now, RJ's really the guy that can score off the dribble,” Bacot said. "Then we've got Cormac who can knock down shots. We've got (Cadeau) who can pass the ball. We've got Paxson (as) a shooter. So we've got guys that have got more of a defined role versus having two lead guards that want to score the ball."
Reserve guard Seth Trimble was UNC's top-rated recruit last year, but saw his minutes dwindle. He worked on regaining confidence and improving his outside shot.
“I feel like last year, I just kind of went through a spurt where I lost it mentally and then it just kind of all went downhill from there," Trimble said. "So that was one of the things that I just told myself I'd never let happen again.”
The Tar Heels would love to see 6-10 sophomore Jalen Washington find a larger role. He averaged 2.2 points in a season that saw him miss time early while rehabbing a knee injury that sidelined him for his senior season of high school.
“There was a lot of playing, a lot of just full-go activity," Washington said. "So I feel like I've definitely taken a big jump this summer compared to the last one when I first got here.”
The Tar Heels open Nov. 6 against Radford . UNC plays in the Battle 4 Atlantis — which features No. 14 Arkansas and No. 22 Villanova — over Thanksgiving, then returns home to host No. 9 Tennessee. There are also dates with No. 6 and defending national champion Connecticut (Dec. 5) at Madison Square Garden and No. 16 Kentucky (Dec. 16).
UNC opens ACC play Dec. 2 against Florida State. A March 9 trip to No. 2 Duke ends the regular season.
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