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October 30, 2009
This isn't the same team that won the national championship in March. The Tar Heels must try to defend their title without starters Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green. That quartet combined for 430 career starts and nearly 8,000 points. Only a program of North Carolina's caliber could lose that kind of talent and still be picked to win the conference. The Tar Heels are counting on the emergence of sophomore Ed Davis, who could develop into one of the league's top players after performing well as a backup last season. The return of Marcus Ginyard from a foot injury and the arrival of the nation's fifth-ranked recruiting class also should help.
With all the offseason losses, Ed Davis has become the main man at North Carolina.
How do you replace Hansbrough, the leading scorer in ACC history? Well, it helps to have Davis, a first-year starter projected as one of the first few picks in the 2010 NBA draft. Davis came off the bench last season and scored in double-figures in three NCAA tournament games. He should contend for All-America honors. The Tar Heels also have Deon Thompson, a returning starter who was Team USA's second-leading scorer and top rebounder in the World University Games this summer. Tyler Zeller played well early last season before missing 23 games with a broken wrist. John Henson, a 6-10 freshman, arrives on campus as the nation's No. 5 prospect. North Carolina also welcomes 6-9 twins David Wear (the No. 59 prospect) and Travis Wear (No. 60).
The departures of Lawson and Green leave the Tar Heels scrambling to replace the nation's top point guard and one of the game's top outside shooters, respectively, from last season. Larry Drew II will get the first shot at point guard. He averaged 1.9 assists and 9.6 minutes per game last season. The Tar Heels also will benefit from Ginyard's return; he's an outstanding perimeter defender who played just three games last season. Swingman Will Graves was effective at times as a true freshman last season and could earn a starting spot. Incoming freshmen Leslie McDonald (the No. 65 prospect in the nation) and Dexter Strickland (No. 34) have a chance to make an immediate impact.
UNC's lack of experience could cause problems early in the season, but the Tar Heels still boast as much talent as just about any team in the country. The Heels should win the ACC and earn a high seed in the NCAA tournament. How far they go in the tournament likely will depend on whether someone emerges as an adequate replacement for Lawson.
Preseason rankings were compiled by basketball writers David Fox, Mike Huguenin, Jason King and Steve Megargee.