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Analysis: What kind of impact can UNC men’s basketball first-years make next season?

June 8, 2016

It seems like the college basketball season just ended, especially for fans of the North Carolina men’s basketball team. The pain of Villanova forward Kris Jenkins’ game-winner in the national title game still stings as much as it did when it happened back on April 4.

But that doesn’t mean the Tar Heel faithful aren’t already looking ahead to the 2016-17 season, when they hope their team can advance to a second-straight Final Four.

There is room for optimism, as UNC returns a solid group of contributors, most notably rising juniors Joel Berry and Justin Jackson, but the key for the Tar Heels might be in the hands of the players who have yet to play a minute in a North Carolina uniform.

UNC’s 2016 recruiting class will enroll next week, and its three scholarship players — Tony Bradley, Brandon Robinson and Seventh Woods — will each have an opportunity to make an impact during the upcoming season.

But how will the trio fare once they suit up for the first time?

Tony Bradley

Bradley will wear No. 5 — a number synonymous with recent graduate and UNC’s all-time leader in made 3-pointers Marcus Paige — for the Tar Heels’ next season, but the first-year’s game will be the polar opposite of his predecessor.

Checking in at 6-foot-10-inches and 235 pounds, Bradley’s size makes him a mainstay in the low-post, where he operates from almost exclusively on the offensive end.

The five-star center’s biggest strengths are his hands and touch around the basket.

Bradley can run the floor effectively, catch a ball in traffic and finish, or receive a pass with his back to the basket and score over his left shoulder.

Bradley will need to improve on is his strength in the post. While he is 25 pounds heavier than what former UNC forward Brice Johnson’s listed weight was at the combine, he doesn’t have the athleticism Johnson possesses, meaning he will have to carve out position down low to find open shots and pull in rebounds.

While Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks will most likely be the two big men in the lineup for the Tar Heels, Robinson will most likely be the next man up off the bench.

Brandon Robinson

UNC fans hoped before the 2015-16 season Kenny Williams would give the Tar Heels another 3-point threat, but Brandon Robinson may be the real answer when he puts on the North Carolina jersey for the first time.

Ranked No. 59 overall in the class of 2016, Robinson has the ability to score from almost anywhere. He also has the ability to be a solid perimeter defender, a trait that undoubtedly made him stand out in the eyes of Coach Roy Williams.

But like Bradley, Robinson will need to improve his strength to really make an impact at the college level.

He is remarkably lean for his height — weighing just 160 pounds while standing at 6-foot-5-inches. While he should be able to survive behind the arc with that frame, he will need to bulk up to be able to play and finish around the basket.

Seventh Woods

Arguably the best known of the three scholarship first-years, Woods made a name for himself at the age of 14 when highlight tapes of him dunking over anybody and everybody made him a YouTube sensation.

Woods separated himself from other prospects because of his other-worldly athleticism. He is lightning-quick, and can finish powerfully at the rim despite only standing at 6-foot-2-inches.

Another plus of his game is his ability to defend, which should earn him some playing time because of the way Roy Williams values defensive guards.

Woods will need to work on his shooting range, as he has been inconsistent from both mid-range and behind the 3-point line.

If he can improve his ability away from the basket and avoid becoming a shorter version of J.P. Tokoto, Woods could be a welcome spark off the bench for UNC in 2016-17.

@jbo_vernon

sports@dailytarheel.com

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