The Iron Five is no longer intact, but the Tar Heels will have a Core Four return to Chapel Hill for the 2022-23 basketball season. Following in the footsteps of Armando Bacot and Leaky Black, RJ Davis and Caleb Love each expressed their intentions to come back to Carolina for their junior seasons.
The return of Davis and Love means that (at this point) the Tar Heels only lose Brady Manek (out of eligibility), Dawson Garcia (transfer), and Anthony Harris (transfer) out of their rotation players. With one more week before the transfer portal deadline (May 1), there's still the possibility that someone could opt to transfer out.
As of now, the Tar Heels bring back at least 65% of their production in every major category:
- Points - 74.7%
- Rebounds - 77.6%
- Assists - 84.3%
- Field Goals - 72.3%
- Free Throws - 82.4%
- Threes - 65.6%
- Blocks - 79.0%
- Steals - 83.6%
The return of four starters marks the first time since the 2015-16 season that the Tar Heels bring back 80% of their starting five. 2015-16 was a return of Marcus Paige, Justin Jackson, Brice Johnson, and Kennedy Meeks. The new addition to the group was Joel Berry, who moved into the starting lineup after JP Tokoto left early for the NBA Draft.
With the return of 80% of the starting lineup from a national runner-up team, the 2022-23 Tar Heels will have a target firmly painted on their backs.
The big question Coach Hubert Davis will need to answer is how to fill the massive hole left behind by Brady Manek. On a team that relied so heavily on its starters, all five of Carolina's 2021-22 primary quintet played an integral role.
Will UNC rely on a returner such as Puff Johnson or Dontrez Styles to step into that role? Will the Heels turn to a newcomer like Jalen Washington or Tyler Nickel?
At this point, the most obvious candidate is Puff Johnson, who has the trust of his head coach.
However, there's also the possibility of a player transferring out, which would open up a scholarship opportunity for Carolina in the transfer portal.
Regardless of what happens with that fifth starting spot, Hubert Davis will be able to rely heavily on the experience of a super senior (Black), a senior (Bacot), and two juniors (Davis and Love) to guide the way.