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Will UNC’s Woods and Robinson make sophomore leaps?

UNC players Brandon Robinson (14) drives the ball up court with Seventh Woods (21) and Chattanooga's Tre' McLean (23) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016. North Carolina won 97-57. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Gerry Broome/AP photo

In the world of college basketball, the summer months offer few major topics of conversation.

Even for defending NCAA champion North Carolina, as former Tar Heels Justin Jackson and Tony Bradley embark on their NBA careers and Roy Williams reloads for his 15th season as the program’s head coach, few national headlines swirl around UNC basketball these days.

But while the spotlight shines elsewhere in the middle of the offseason, this time of year happens to provide a few players some of their biggest opportunities to make considerable progress in their development. Just in the last four years, the Tar Heels have seen Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson, Joel Berry, Kenny Williams and Luke Maye improve significantly between their freshman and sophomore seasons.

This summer, UNC has two second-year players hoping to make major strides.

Seventh Woods

Becoming a YouTube sensation before the age of 15, Woods showed signs of a future star years before he even committed to North Carolina. Eventually, he became a high-end 4-star prospect and entered his college career surrounded by high expectations.

However, Woods’ freshman season included a few bumps. He suffered a lower leg injury in the months leading up to his rookie campaign and, like many first-year UNC point guards, dealt with growing pains when it was his turn to run the offense. According to KenPom.com, Woods posted a team-low offensive rating of 74.2 and a turnover rate of 38.6 percent to go along with a .283 field goal percentage.

That leaves plenty of room to grow this offseason. Ironically, Berry’s return for his senior season might have benefitted Woods more than anyone else on the team. With Berry back, Woods can take another year to develop without too much pressure on his shoulders, and this summer he can focus on areas of improvement rather than prepare himself to become the top dog. He won’t emerge as a dominant scorer overnight, but he could take a giant step forward simply by cutting down on turnovers and becoming more comfortable running the offense.

Brandon Robinson

Here’s a fun piece of trivia: Three UNC players finished last season with better assist-to-turnover ratios than Berry — Theo Pinson, Nate Britt and Robinson. While it was a small sample size for the freshman wing (28 assists to 14 turnovers), it served as just one example of how Robinson got involved even when the shots weren’t falling.

The Douglasville, Ga., native averaged just 7.6 minutes per game over 37 contests, but he’ll take on a larger role as a sophomore. The Tar Heels need multiple players to step up as they attempt to replace Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year Jackson, and Robinson will have to carry some of that load.

Robinson earned a reputation as a 3-point marksman at the high school level but went just 7-for-30 from long range last season. If he can consistently drain shots from beyond the arc while getting the job done defensively this winter, he’ll find a regular spot in the rotation as UNC leans more heavily on smaller lineups.

Projection

At most programs, classes with multiple top-60 recruits see at least one of those players crack the starting lineup by Year 2. However, the Tar Heels’ rare combination of recruiting at a high level and keeping most of their stars around for four years sometimes leads to talented players having to wait their turns.

Neither Woods nor Robinson projects as a starter for next season, but both will play important parts. With Britt gone, Woods steps in as the primary backup at point guard, and he’ll likely fit into plenty of scenarios where he and Berry will be on the court at the same time. While the June addition of Pitt transfer Cam Johnson will eat into some of Robinson’s minutes, the 6-foot-5 sophomore could grow into a sixth-man role and possibly double his playing time.

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