That's one of the leading storylines of the 2007-08 Tar Heel basketball season.
Yes, some key personnel left. Two starters -- senior wing Reyshawn Terry and freshman superstar Brandan Wright -- are now in the pro ranks. But with so many players returning, head coach Roy Williams expects to be able to build off of the players' experiences.
"We'll start at the same spot to give them the foundation, but we will go faster and expect more from the guys because of the experience level," Williams said. "We expect Ty, Wayne, Deon and Alex to take major steps forward because they've been through the philosophy, the style, practices, terminology, the whole offensive and defensive systems. I expect them to make major improvements because of the confidence and comfort level they've gained."
Preseason expectations place the Tar Heels as one of the nation's best -- some publications have UNC at No. 1. And the Tar Heels have the weapons to live up to that billing. But in order to prevail against a road-heavy early non-conference slate, repeat as ACC champs and reach the Final Four, they must become a complete team. And the key piece to achieving that status is improved defense.
"We must flat-out guard people better, play better defense from day one – it has to be our emphasis," Williams said. "They will be better at it because of another year's experience, but we will emphasize it in practice more than ever before.
"I think we will be a well-rounded club that can score inside, can shoot from the three-point line, and with our rebounding -- and in particular with Lawson's speed -- we can really push the ball. But we have to defend."
The road to San Antonio begins Friday night.
QUENTIN THOMAS #11
H/W: 6-3, 190
2006-07 Stats: 0.5 pts, 1.7 apg
Roy Williams: "I expect ‘Q' to have his best year. He's more relaxed, which means he can play with more confidence, which leads to better play."
MIKE COPELAND #40
H/W: 6-7, 235
2006-07 Stats: 0.9 pts, 0.8 rpg
Roy Williams: "Mike is getting better offensively, but he knows he must concentrate better on defense and finish defensively by boxing out. As he improves as a defender, he will get an opportunity to help us this year."
BOBBY FRASOR #4
H/W: 6-3, 208
2006-07 Stats: 2.4 pts, 1.6 apg
Roy Williams: "I am curious to see how his foot holds up. Bobby had a marvelous freshman year, and last year was extremely tough on the youngster because of his foot. But I have complete confidence in Bobby based on what he showed me his freshman year when he was healthy. He started at point guard on the youngest team I have ever coached and that team won 23 games and was a three seed in the NCAA Tournament. I think he can be even better than that when he is healthy."
MARCUS GINYARD #1
H/W: 6-5, 218
2006-07 Stats: 4.1 pts, 3.2 rpg
Roy Williams: "Marcus is so intelligent he found ways to make me put him in the game. He's a solid defender, got much better on the offensive glass and does all the little things. He could have a real breakout year. Last year, he found his niche. He figured out the Jackie Manuel way to get into the starting lineup – don't make mistakes and come up with big plays – and he did that."
DANNY GREEN #14
H/W: 6-6, 210
2006-07 Stats: 5.2 pts, 2.8 rpg
Roy Williams: "Danny can cross the line from the three to the four. He's a great free throw shooter, has become a better defender and is good around the backboard. I like him at the four in late-game spots because he can do those things. He's another guy who I think is going to have a big-time year for us."
TYLER HANSBROUGH #50
H/W: 6-9, 250
2006-07 Stats: 18.4 pts, 7.9 rpg
Roy Williams: "The big fella's had two phenomenal years. Tyler is the most focused player I've ever been around. He has a chance to be the leading scorer and rebounder in Carolina history. I'm expecting a fantastic junior year with the same kind of numbers he's put up before if not better. He has big expectations, but he handles it really well. He has tremendous dreams and work ethic and he just goes, goes, and goes. Tyler has really gotten better defensively. We need him to continue to improve his assist-error ratio."
WAYNE ELLINGTON #22
H/W: 6-4, 200
2006-07 Stats: 11.7 pts, 2.9 rpg
Roy Williams: "I think Wayne will have a great year for us. As he gets more experienced, his field goal percentage will go up and that will open up things inside for us. He's a terrific shooter. Now he has to do it more consistently in games. He knows he has to get better defensively, so he really emphasized it in his offseason work."
TY LAWSON #5
H/W: 5-11, 195
2006-07 Stats: 10.2 pts, 5.6 apg
Roy Williams: "Ty was really good through the first two-thirds of the season, but improved to another level during the last third of the regular season and the ACC and NCAA Tournaments. We hope he can start this year at that level. He was so much more mature, disciplined, and aware of how to take care of his body and do the little things to help you win. Considering the tempo at which we want to play, his assist- error numbers were phenomenal."
ALEX STEPHESON #32
H/W: 6-9, 235
2006-07 Stats: 2.1 pts, 2.2 rpg
Roy Williams: "Defense and rebounding are two areas where Alex is really doing a nice job. He's going to step in and play a lot of minutes this year."
DEON THOMPSON #21
H/W: 6-8, 240
2006-07 Stats: 4.7 pts, 2.4 rpg
Roy Williams: "People are expecting a lot from Deon because he played well in the Georgetown game, they've heard how hard he worked on his body in the offseason and he was one of the leading players for Team USA this summer. That's okay, because I'm expecting a lot out of him, too. He's further along in his game offensively and he knows we need him to pick up his play on the defensive end."
WILL GRAVES #13
H/W: 6-6, 245
2006-07 Stats: N/A - Redshirted
Roy Williams: "Most kids who redshirt take the year off, but Will didn't do that, particularly in the way he worked on his body. He's lost about 30 pounds since he came to college. At some point he will become an important player for us. When that will be remains to be seen, because he has to do it with people in the seats."
(Quotes provided by UNC Athletic Communications and appear in the 2007-08 Media Guide. )