UNC opened up the first sixteen minutes of this game playing uninspired and sloppy basketball falling behind UNCP by eight on two occasions. The offense was out of sync, shots were not falling, the Heels turned the ball over quite a bit and rebounds seemed to bounce of their hands resulting in second chance points for the Braves. Call it rust. Call it whatever. In short it was not good looking basketball to start the game.
Now, I have watched Roy Williams' UNC teams long enough to know the slow starts are common. I don't know why that is. It may be Roy has such a long view of the season he doesn't necessarily press his team early. That is why the rotation is the way it is for the first half of the season. That may also explain why his Tar Heel teams simply don't come out like gangbusters early on. Given how strong Roy's teams tend to finish no one is arguing with the results. So as we look at how UNC played in this game for most of the first half or how they might come out against Michigan St. on November 11th it is important to bear in mind Roy's teams are more crockpot than microwave.
So after 16 minutes of what can be charitably called a disappointing effort and UNC trailing 31-28, Roy inserts Stilman White, Jackson Simmons and Desmond Hubert into the game with Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston. It wasn't necessarily Roy going "Blue Team" on the starters. He probably planned to get the freshmen playing time anyway. As it turns out the move was a good one. The four freshmen and Bullock gave the Heels an immediate boost by being active on defense and converting turnovers into points on the offensive end. Hairston hit two threes in the span and Bullock got out on the fast break for two baskets and an assist to Simmons. UNC closed the half with a 14-0 run to assume an eleven point lead at the break. When the starters came back in the second half it was exactly what we expected. The 14-0 run eventually turned into 42-7 and concluded as a 57-26 second half.
While there isn't much value in exhibitions in evaluating players given the level of competition, there were a few players that stood out. First was Reggie Bullock who was a big part of the 14-0 being the only experienced Heel on the court at the time. Bullock ended up with 10 points and five assists including two made threes. However the impressive part was his mobility which has clearly been restored after last year's knee problems. Bullock scored on two transition drives to the basket, exhibited great body control and no ill effects from the knee surgery. P.J. Hairston also looked very good in his debut. Hairston heated up to the tune of 4-6 from three ending the game with 17 points. If you are keeping score at home that means the Bullock/Hairston duo went 6-11 from three coming off the bench. If UNC can get that kind of production from these two, it will be exactly what the doctored ordered.
Dexter Strickland put on a show in the second half. While there were no signs his jump shot has improved, what we did see from him was fairly impressive. Strickland used his speed to go coast-to-coast on several occasions. I don't think Strickland is faster than Ty Lawson was but he is pretty darn close. Strickland showed tonight what his niche on the offensive end looks like. He is not going to be a great shooter but he gives the Heels a speedster in transition who can take the ball to the basket and finish. Kendall Marshall is not that kind of point guard so it is a nice compliment Strickland has that in his game. Also of note was James Michael McAdoo who did not have a great line in the box score(1-7 shooting) but was aggressive and played with great energy and effort. He was pressing a bit offensively and took some bad shot but was not afraid to try and make something happen.
Tyler Zeller had his usual consistent and efficient game(18 points on 5-8 shooting) and drew two charges. John Henson had eight rebounds and five blocks which is exactly what you expect him to do. Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall had fairly average games. Barnes was 2-8 from the floor but 9-10 from the line to end up with 13. Barnes looked as though he was trying to get a feel for the offense and working in the flow of it. Marshall ended up with four assists and three turnovers. He did hit a three but like Barnes sort of flew under the radar.
Overall this was a glorified practice with some nice observations but nothing you can conclude for certain until the season is about ten games in. The biggest take away is the way players like Strickland and Bullock physically looked. Aside from that the slow start is not really a concern. When the time came UNC dropped the hammer and won by 42. There is another scrimmage(on Sunday) and two weeks more of practice before Michigan St. At that point we will see more of the second half version of this team than the first half one.