In the Roy Williams era, season openers have been, shall we say, questionable propositions. Because Williams' teams follow a steady development progression as the season moves forward, the early games can be ugly at times. That was the case tonight as the Tar Heels took the floor for the first official game of the season and knocked off Gardner-Webb 76-59.
Overall there were plenty of positives and clear signs of potential. The foremost on that list is James Michael McAdoo who was as advertised with 26 points and 14 rebounds. Eight of those boards came on the offensive end. McAdoo was extremely active and showcased a variety of offensive skills and was effective on defense. Dexter Strickland, seeing his first action since last January in Blacksburg, scored 13 points and had three assists and three steals. Strickland appeared to be a step slow early in the game before showing his speed in the second half and scoring at the rim in traffic. McAdoo and Strickland were the only two players in double figures on the evening.
The rest of the scoring came from multiple sources. Reggie Bullock, who Roy Williams said was "unselfish to a fault" only had five points but grabbed nine rebounds and registered three steals. This fits very much with the kind of player Bullock can be in doing a lot of different things to help the team. The fact he only took four shots is a point of contention since he should be doing more. Bullock's fellow upperclassmen Leslie McDonald and P.J. Hairston had very quiet evenings. Hairston missed all five of his three point attempts and only scored two points. His effort was very good and Hairston made some solid defensive plays despite his offensive struggles. Likewise McDonald simply could not get on track offensively with only four points 2-6 shooting. Desmond Hubert started the game at center but did not start the 2nd half there. He struggled in every aspect of the game save one impressive block. I cannot imagine he continues to start at center seeing how well the freshmen played.
Speaking of which, all four had solid debuts. Joel James and Brice Johnson combined for 12 points and nine rebounds in 26 minutes of play. Marcus Paige appeared to manage the game competently but did commit four turnovers and had zero assists. Paige did score six and had a couple of steals but obviously will need to be better in the standard point guard aspects of the game. J.P. Tokoto was probably the biggest surprise of the evening scoring six points and scoring two baskets going to the rack, absorbing contact then scoring. Overall the freshman contributed 24 points while looking comfortable. There did not seem to be signs of nervousness and at the very least they got off on the right foot.
In terms of negatives, it should be noted that nothing seen tonight struck me as a season breaker. Yes, the offense is prone to rough patches as everyone struggles to adapt to new roles. The Heels were sloppy committing 18 turnovers against a team that wasn't necessarily bringing much defensive pressure. The defensive end was decent though some of those infamous "runouts" at open three point shooters was seen throughout the evening. For the most part UNC did a good job establishing control of the game opening up a double digit advantage but then allowed the Bulldogs to hang around a bit. That is the difference between a team at an early stage of development and one that has a year or two under its belt. A more experienced team would have turn a 12 point lead into a full blown rout. Younger teams simply don't do that as well.
Overall, there was nothing seen tonight that can't be fixed as the team grows and gets some experience. That means there will be some rough games ahead, especially when the level of competition increases. However this teams seems to play with a lot of energy and at no point did I think effort was an issue. Focus and execution were in question but never the effort or the general attitude. In that respect they are already ahead of the 2010 team.