#12 North Carolina vs Oakland, 9:00 PM, RSN
After a tumultuous summer of drugs arrests, rental cars and who knows what else, the Tar Heel open the season against Oakland. With the status of P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald still in the air, the Heels will go into this game very thin on the wing and without much in the way of three point shooting. That might not matter as much in this game but it is still a grave concern for as long as these two players are missing from the lineup.
Still, Roy Williams has to play the hand that's been dealt to him which puts a great deal of pressure on Marcus Paige and James Michael McAdoo. Paige, who struggled shooting the ball last season, will be pressed into service as the starting wing guard by the absence of Hairston and McDonald. This move means Paige will need to improve on his three point shooting from his freshmen season in order to give the Tar Heels some semblance of a perimeter defense.
McAdoo will finally return to the four spot after spending much of last season playing the five. Being able to focus exclusively on playing power forward should help McAdoo be more productive. Ball handling and some of the passing in traffic will be a concern. Outside of those areas if McAdoo can be productive offensively and carry the team to some extent, it could serve to mitigate the loss of Hairston and McDonald. McAdoo knows, as does everyone else who's been paying attention, that this season is tantamount to a "contract year" in the NBA. He needs a solid season to improve his draft stock which currently has him sitting late in the first round on the early mock drafts.
Apart from the obvious offensive options much attention will be on J.P. Tokoto and whether he can shoot the ball well enough from the wing forward position to be effective. There is no doubt Tokoto is tremendous athlete who can use his skills to be an effective rebounder and defender. But it is his offense UNC really needs to weather the current personnel crisis. Likewise Nate Britt will be thrust into the starting point guard position much the same way Paige was a year ago. Britt assumed he would backup Paige and give a little leeway to learn. The NCAA mess has taken that option away for now meaning Britt will need to grow up a little faster then everyone thought.
The other remaining question is who will start at center. Joel James did during the exhibition versus UNC Pembroke. Kennedy Meeks has been better in both the Late Night with Roy scrimmage and the exhibition last week. Meeks is more polished but James is a tad more experienced and probably has a better grasp of the system. Knowing Williams tends to lean towards the more experienced player, James starting would not be a surprise.
Looking at Oakland, the Grizzilies return four of their top five scorers from a team that went 16-17 in 2012-13. Travis Bader led Oakland in scoring with 22.5 ppg and shot 39% from three. Bader's backcourt mate, Duke Mondy, led the team in assists with 5.1 per game and was third in scoring at 12 ppg. Oakland does have some size in 6-10 Corey Petros, the team's leading rebounder and second leading scorer a year ago. Overall this is an experienced team with five seniors that will be looking to improve off a less than stellar campaign last season. In 2013, the Grizzlies were 316th in defensive efficiency, 347th in effective FG defense and allowed teams to shoot a whopping 58.5% from inside the arc. Offensively, the Grizzlies were decent at 97th in offensive efficiency while doing a good job taking care of the ball as their 17.1% TO rate indicated.
Given what Oakland returns, there should be a modest improvement on these numbers from last season which means the Grizzlies aren't necessarily an easy out. If UNC had its full personnel on the court, that concern would be minimized but the lack of three point shooting and some question marks about where the offense is going to come from outside of McAdoo and possibly Paige makes this game a little more precarious than perhaps it should be. On the defensive end, the lack of wing players raises some questions of if the Tar Heels can effectively guard a scorer like Bader, especially with the new fouls rules in effect. UNC should win and probably will by a comfortable margin which is all you can ask for at this point.
UNC 82 Oakland 66