The North Carolina Tar Heels would like to inform you that they will be shooting the ball this season. And these shots will be falling, so you'd best prepare.
That's the story their trying to tell in Puerto Rico, anyway. After a middling debut against Lipscomb that was pretty reminiscent of last year – poor outside shooting and more turnovers than you'd like – Carolina came out tonight and started draining shots left and right. They finished 12 for 17 from behind the arc, draining more threes and at a higher percentage than any game last season, and what they didn't hit they generally put back for a second shot. Larry Drew was the only player outside the walk-ons to finish below .500 from the field, and he compensated with six assists. That's second to Kendall Marshall's nine, if you want to start a point guard controversy.
This team doesn't seem to want to start any controversies at all, however. They looked incredibly relaxed on the court, and unlike last season willing to slow it down rather than force something that isn't there. It's a benefit of having good shooting from the field; you can handle defensive sets better, and be patient enough to find the open man. (The Heels' 29 assists were also a total matched only once last season.) This lack of panic extends to defense as well. UNC seems more than willing, at least against the lesser-talented teams they've faced so far, to let the big playmakers have their game and just shut everyone else down. Against Lipscomb that was Josh Slater, leading his team in every statistical category and scoring a third of their points. With Hofstra it was guards Charles Jenkins and Mike Moore outscoring the rest of their team 39 to 14. All of these performers have been guards, not something I would have expected with Carolina's lack of depth inside. It's too early to tell whether this is just a function of playing small teams, or it will carryover to the Heels' bigger opponents.
As for individual performances, what is there to say? Harrison Barnes led the team with 19 points, scoring in double digits for his second straight game, and pulled down seven rebounds. John Henson is a rebounding machine, pulling down 11 (7 offensive) to go with the 17 he had last week; he may obliterate some records before the season is up. Tyler Zeller continues to quietly get his points and change the flow of the game with his presence inside, and Justin Watts repeated his performance from the exhibition game, going a perfect 6 of 6 from the floor and getting a nice late-game block with a jump you don't usually expect from someone of his height. The trio of young outside shooters in Strickland, McDonald and Bullock were a combined 11 of 18. It's amazing what a little confidence will do.
I've tried very hard to tamp down my expectations for this team, and I really don't want to draw conclusions from games against Lipscomb and Hofstra. (Especially since the Lipscomb game wasn't very good.) But for the first time since the championship team, watching a Carolina game was fun. There was no pit in my stomach, no anticipation of disaster. Here's to more games like this moving forward.