Generally, you don't want to make news at your exhibition games. Especially if you're Carolina, because that news will almost certainly be bad. It could be a season-ending injury perhaps, or a final score much closer than is to be expected given the level of competition. Better to just play an uneventful game, keep your head low and not reveal too much as you stay out of the headlines.
Of course, that wasn't going to be the case this season. The combination of people wanting any sign that last year was an aberration plus the debut of possibly the most highly anticipated freshman in close to thirty years would do that. On a slow Friday night, this was going to hit the papers.
So what does it say that the first name mentioned in the N&O write-up was Justin Watts? Watts filed the spot left vacant by Will Graves' departure, being the first man off the bench en route to a 13 point, 3 assist performance. Watts outscored all of the freshmen and sophomores, stealing the spotlight away from a nervous, unsettled performance from Harrison Barnes. A lot of folks will be chalking Watts' play up to the weakness of the exhibition opposition, but keep in mind, he's been around fighting for playing time for two years, on a team that never really found a position for him. He knows this style of play and has the talent to make an impact; that you saw him take the floor before Justin Knox at the four position despite giving up a full five inches to the Alabama transfer says something about the kind of game he can play.
Post play is always the hardest to judge in these sort of games. Barton has one player taller than 6'6", so it would be a shock if Tyler Zeller and John Henson didn't have impressive games. They did, putting up 25 and 10 points, respectively, while Henson also chipped in 11 rebounds. Judgement will be reserved until stiffer competition is encountered, however. Guard play is more worthy of your attention in these sorts of matches, and with Larry Drew sidelined with three fouls early, Kendall Marshall got plenty of floor time, which he used to rack up nine assists in eighteen minutes. With that type of play, a lot of preseason profiles about weakness at the point are going to be outdated extremely quickly. Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland also had good shooting nights, both scoring 12 points and getting 5 rebounds apiece.
After all this, we're still in the dark about how UNC is going to perform this season. They'' be quick, and they evidently won't be afraid to go small, unsurprisingly. Other than that, we'll have to wait until real competition to see how this team reacts. This was much better than making news, though, which is a nice start.