Let me go ahead and toss this disclaimer out upfront: It was only Barton. Everything we saw tonight obviously must be taken with a tad of reservation. Adam Lucas and Jones Angel pointed out that UNC throttled Belmont-Abbey by 48 in last season's exhibition. In my opinion it is not so much about the point total or deficit as it is the aesthetics. Just for fun check out what I wrote about the exhibition last year. Yes, I was dead wrong about Marcus Ginyard(and Jon Scheyer, ugh!) In short I thought the offense was a mess at this point a year ago and openly questioned whether UNC would have any meaningful three point shooting all season. Unfortunately I got that one right. The reason I bring up last season is despite UNC winning by almost the same margin and score this season as they did over Belmont-Abbey last season, what I saw versus Barton was vastly different.
There was much better offensive execution in this game versus a year ago. I think you can chalk that up to having players who understood the system but also to a smaller rotation. There were still kinks, especially when the personnel rotations put odd combinations on the floor. The two most noteworthy aspects of the offense were the 28 assists on 40 FGs led by Kendall Marshall's nine dimes. Dexter Strickland had six assists and Larry Drew had four. That is 19 assists from the Drew/Strickland/Marshall combination which is precisely what you want to see. A huge part of those assist totals was the execution of the fast break which looked very good. Tyler Zeller seems to fly up and down the floor catching passes from Marshall like T.J. Yates to Dwight Jones. Yes, I know it is Barton but if you cannot execute versus a Division II school then what hope do you have? The other positive on the offensive side was 7-18 from three point range. It could stand to be a little higher and it will be when Harrison Barnes is not shooting 0-4 from beyond the arc. Five different Heels hit threes with Strickland and Drew hitting a pair each.
On the defensive end, UNC obviously was more than a match for Barton in terms of athleticism and size so I am not going to get too excited about eight blocks. UNC did bring the intensity on the defensive end. Overall they were very active on and off the ball. Tar Heel players did a great job using their feet and keeping their hands out bothering the Barton players. We saw some overplay of the passing lanes which speaks to effort and intensity. The press still sucks. Barton broke it with relative ease so I think Roy needs to stick that in a drawer and never speak of it again. UNC players also appeared to be late closing half court traps in some instances. I am going to chalk that up to the learning curve but that must improve since trapping in the backcourt corner is a key part of UNC's defensive philosophy. UNC collected 73% of defensive rebounds but again the size factor makes that more likely.
Here are some quick impressions of individual players:
Tyler Zeller: Led the team in scoring with 25 and looked very comfortable in the post. The opposition's size matters here but Zeller looked good scoring in the half court set and on the break. On defense Zeller blocked four shots and even took a charge. One negative is only collecting five boards which seems low considering his size.
John Henson: Posted a double-double with 10 points, 11 rebounds while blocking three shots. If that is Henson's standard line we will all be very happy. Henson's freaky length makes grabbing rebounds easy. Henson looks bigger but is still going to have his issue versus opposing big men with bulk. Free throw shooting is still and issue for Henson and there were times when he made some inexplicable plays.
Harrison Barnes: He'd probably tell you it was the worst game of his life. Barnes had seven points, five rebs, six TOs and four fouls. The only other Tar Heel to post more than one TO was Strickland who had two. Barnes was simply pressing too much and shot poorly. At times he was forcing shots, especially as his frustration mounted. What does it mean? Should we all freak out over this lackluster performance. Negative ghost rider. It was just a fluke bad game for Barnes. Believe it or not he is capable of getting nervous and that was probably the case here. As much as he tries to shutout the noise, he has to feel the pressure to carry this team. In that respect he probably did not let the game unfold for him like he should have. The good news is Barnes was able to witness his teammates carrying the load to the point he can trust them instead of feeling the pressure to do it all himself. It also helps the rest of the Tar Heel realize there are a lot of good parts on this team. Once they are start gelling together it will be fun to watch.
Dexter Strickland: It looks like Strickland found control, poise and his speed during the offseason. All three were on display as well as a nice three point shot. Strickland had 12 points, six assists and two steals. He also apparently leans back when he shoots his perimeter shots now which is weird but it goes in. Strickland has that one man fastbreak capability. That is what speed gives you and Strickland has it enough so to put some pressure on opposing defenses.
Larry Drew: Three first half fouls limited Drew's playing time and opened the door for Kendall Marshall who everyone will be talking about tomorrow. Drew played well despite a limited stat line. Aside from forcing a couple of passes, Drew played in control with just the one turnover vs four assists and two made threes. Make no mistake, Marshall will end up pushing Drew but overall there was nothing in the way the junior PG played in this game that makes me want to gouge my eyes out unlike some games last season.
Kendall Marshall: Nine assists in 18 minutes. I really could stop there. Marshall's floor vision and ability to deliver passes is off the wall insane. This is a player who simply knows where people are at any given time. He is also player who sees passing lanes where they may not be one then delivering the pass perfectly. Whether it is threading the needle, throwing over top of the transition defense or dropping the ball off after a couple of fakes, Marshall is the very definition of a passing point guard. The knock on Marshall, especially when you compare him to Drew, is he does not shoot the ball well, if at all. Marshall only had two FG attempts versus Barton. In other words, Drew and Marshall both give you solid options to run the offense with Drew being a more capable scorer than Marshall. The bottom line is these two will push each other and that can only be a good thing for the team.
Reggie Bullock: The first half was a struggle. Bullock looked timid and was probably a little nervous. In the second half he appeared to settle down. Bullock showed his three point range, was very active on defense and ran the break well. I also liked the fact Bullock would follow his own shot and others as well. Some shooters take the shot and watch it. Bullock shoots a three but then goes looking for the rebound. That kind of effort cannot be underscored enough. It is little things like that which make a huge difference in games down the line. It is also an attitude, which was lacking a year ago, but appears to be shared by many this season.
Leslie McDonald: Looked comfortable and ready to provide productive minutes. McDonald had 12 points, hit a three and played well in general. It was not the type of play which stands out as much as it was McDonald playing solid minutes. If McDonald can be counted on the score when the opportunity arises and played good defense, he will undoubtedly be a huge part of this team.
Justin Knox: When Knox first entered the game he was pretty much the only true big man on the court. He posted up twice and lost the ball both times before catching a Marshall pass for a dunk. You get the impression Knox is still getting a feel for his role on this team. There is little doubt he will get there. Knox is a strong player giving the Heels a solid physical presence on the blocks. Knox ended up with eight points and three rebounds in 17 minutes.
Justin Watts: Obviously with Watts' past performances it is very easy to attach the "it was only Barton" to his 13 point night. And you would be right to do so because Watts simply does not have the history to say his performance versus a Division II Barton team is anything to write home about. That being said, I now understand why Watts is being plugged into the PF slot. The kid can flat out jump in that pogo stick sort of way. Watts show some athleticism which helped him collect five rebounds, three of those offensive. Can Watts keep it up? I have no idea and of all the Tar Heels who played well tonight, Watts is going to have more wary eyes cast at him than anyone else. Wait and see will be the order of the day until Watts has a night like this against someone who matter. Again, that is the correct way to look at it. However, Watts' role is very much one where he comes in and does little things. His vertical and experience in the system means he is capable of doing some good things in limited minutes. If he does half or even a quarter of what he did tonight, it will be a bonus for this team.
I will repeat again, this was only an exhibition against Division II Barton who is not even ranked in the DII Top 25. UNC was expected to win big and look fairly good in the process. In other words UNC met expectations which is important. After last season, having the confidence that you executed well, even if it was Barton, matters a great deal. If you have any designs on beating ACC teams you should be executing vs the exhibition sacrificial lamb. The Heels did exactly that which is all they needed to do. There is still work to do which is true of everyone. However this team looks like it is at a good place in their development and that is all I can ask at this point.
Update: Clearly it is exhibition season for me too since I got the score totally wrong in the title. I think I cross it up with last season's exhibition or something. Carry on.