Obviously there is only so much you can glean from a game against a Division II school. Add to that UNC playing without three players including P.J. Hairston, you get a team that could get out of sorts at times. Still, there is probably some reasons to be encouraged rather than discouraged by this game, mainly because this very much looked like a team that was simply missing a key cog. Add that cog to the mix and I think they can be very good.
The starters for this game were Nate Britt, Marcus Paige, James Michael McAdoo, Brice Johnson and Joel James. That put McAdoo at the three but in essence this unit played like it had three big men on the court. Outside of one three point attempt late in the second half McAdoo operated towards the interior as did Johnson and James. Britt ran the point for the most part and Paige was the wing guard. However, it is unclear how effective Paige can be in that position, at least on this first viewing.
The Heels opened up a 20+ point lead in the first half despite being a little awkward with the spacing and the rebounding not quite being as good as it could be. In the second half, UNC was just plain sloppy throwing several ill-advised passes, turning the ball over without much defensive pressure and generally executing poorly. At the same time, the Braves got their legs under them a bit and the result was the lead being whittled down to seven. UNC then reasserted control on back-to-back baskets from McAdoo and opened the lead back up over the course of the final minutes to win 82-63.
In terms of first impressions, there is a lot to like about Nate Britt. Obviously we don't know how he will fare against better competition but he at least looked the part of a Tar Heel point guard. Britt had five steals and dished out six assists versus two turnovers. It will be interesting to see how he develops. Kennedy Meeks was also solid albeit against a smaller team. He made the most of his 13 minutes scoring 11 points and grabbing six rebounds. His passing is as advertised and at one point threw a perfect 60-foot pass to a streaking Paige who then try to throw a behind the back pass to Johnson only to have it bounce off his foot. Meeks also showed some polish in his offensive game which some post moves and scoring. Isaiah Hicks had six points and six rebounds in 14 minutes. He seemed to be looking for his niche a bit but did have a nice drive and finish.
As for the "second" impressions i.e. the returning players, McAdoo played a solid game leading the way with 19 and pulling down 10 rebounds. For the most part his offensive game looked comfortable outside of handling the ball on the dribble. McAdoo scored in a variety of ways including one after contact. Johnson was great on the boards with ten rebounds but less so with his shot going 4-11. James was a non-factor in 16 minutes scoring only one basket. Desmond Hubert, at least by watching him play, looked less awkward than he did last season. Most notably he ran the court and followed up missed layup by Britt with a dunk. He tipped in another missed shot and ended up with eight points and six rebounds in only nine minutes. Oh and he hit two free throws. Yes, really. Hubert's offensive game still needs work but I think he might be effective as a rotation player in spots.Then there was Paige who was tough to get a read on because he was playing on the wing. Paige didn't shoot the ball as well as he needs to going 2-6 from three and 3-9 overall. Paige also committed five turnovers and it is possibly some of that stems from the total weirdness of how the offense operated with so many odd lineups on the floor.
As far as any concerns go, there are a few. While no one cares about how well a team plays versus a Division II school in an exhibition, poor play in areas is up for discussion because it comes versus a Division II school. First and foremost, is the turnovers and specifically the nine committed by McAdoo and Johnson. As was the case last season, any time McAdoo put the ball on the floor in traffic, it was an issue. Johnson on the other hand just had trouble holding onto the ball in general. There were three plays that come to mind where Johnson couldn't secure a pass to him in the post and the ball ended up going out of bounds. One of those instances, Johnson had his man isolated in the post with plenty of space and he lost the ball on one dribble. Related to this is the rebounding at times saw Tar Heel players not securing the ball with strength. It was too easily knocked away too often though all of those occurrences didn't necessarily result in UNC losing the basketball.
I am going to refrain from offering too many opinions about overall offensive and defensive execution because, again, the lineups were constantly strange. At one point the Tar Heel backcourt was Luke Davis and Wade Moody. It was clear not everyone was comfortable with their roles or the spacing. That makes things very difficult to judge plus whatever we see now is not going to be what this team is when Hairston, McDonald and Tokoto come back. That is probably why I think there is reason to be somewhat encouraged because adding a couple of three point shooters to the team tonight would have totally changed the dynamics on the offensive end. The spacing would have been better and at least the returning players would have been more comfortable in their positions. It also would have helped that 3-15 from beyond the arc.
One very pleasant surprise was the free throw shooting. If you watched the Late Night scrimmage, the free throw shooting was incredibly bad. Not the case tonight. UNC made its first twelve free throws and ended the game 23-27 from the charity stripe. The only complaint was McAdoo going 3-6 that included him failing to complete two three point plays. Otherwise, everyone shot it well from the free throw line. It remains to be seen if that continues but it was very nice to see after some of the struggles at the line a year ago.
By and large, I saw no discernible reason for UNC fans to set themselves on fire and run screaming into the street. It goes without saying that they really need the all the personnel to live up to the borderline top ten preseason ranking. Based on what transpired in the exhibition game, that is attainable assuming Hairston and McDonald return at a point to be useful. Even the addition of Tokoto in the lineup for the season opener should stabilize the lineup some with McAdoo moving back to the four.
One quick note on the officiating. I am not sure the new foul rules mattered as much as it would have otherwise mainly because Karl Hess was one of the officials. For all I know there would have been 42 fouls called by virtue of Hess being in the building. I did note a quick whistle on an arm bar in Meeks' back at one point, outside of that, most of the calls didn't seem unusual.