North Carolina vs NC Central, 8:00 PM, ESPNU
Now it begins.
The Tar Heels open up the 2014-15 season hosting nearby North Carolina Central which is coming of its best season in school history. Last season the Eagles won 28 games, the MEAC Championship and lost to Iowa State in the 2nd Round of the NCAA Tournament avoiding a match-up with the Heels. The 2013-14 version of the Eagles was senior laden squad and now enters a bit of a rebuilding phase.
NCCU returns just one starter from last season, 6-8 forward Karamo Jawara. The senior forward posted an offensive rating of 122.3 last season making 56% of his two point attempts and shooting 73% from the free throw line. While not a consistent perimeter threat, Jawara went 11-37 from three. In addition to Jawara, NCCU will rely on 6-7 Jordan Parks who came off the bench last season. Parks led the team in FG% making 65% of his two point shots and had an offensive rating of 125.6. Parks was a solid rebounder a year go with a 14.6% offensive rebounding rate and block rate of 6.9%.
While NCCU did not depend heavily on three point shooting a year ago(just 29% of all field goals attempted) what the Eagles did have left with the departing seniors. Jawara's 37 attempts and Dante Holmes 27 shots from three make the pair the top two returning perimeter shooters for NCCU. This is an obvious area of concern for Levelle Moton heading into the season as the Eagles will need other players to step up to fill the scoring void on the perimeter. Part of that answer could be guard Nimrod Hilliard, a transfer from Lamar, who put up 14.1 ppg and 4.8 apg last season for the 4-26 Cardinals. Hilliard shot 35% from three on 123 attempts, 47% from two and shot 75% from the free throw line.
Despite the personnel turnover, the expectation is NC Central will still be a tough test for the Tar Heels. Levelle Moton is a highly respected coach who does an outstanding job preparing his teams. The Eagles won't be intimidated playing in the Dean Dome and UNC can't afford to take NCCU lightly. UNC's first three games of the season come against teams that each won at least 20 games last season. While there is no guarantee those teams will play at that same level this season, this schedule is not one where the Tar Heels simply ease into the season.
The fact UNC has played two exhibition games should help alleviate some of the opening game jitters, particularly for the freshmen. The trio of Justin Jackson, Theo Pinson and Joel Berry have been through the game routine before. The caliber of competition was much lower than what UNC will face in this game but simply getting the experience out of the way should make the season opener easier. Another factor in UNC's favor is the general experience of the rest of the team. Marcus Paige, J.P. Tokoto, Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks are well aware of the issues UNC had last season in starting games well and playing with consistent intensity. This game should be a fair test of how well those lessons were internalized. Roy Williams' teams gel as the season hits the more critical point however that doesn't mean UNC shouldn't take care of business here.
UNC 90 NCCU 66