Well that was fun. North Carolina sent Northern Iowa away with a nice 86-69 defeat in the season opener. In reality, the final score doesn’t accurately reflect the way UNC dominated despite not having Joel Berry or Cam Johnson. (And, yes, it was only Northern Iowa). Luckily, we’re here to fill in those gaps.
Before anyone else hops on the Kenny Williams bandwagon, let’s be clear about something. This blog briefly mentioned that he was a player to watch in Joel’s absence. We went into more detail on our podcast. The Kenny WIlliams show is going to be a real thing.
WIlliams’ value comes from being able to do EVERYTHING well. He doesn’t have to be a primary scoring option or an ankle-breaking playmaker. Last night he finished with 10 points (2-4 from three), 5 assists, 3 steals, and an unknown amount of tipped balls and floor burns. Any signs of having two knee surgeries in 10 months were non-existent.
Most encouraging was his aggression and court awareness. Last year he was a solid 3-and-D player, often floating around the arc and occasionally mixing it up on the glass. Last night he actively attacked the rim seeking contact or to find an open teammate. That included a nifty behind the back assist to Luke Maye deep in the paint.
Possession is 9/10 of the Law
Seven turnovers. That’s it. Three of those came from freshman starter Garrison Brooks. Despite not really having a noticeable “go-to” point guard for most of the night, the Heels only gave the Panthers seven free possessions.
No, Northern Iowa was not an overly athletic team who terrorizes its opponents on defense. That doesn’t mean that the restraint shown by Jalek Felton, Seventh Woods, and Theo Pinson should be ignored. With just two turnovers between the trio, they ensured the Heels stayed in an offensive flow and limited Northern Iowa’s opportunities to keep the game the close.
Last season, it was clear that Pinson’s decision making suffered as he pressed a little too hard to make a play. Seventh had his share of freshman lapses, and Jalek will have his moments. Last night, they all played within themselves. The final score reflected that.
Small Ball Y’all?
The most pleasant surprise was the performance of the post players. Brandon Anderson already gave Luke Maye his credit, but Sterling Manley, Brandon Huffman, and Brooks all provided plenty of reasons for UNC fans to remain optimistic. In 41 combined minutes, Brooks (14/6), Manley (9/8), and Huffman (4/1) combined for 27 points and 15 rebounds on 10-14 shooting.
Surprisingly, Manley was the first post player off the bench. Considering he struggled with his conditioning throughout the pre-season, many expectd Huffman to be the first big man hear his name called. Roy even said, about Manley, after the game, “He’s probably had more perspiration over the last six weeks than he’s had in the last six years.” Manley rewarded the coaching staff’s faith with a near double-double in only 14 minutes. You can’t teach height, and at 6-11 Manley will continue to be a work in progress as he learns how to use his body.
The production of the post players will ebb and flow depending on the talent level of the opponents, but it was a solid first outing. If they can provide a consistent level of production, the small ball many of us expect may not be as common as we thought/hoped. It will still happen, but may likely be more dependent on match-ups instead of necessity. Time will tell.