Let’s get this out of the way: yes, UNC’s beating of Elizabeth City State was an exhibition game, and there are some things that happened in the game that will likely look a lot better once the regular season starts (or worse, who knows). However, what we saw tonight against ESCU was a different, more efficient Carolina team, and if you remember the early games from last year, you too would take a moment to appreciate what they were able to do on the court regardless of who the opponent was.
ECSU also deserves some credit, because they didn’t let UNC get anything easy in the first half. They opened the game in a 1-3-1 defense, which made the Heels move the ball around until they could find a good shot either on the perimeter, or in the paint. Armando Bacot was the recipient of a few lobs early on, with two alley-oop dunks taking place back to back. Bacot carried much of the weight in the first half, despite the more modernized system that Hubert Davis is running. He finished the half 5-6 from the field for 12 points, and also pulled down five rebounds.
Two other players that shined in the first half are transfers Dawson Garcia and Brady Manek. Both players finished the half with eight points apiece, and Garcia was able to knock down a pair of three-pointers. We saw Garcia start over Manek tonight, but after watching how both players performed for the entire game, it wouldn’t surprise me if we see Manek start occasionally. That is of course not to take anything away from Garcia, though, as he finished the game with 17 points and five rebounds. However, Manek was able to almost match those stats exactly, finishing the game with 16 points and five boards. Having watched footage of both players when they were at their respective schools, these two seem to be fitting into Hubert Davis’ system very well, and they should have a lot of success once the regular season starts.
Another player worth highlighting in this game was RJ Davis, who played maybe the best game I’ve seen him play in a Carolina uniform. He started the game at the shooting guard position, but he ended up running point a lot as the game progressed. He was excellent at pushing the pace, made some really impressive passes, and went 5-8 from the field. Caleb Love also looked better at the point guard position, but wasn’t as efficient with his shot. He made two of his seven shots tonight, with both of them coming from the three-point line. While things weren’t always incredibly clean tonight, it is clear that these two guys are ready to take a step forward this season. I hope they are ready, because the opening stretch of the season is as tough as it gets.
Finally, let’s talk about a few key stats. UNC finished the game with 49 rebounds to ECSU’s 28, which isn’t terribly surprising considering how much bigger/more athletic the Heels are. However, for now we can say that rebounding hasn’t suffered in this one-in-four-out scheme of offense, but I am interested in seeing how this works out against teams that play less zone defense than ECSU did. The Heels also had 15 turnovers, which was a mixed bag of bad passes, some carelessness, and some good defense from Elizabeth City. Hopefully this gets cleaned up as soon as possible, because that is a trend from the last couple of seasons that doesn’t need to haunt the current roster. Finally, the Heels finished the game making 43% of their shots from the field, and 39% from the three-point line. The second half was more efficient than the first half, as they made 46% of their shots in the final 20 minutes compared to 40% in the first. Three-point shooting was also much improved in the second half, as the Heels made 45% of their shots from deep to close things out.
All and all, this game had a lot of good, bad, and ugly, but an exhibition game is an exhibition game. Next up on the schedule is Loyola (MD) at the Dean Smith Center this coming Tuesday at 7:00pm on the ACC Network.