On Friday evening, fans will get their first glimpse at the new-look Tar Heels in action against the Barton College Bulldogs. This year’s exhibition will be uniquely interesting, as it will introduce many fans to eight new faces in the Tar Heel lineup, a potential look at what the starting lineup might be moving forward (without Joel Berry), and various lineup combinations that Coach Williams might tinker with (also without Joel Berry) throughout the early part of the schedule.
The Bulldogs will make the short drive over from Wilson on Friday to take on the defending National Champions in the Smith Center. Barton returns to Chapel Hill for the first time since 2010.
Coach Ron Lievense’s team is coming off a year in which they finished 20-10 overall and third place in the Conference Carolinas’ standings.
The Bulldogs are a relatively young squad, as they don't have any seniors on this year’s team (four seniors graduated from last year’s team). However, two of the team’s leading scorers return from the previous season, including the 2016-2017 Conference Carolinas’ Freshman of the Year, Michael Boykin (13.1 points per game). Another sophomore that will look to help Barton keep pace with the Tar Heels is Isaiah Buck-Lowman, who was the fourth leading scorer on last year’s team (11.0 points per game).
In order to hang with the Tar Heels on Friday evening, the Bulldogs will need to be active on the glass and limit their number of turnovers, in order to keep UNC from getting out on the break and scoring easy baskets.
Barton will have their work cut out for them dealing with the speed and athleticism of the Tar Heels. Also, the Bulldogs’ big men will have a tough task dealing with the size and length of UNC’s front court. Blake Burdock, freshman from Melbourne, Australia, is the tallest player on Barton’s team a six-foot-eight, and they lost their top four leading rebounders from last season.
Despite the difficult task that lies ahead, Coach Lievense’s team will look to learn from the experience of playing the defending National Champions on Friday and will certainly relish in the opportunity of playing in one of the most prestigious college basketball arenas in the country.
The defending National Champions return to action on Friday evening with a number of new additions and changes to the roster. Gone are Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, and Isaiah Hicks from the starting lineup, and also they will be without last year’s Final Four Most Outstanding Player, Joel Berry, who injured his hand this past week.
In their place are eight new players added to the roster, either by way of transfer or as incoming freshmen. The new additions to the roster that are most likely to have an impact on this year’s team are Cameron Johnson, Jalek Felton, and the trio of Brandon Huffman, Garrison Brooks, and Sterling Manley.
The two areas that fans will have their eyes on this Friday are at the point guard position and in the front court.
The exhibition game will give us an idea as to what the next few weeks might look like without the team’s leading scorer and leader, Berry. All indications are that either Seventh Woods, Jalek Felton, or even Theo Pinson will be called upon to fill the void left by Berry. Whoever gets the nod to take over the starting spot will not only be asked to replace nearly 15 points per game and the ability to effectively run Roy Williams’ offense, but that player will have to try and replicate the toughness, competitiveness, and leadership left behind in Berry’s absence.
The other area to pay particular attention to will be in the post. The new freshman trio of Brooks, Manley, and Huffman will be asked to grow up fast and play big roles throughout the season. In early season practices, reports are that there are certainly going to be some growing pains along the way as the three post players adjust to playing at the college level. Despite their inexperience, look for the Tar Heels and Coach Williams to feed the big men early and often in order to give them confidence in a game in which there appears to be a height advantage over Barton’s post players.
A couple of other areas to watch on Friday are:
- How does Kenny Williams look after a couple of leg injuries from last year and in the offseason?
- Have Seventh Woods and Brandon Robinson made significant improvements in their games in order to earn more playing time this season? All indications are that both players appear to have made big leaps forward in the offseason, and that the college game appears to be slowing down for them.
- Brooks looks to have a slight advantage over the other two freshman big men, so it will be interesting to see if he gets the start on Friday at the center position and how that positions’ minutes are split up.
- After knocking down one of the biggest shots in Carolina’s history and having such a strong run in the NCAA Tournament, can Luke Maye live up to the hype/expectations that have followed him around since last March?
- Friday’s scrimmage will give Coach Williams an opportunity to tinker/experiment with different rotations and lineup combinations, and might give us a glimpse into whether the team will play more often with a smaller, quicker lineup or go with their traditional lineup of three wings and two post players. There will be a lot of debate on this topic after Friday and going forward throughout the season.