UNC Beat: At Last, Hoops

With an idle week for the North Carolina football team following their defeat of N.C. State and the official start of basketball season, I had a couple of options for this week’s post here at Inside The ACC:

  1. A somewhat tardy and ridiculously excessive over-analysis of the basketball team’s performance in “games that don’t matter:” a twenty-minute running clock scrimmage during Late Night With Roy and an exhibition contest against Shaw.
  2. A season preview for my brand-spanking-new Fantasy ACC Basketball team, which will demolish fellow ITA scribe Spencer Hardison and eight other poor folks.

As much as I would love to talk about the latter (and its suspicious lack of Tar Heels and inclusion of … ahem … players from other area schools), I figured it would be the least interesting subject for an audience. So, as much as it pains me to nitpick at two games that don’t count … let’s light this candle, as a preview to their real season opener against Gardner-Webb on Friday. Player by player, here’s my thoughts on what has been, beginning with the starters in North Carolina’s exhibition against Shaw.

Marcus Paige: Paige’s numbers against Shaw leave some room for concern. The freshman point guard expected to start this season made two of seven field goal attempts, with four misses on four attempts from beyond the arc. However, none of the shots were “bad looks,” and a couple were tantalizingly close to dropping before rimming out. As a lefty wearing number five, the shadow of Kendall Marshall will loom large at first. But with time, I think fans will be pleased with what Paige becomes.

Dexter Strickland: For a guy coming off a torn ACL, Strickland looked pretty good in the Shaw exhibition. He was kept out of the Late Night proceedings, and he seemed to be trying to find a flow for the better part of the game against Shaw. However, when big plays were needed to start a run for the Tar Heels, it was Strickland with a defensive stop, an assist, or a cut to the hoop to provide the lift. The timeliness of his good plays are certainly an encouraging sign, and hopefully there will be more to come.

Reggie Bullock: Bullock has struggled so far, but I think the Kinston native’s reputation absolves him of too much criticism or concern here. Moving on.

Desmond Hubert: Hubert started against Shaw, but didn’t particularly contribute in any noticeable way and ultimately finished the game with the walk-ons. There will definitely be minutes available for big men on this team with the absence of Tyler Zeller and John Henson, but Hubert didn’t make an overwhelming case in live action to merit getting the lion’s share of them. It will be interesting to see how the “fifth spot” in the starting lineup is filled moving forward. Will Roy stick with Hubert, consider a smaller lineup with Leslie McDonald or P.J. Hairston, or give the keys to a freshman like Joel James? I have an opinion on the matter, but I’m also not a Hall of Fame coach.

James Michael McAdoo: I do not envy James Michael McAdoo. The sophomore only started three games last season, but will be expected to lead this year’s North Carolina team. That’s plenty of pressure for any youngster, even when they don’t share the last name of one of the great players in school history. The preseason was a mixed bag for McAdoo, which is pretty fitting considering his freshman campaign. He struggled mightily in the Late Night scrimmage, but was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder against Shaw, with 16 points and eight rebounds. McAdoo will be expected by fans (and probably needed for the team) to turn in a whole lot of Shaws and very few Late Nights moving forward.

Bench guys: My tease about that fifth starting spot in the Hubert recap? Here’s my humble suggestion: Start Joel James. James was not as highly touted as fellow freshmen Paige, Johnson, and Tokoto, and for valid reason. James didn’t start playing basketball until his sophomore year of high school, and he weighed 315 pounds the first time Roy Williams watched him play. He has slimmed down to 260, which still makes him quite the formidable presence on the court with his 6’10” frame. He was expected to contribute defensively, but he showed great explosiveness and footwork against Shaw, scoring 13 points and grabbing seven rebounds off the bench. Yes, there were moments where he looked like the raw product he is: After one rebound, for instance, he far too easily lost the ball on a strip by a Shaw player running in from behind, and he was a brutal 1-for-6 on free throws. Once those moments are behind him, though, James will be an absolute force. Besides, he might be the best back-to-the-basket scorer on the team right now.

With that said, P.J. Hairston also made a strong case that shouldn’t be ignored. An actual quote from an actual radio interview with Roy Williams regarding P.J. Hairston. “He really is a big-time shooter. He just hasn’t been a big-time maker.” Fortunately, Hairston has been more of a big-time maker so far, knocking down four of his nine three-point attempts. He led scoring in the Late Night scrimmage with 12 points, and added another eight against Shaw.

Brice Johnson showed a pretty good scoring touch, which is good, because he is the new honorary Ed Davis-John Henson tall skinny dude. If he wants to score, it will have to be with finesse, because he’s not going to bully anyone. J.P. Tokoto has crazy hops, but you already knew that. Luke Davis, who transferred from none other than Gardner-Webb, UNC’s first opponent, looked pretty comfortable running the point off the bench as well.

So there you have it. Roughly 900 more words than you could possibly care to know about North Carolina Tar Heels basketball before the season even starts. Fortunately, analysis moving forward will be a lot more telling, because basketball season (and my destruction of Spencer Hardison and company) is here at last.

Zach Evans is brilliantZach Evans is a student at the University of North Carolina and a lifelong fan of the Tar Heels and follower of the ACC. Outside of the ACC, Zach is also a fan of the Atlanta Braves, the Carolina Hurricanes, the Carolina Panthers, and bad puns. He includes nailing the Final Four in his 2009 NCAA Tournament group and batting .000 during the 2011 intramural softball season among his crowning achievements. For more commentary, follow Zach on Twitter at @ztevans.

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