UNC Basketball: 3 Positives and Negatives from Tar Heels' Season Opener
The 13th-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels defeated the Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs 76-59 Friday night in their season opener at the Dean E. Smith Center.
The game gave UNC fans their first glance at a team that lost four first-round draft picks to the NBA and is looking to reload with a solid core of returning players and a talented, but raw freshman class.
Although not a team one would say is to be "reckoned with," the Gardner-Webb Bulldogs were a competitive opponent for the Tar Heels and gave them a closer game than what a lot of us probably expected.
There were some plays that made Carolina fans cheer. And there were others that showed the true youth of this squad and left us rubbing our eyes in frustration.
The following lists six examples of said play.
Positive No. 1: James Michael McAdoo Played Like a Future Lottery Pick
It wasn't his 26-point, 14-rebound stat line alone that made him look like a man among boys. Nor was it that he was playing against a much smaller, less talented Gardner-Webb team.
It was how he got those numbers and how he exposed his less formidable opposition by simply working harder.
James Michael McAdoo consistently defeated double-teams to put himself in the best position to be effective and grabbed eight offensive rebounds.
He shot 10-of-20 from the field and looked like a guy who was simply at another level of talent and work ethic, none of which had anything to do with playing against just another Big South team.
McAdoo did Carolina fans a huge favor by returning for his sophomore season. If he maintains this intensity and level of play, he'll be doing another.
Negative No. 1: Free-Throw Shooting
What some would consider a decent field-goal percentage, 47.4 percent (9-19), Carolina shot from the free-throw line.
Alas, the free-throw shooting woes from last year appear to be back this year.
Let's hope the Tar Heels shoot better than last season's 68 percent (226th in the country), but there's little evidence to support that they will.
Desmond Hubert will (probably) be a worse free-throw shooter than John Henson was his first two years. Hubert shot 1-of-13 last year. After Friday night, he is 1-of-15 in his career at Carolina.
Henson shot a combined 45 percent from the line in his first two years at Carolina, a percentage that at this point Hubert (and Carolina fans) would be happy with.
McAdoo shot 6-of-11, which is respectable for a power forward, but with as many times as he's going to be sent to the line, he needs to be able to convert consistently.
The free-throw stat line may be a little skewed since the only guard to shoot free throws was Dexter Strickland (3-4). But, nevertheless, Carolina can't be a liability at the free-throw line, regardless of who's shooting them.
Positive No. 2: This Freshmen Class Is Solid
Throughout the summer we heard how this freshman class wasn't necessarily a top-tier group, but they were certainly a talented, hard-working bunch.
Friday that was on full display.
Marcus Paige showed some growing pains with his 3-of-9 shooting, zero assists and four turnovers. But he played great defense (two steals) and actually played pretty well overall. He's the freshman Carolina fans should least worry about, despite this apparent "bad game."
Brice Johnson and Joel James surprised a lot of people with their pace and tenacity on the glass. Johnson had some impressive post moves that made him look light years ahead of where John Henson was his freshman year.
He finished with six points and five rebounds. James added six points and four rebounds, but was limited by foul trouble.
J.P. Tokoto had a fast break where the collective anticipation of the Carolina crowd could be felt. But I think I speak for all UNC fans when I say it was an all-but disappointing dunk (just a measly two-hander—I was expecting at least a 360).
He finished with six points and two rebounds.
Negative No. 2: Foul Trouble
After watching and reading about Joel James all summer, I was convinced that he could make as big an impact as any of the freshmen.
I still think that way after after seeing him in the exhibition game and Friday night. But the the biggest issue with James is and has been foul trouble.
James picked up a second foul still relatively early in the first half. With his size, it's as easy for him to commit fouls as it is for him to draw them—he has to remember that. He finished with four fouls.
Hubert also battled foul trouble throughout the game. Carolina lacks noticeable depth up front, so one post player in foul trouble can put the whole team in jeopardy.
Even though Carolina gathering only 11 team fouls isn't a cause for concern, who they were called against is.
Positive No. 3: Poise
Despite there being times when Carolina made a sloppy play or tried to create something that wasn't there, for the most part, they looked patient and didn't let the offense get (too far) away from them.
Eighteen turnovers won't win you many games against the upper-level competition on UNC's schedule, but not seeing a bunch of forced threes was a big-time relief.
Carolina did shoot abysmally from the arc (1-of-12). But for a team comprised of three-point specialists Reggie Bullock, Leslie McDonald, Marcus Paige and (dare I say) P.J. Hairston, they looked inside early and often and didn't settle for the first jump shot that became available.
Most of their attempts, which were good looks, came after Carolina had a comfortable lead. That can be a bad habit to get into, yes, but better to try your luck with a lead than the alternative.
Hairston, who accounted for five of those missed threes, is still struggling to find his shot. Bullock had the only make.
Negative No. 3: That Three-Point Shooting
It's been the biggest blip on the UNC worry-radar since Carolina fans knew what they were losing with the NBA draft entrees.
Forgive the incredibly overused pun, but three-point shooting will be the Achilles' heel of North Carolina this season—more so this year than perhaps any other under Roy Williams.
It's positive that UNC was selective in its outside shooting, but the number of misses that came from those shots remains a negative.
Bullock, McDonald, Paige and Hairston are renowned shooters. The front line simply can't produce enough offense against a would-be better team to counter a poor three-point shooting performance like Friday night, or, to nitpick, anything under 30 percent.
UNC will go as far as their perimeter shooting goes. It's almost safe to assume they won't win many, if any, conference games if they shoot under that 30 percent mark from three.
Shooting eight percent from behind the arc probably won't happen again. But shooting cold from downtown probably will, and, like foul trouble for the bigs, is something that UNC can ill afford if it wants to have an above-average season.