While Hairston has still not been cleared to play, the Tar Heels opened their 2013-14 season with a convincing 84-61 victory over Oakland.
With the inclusion of Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pitt, the ACC will be a treacherous journey for every team in the conference.
Here are five vital areas that Carolina needs to address if they are going to improve in 2013-14.
When North Carolina does not get to the free-throw line much, they are setting themselves up for failure.
Last year, very few college basketball teams utilized the free-throw line less than the Tar Heels. Their 28.2 free-throw rate (the ratio of free-throw attempts to field-goal attempts) put them at No. 334 in the nation. Even worse, they only scored 16 percent of their points from the charity stripe (No. 336).
What a difference a year makes!
Because there are not too many hands in your face at the stripe, the free-throw line is the easiest place to put points on the board. Also, if you are going to the line, you are getting your opponent into foul trouble. When that happens, the opposing head coach has to pull back his players from applying intense defensive pressure.
Sophomore guard Marcus Paige only shot 61 free throws all of last year. Whether he is running the point or playing off the ball this year, he needs to set the tone for getting into the lane and drawing fouls.
Whether North Carolina gets to the line more often or not this year, they still need to hit more of their free throws. In 2012-13, the Tar Heels only dropped 67.5 percent of their attempts (No. 232 in the nation).
A team that wants to compete for an ACC championship and beyond has to take better advantage of their freebies.
The UNC player who needs sharpen his shooting from the line the most is James Michael McAdoo. Last year, McAdoo shot 26 percent of Carolina's free throws (173 of 655), but only connected on 57.8 percent.
His backup, Brice Johnson, did not do any better. He actually shot the same percentage (15 of 26). Just think of the handfuls of points they are forfeiting by not knocking down the easiest way to score points.
Apparently, turning the page to this season did not change anything in the first game.
Even though the Heels handily beat Oakland by 23 points in their opener, they still only shot 65 percent from the line.
Getting a hand in the face of your opponents' three-point shooters is not a luxury. It is a necessity.
Giving teams open looks from beyond the arc is a recipe for disaster. Last year, UNC's opponents shot 34.6 percent from beyond the arc (No. 220 in the nation).
For comparison, Duke led the ACC in three-point defense with 29 percent.
If you look at the box scores of North Carolina's 2012-13 losses, you can see a definite pattern of poor performance in three-point defense. In several of the games they lost in the ACC, their opponents shot better than 50 percent from downtown.
The Tar Heels did a decent job of holding Oakland to 32 percent (8-of-25) three-point shooting in their season opener. They need to tighten that up further as they play better-shooting teams in the near future.
Two years ago, North Carolina's frontline (Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes and John Henson) was college basketball's gold standard. This Tar Heel trio consistently carried Carolina in scoring defense and rebounding.
Last year, Carolina head coach Roy Williams had to resort to playing small ball to utilize his perimeter talent, but also to cover for a lack of upfront talent. While UNC is not going to dominate the frontcourt like they did in 2011-12, there is a chance they will be more prepared in 2013-14 to play power basketball again.
James Michael McAdoo is the key to this emergence. He has all of the tools to be a 20/10 guy, but he has to consistently bring the effort and intensity to pull that off.
Small forward is being covered by J.P. Tokoto for now. If or when P.J. Hairston is cleared to play, the assumption is that he will be instantly inserted into the starting lineup.
The combinations and possibilities are numerous. It is hard to come up with another team that has as many quality 3s, 4s and 5s to deploy. The actual results from the UNC bigs will be determined through their in-game execution.
Good programs do more than win games at home against teams they are supposed to beat.
They take care of business on the road and take down a good percentage of the ranked teams on their schedules.
North Carolina was a strong 14-2 at the Smith Center in 2012-13, with a 14.2 PPG margin of victory. However, they were an uninspired 11-9 in away games.
The games where the Heels struggled the most were the true road contests. They were 7-6 on their opponents' home courts and they were blown out in half of those losses. The Tar Heels were also 1-6 against teams that were ranked in the AP Top 25.
The only game they won against a ranked team was a late-December home contest against UNLV.
If UNC is going to be a legitimate team that challenges for the ACC title and makes a deep run in the NCAA tournament, road wins and victories against ranked teams have to be on their 2013-14 "to-do list."