At the under eight minute timeout in the first half of North Carolina's opening night game against Oakland, the score was 41-16 in favor of UNC. Viewers and fans could tell the game was all but over at that point, even with another half still to play.
The final score, if that type of information is relevant to you, ended up being 84-61. The thrashing and dominant win for North Carolina was pleasing but not without its worries. There are five pressing questions coming out of UNC's first game that must be addressed by coach Roy Williams before the team gets into the meat of its schedule near the beginning of December.
For game one, here is the lineup Roy Williams went with:
Point Guard Nate Britt
Shooting Guard Marcus Paige
Small Forward JP Tokoto
Power Forward James McAdoo
Center Joel James
Obviously with the suspensions of a couple of possible starting options in PJ Hairston and Leslie McDonald, Williams was forced to adjust. However, his choices seem worrisome if this is the direction he plans to move forward with.
Nate Britt can certainly play point guard in the ACC but is that something he should be doing from game one with Marcus Paige on this roster? Paige's shooting guard abilities are still up for debate, and if Britt does not feel comfortable having that responsibility moving forward, he shouldn't start. Against Oakland, the freshman PG only played 22 minutes. The score of the game made it impossible to tell what the reasoning was.
And why did Joel James garner game one starting duties over players with higher upside in Brice Johnson or rookie big men Kennedy Meeks or Isiah Hicks?
By the time UNC plays another couple games, it will be imperative that Coach Williams settles on a starting lineup he feels comfortable with. It will be surprising if this ends up being it though.
Last season, Roy Williams routinely tortured James Michael McAdoo by playing him at the five. He is not a center. This is certain. But that move was mostly out of necessity. The head coach did not trust many of his bigs, who were young and inexperienced.
Now, a year later, suddenly Williams may be flushed with big men he can count on. Against Oakland, this reared its head when UNC went with a fearsome big lineup with McAdoo at the small forward. Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson were both in the game as well. Suddenly, the versatile and talented McAdoo was playing on the edge, taking big men off the dribble and wreaking havoc with a few powerful dunks.
This lineup did force JMM to guard a wing player on defense but he held his own in this regard. And let's be honest, he was never a superior inside defender to begin with. Last season, McAdoo accumulated a total of 14 blocks, the same amount as shooting guard PJ Hairston.
So is this situation viable moving forward? With McAdoo at the three, two fellow big men on the floor with him and JP Tokoto playing the two-guard, UNC suddenly trots out a destructively long quartet. Realizing that Roy Williams likes to run on offense and always push tempo, it may not be realistic for a big lineup to play anything but sparingly. But the threat of it is enough to force opponents to game-plan for just such an occasion, lest they be ill-prepared when the big men come.
Playing into the idea that the Tar Heels will be able to turn to big lineups, they have a new group of big men that deserve playing time.
The aforementioned Joel James and Brice Johnson are coming off of nondescript freshmen seasons. The returning sophomores should see a considerable uptick in their opportunities this season, especially if their play improves as well.
Along with them is a pair of incoming freshmen forwards who are highly touted and graded out very well in the recruitment process coming out of high school. Well neither Kennedy Meeks or Isiah Hicks were quite on the level of 2012's class according to scouting grades, they both should contribute early on. Meeks especially had a nice first game against Oakland, tallying five rebounds, two assists and shot 3-4 from the field and 4-4 from the foul line while playing a scant 13 minutes.
Although he does not have the athletic upside of the other guys, Meeks seemed to have a very nice feel for the game as soon as he entered.
However, Meeks and the young big men, along with sophomore JP Tokoto, played heavy minutes. Was this a result of the opponent or does Roy Williams actually trust these guys this quickly? I imagine it has more to do with the former, and UNC will fall into a rotation that favors the older players like Desmond Hubert and Hairston (assuming he's allowed back) a bit more come conference play.
Roy Williams is famous (infamous?) for having rotations 10-men deep. He also is the most active proponent of the rarely seen five-man substitution, where he pulls every single player on the court off in favor of a replacement.
Common sense would figure that, without two of his top players, Roy may not go as deep on his bench. However, in game one, UNC's head coach played 14 different guys and a legitimate 10 before garbage time. He has to trim this down to something more palatable before conference play begins, especially with McDonald and Hairston on their way back at some point.
While it helps to have bench players to count on, a top team cannot reasonably go 10 or 11 deep. Players aren't able to get comfortable if their minutes are jockeyed around; there is no flow to the game. Usually this tactic is used as a message to his starters if they're playing lazy. Coach Williams will pull all five men off the court and give them a good talking-to. But there was no reason to display such a move in the Oakland game, which leads me to believe Williams still isn't sure which seven or eight guys he trusts most.
Game one had been decided well before halftime. The score at half was 58-21 in favor of the Heels. They shot lights out from everywhere, and Oakland shot terribly from...everywhere. There is no logical reason to glean anything off of these teams' second half performance.
And yet, it's hard not to say it means something. North Carolina seems to have a history of getting lazy and sloppy with the ball. Whether this notion is compounded by a few glaring examples or whether it actually holds water remains to be seen. But the feeling is out there. So when the Golden Grizzlies outscore North Carolina 40-26 in the second half and UNC starts to turn the ball over and get reckless, it raises a few eyebrows.
If this was almost any other team, it would have been completely irrelevant. For North Carolina, it is still MOSTLY irrelevant but not entirely. There is something here. Tar Heel teams under Roy Williams tend to get sloppy; it's as simple as that. A second half like they had in game one does little to dispel the notion, even if they had already secured a victory.