This evening, eleventh ranked UNC men’s basketball team won their regular season home opener against the visiting Gardner Webb Bulldogs, 76 to 59; this was thanks, in large part, to a career outing from James Michael McAdoo, who finished with 26 points and 14 rebounds. The Heels started Reggie Bullock, freshman forward Desmond Hubert, Dexter Strickland, McAdoo, and freshman guard Marcus Paige. Bullock played a strong supporting role, leading the team on defense and accumulating 7 defensive (a total of 9) rebounds and 3 steals. Dexter Strickland also had a good night, scoring 13 points and shining in fast break offense. Strickland did have two early turnovers, and was benched briefly; however, he redeemed himself in the second period. Coming off the bench, freshman Joel James showed promise as an inside presence, and he will hopefully help fill the void left by Tyler Zeller and John Henson.
Despite coming away with a victory, the Tar Heels struggled with turnovers, three pointers, and free throws (all issues that have strained the Heels in the last two seasons). Having lost starting point guard, Kendall Marshall, to the NBA draft, the Heels struggled last night settling on a ball handler. Starters Strickland and Paige shared most of the minutes at point guard and combined for 6 turnovers; notably, Marcus Paige committing 4 of these turnovers. Preseason expectations were that UNC would excel as a three-point shooting team due to their depth at the wing, but the Heels went 1-12 from beyond the arc. In the future, three-point shooting must improve if UNC is to have a chance against teams with dominating big men, who will slow down McAdoo. Finally, missing free throws is not an easily forgivable offense, and as a team, UNC went 9 for 19 from the line (that’s an abysmal 47%). Free throw shooting has consistently been a problem for UNC over the last three seasons, excepting Tyler Zeller. Free throws are frequently the deciding factor in close games, and UNC is likely to have at least a couple nail-biters in the ACC’s highly competitive conference play this season.
Although cumulatively, UNC’s issues are somewhat worrisome, it is important to keep in mind that this is only the first game of the regular season and they came away with a 17 point victory. Furthermore, the team is extremely young and will undoubtedly improve exponentially with experience. The youth and natural talent present in the Tar Heel’s lineup likely spell a bright future for the team, but will they put the pieces together this season?