With the gridiron still going on (and going strong), with many former UNC basketball and football players earning a living at the next level, it’s finally time to see #11 AP/#12 USA Today North Carolina (0-0) begin their hardwoods season tonight against in-state opponent Gardner-Webb (0-0) at the Dean Dome, with tip off time being 7:00 p.m. EST. The game will be televised on RSN/ESPN3 as well as being on the radio on the Heels Sports Network, where it will be called by Jones Angell and Rick Steinbacher. UNC is 90-12 in season openers (95-7 home openers), but needed a shot from beyond the arc with time running out in order to beat this same program to start off the `05-`06 season. Altogether these two teams have played one another three times, all the games being home openers for Carolina and all of them going to the Tar Heels.
On the other hand, the first three games between the two teams were never with the Tar Heels having lost four starters to the National Basketball Association, which also means having lost 66% of their scoring, 58.7% of their rebounding, 71.9% of their assists, 53.3% of their steals and 80.5% of their blocks. Add to those numbers the fact that GWU returns a team that mostly played together all of last season while UNC is still figuring out what their line up will be for this game, as head coach Roy Williams said that he was still unsure who he would start at the center position, as of yesterday, and you could see why some of the fan base go into this game a bit worried of what could happen.
“More the post. I feel fairly comfortable about Marcus [Paige], Dexter [Strickland], Reggie [Bullock] and James Michael [McAdoo], but that fifth spot from one day to the next I change quite a bit.”
The pre-season scrimmage had Desmond Hubert in the middle, however it seems that going into the first game it’s between freshmen Joel James (6’10″/260 lbs) and Brice Johnson (6’9″/187) for who is going to pair up with James McAdoo in the paint. I am sure that we will see much of both of these young men, as well as seeing Hubert getting some playing time as well, in the game tonight. I am also pretty confident that coach Williams will shuffle many of the bigs around as the season moves towards the ACC part of the schedule. And while the competition for who gets the playing time in the post is going to be one of the most watched things for both the coaching staff and the fan base, I am going to be focused on Marcus Paige, the first freshman to start at the point for UNC since Bobby Frasor did so in the `05-`06 season. Yes, the same season that Carolina needed a late three pointer to defeat Gardner-Webb.
As this season begins there are still many questions to be answered. Will this team be solid in the front court with McAdoo being the main presence there? Will the squad be able to run with a freshman point guard? Will Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald, both returning from major injuries, be 100% or close to it? Will the wings be able to score enough to compensate for the points that the Heels won’t get from the paint? Will UNC be able to play good D with this group of players?
All those questions will be answered, in time, but definitely not tonight, at least not fully tonight. By no means do I believe that this game is going to be a measuring stick for the 2012-13 basketball season. What this game is however is the beginnin of the season for both squads and one that I think will be won by North Carolina by close to 20 points, with the final being 79 to 63.