North Carolina Shows Off Its Depth on Opening Weekend

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 17th, 2014

After having to answer questions all preseason dealing with the school’s “paper class” scandal, there’s little doubt that North Carolina’s players and coaches were even more excited than usual to tip off the 2014-15 season over the weekend. The program needs something positive to rally around, and with two games now under the team’s belt, there’s something to be excited about. On Friday night at the Smith Center, North Carolina defeated North Carolina Central by a score of 76-60, in a game that Roy Williams described as “not the prettiest in the world.” Things came much easier for the Tar Heels in Sunday afternoon’s 103-59 beatdown of Robert Morris. It should be noted that each of North Carolina’s first two opponents were not the traditional cupcakes that some may believe — in fact, both schools won their respective conference regular season championships last season.

Kennedy Meeks (left) and Brice Johnson (#11) give North Carolina a Powerful Inside Game. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Kennedy Meeks (with ball) and Brice Johnson (#11) give North Carolina a Powerful Inside Game. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

So let’s look at some of the takeaways from the Tar Heel’s first two games.

  • North Carolina has a dynamic duo in the post. In the opener, Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson were solid (combining for 22 points and 17 rebounds), but they were dominant against Robert Morris, combining for 44/20. We had heard reports in the preseason that each player had undergone a physical transformation, and we can confirm that the change in both is striking. The sophomore Meeks has lost approximately 50 pounds and is now listed at a solid 270, while the junior Johnson has done the opposite, gaining about 20 pounds to get to his current listed weight of 228. The result is that Meeks is able to run up and down the court much easier and is more explosive around the basket, and undoubtedly will be able to log heavier minutes. Johnson, on the other hand, will no longer be so easily knocked off-balance on the blocks, capable of holding his position defensively without having to foul.

  • Roy Williams has the kind of depth he loves. It’s no secret that Williams wants to play fast for 40 minutes and that requires a lot of bodies. This year’s Tar Heels can go 12-deep, if necessary, and all of those players are either very talented, very experienced, or both. Williams knows this, as all 12 saw at least six minutes of game action against N.C. Central in a semi-competitive game. Such depth will also allow Williams more flexibility defensively, and he indicated after the opener that he plans on extending the Tar Heels’ pressure to full-court this season.
  • Three-point shooting is still a big question mark. This was most often mentioned as a possible chink in the team’s armor, and it still may be. In the two games over the weekend, All America candidate Marcus Paige made 4-of-8 threes, but the rest of the team was a frigid 2-of-19 from deep. Help in this area was expected from the highly-rated freshman class, but that has not been the case so far, as the trio of Justin Jackson, Theo Pinson, and Joel Berry have combined to hit only 1-of-11 from long range. Perhaps this represents early nerves on the part of the newbies, but until they show improved shooting expect to see more of the same kind of defenses that the first two opponents played against the Heels — a lot of zone and a box-and-one on Paige.
  • Free throw shooting is better, so far. The 2009 National Champions were the last Tar Heels squad to make over 70 percent of their foul shots. Last season was the worst of all, coming in at a chilly 62.6 percent. So far this season, North Carolina has shot better from the line (71.2%), and that may be huge for an offense built to attack the interior in an effort to draw a lot of fouls.
  • This is a very unselfish team. Marcus Paige sets the tone as the leader on the floor and because of that he will probably play mostly at the point this season. On the break, the ball moves upcourt swiftly, and players who choose to run the floor hard are rewarded with the ball at the basket. In the half-court offense, all of the perimeter players have an ability to feed the post and don’t try to play one-on-one. Against Robert Morris, the Tar Heels tallied 29 assists on 36 made baskets with wing J.P. Tokoto leading the way with 10 dimes, while another wing, Pinson, has handed out four assists in each game.

Next up for North Carolina is a four-game road trip, starting with a game in Charlotte against Davidson on Saturday. After that the Tar Heels will spend Thanksgiving in the Bahamas as part of a stacked field in the Battle 4 Atlantis event. Butler is the opening round opponent there, but a match-up with either Oklahoma or UCLA will follow with a meeting versus one of Florida, Wisconsin, Georgetown or UAB after that. By the time North Carolina gets back home we will know much more about the long-term potential of this team, but so far what we have seen has been mostly impressive.

Brad Jenkins (383 Posts)

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