“It’s not difficult, you just have to change some things,” guard Cameron Johnson said. “They speed you up, they make you play a little different. Our shots came from different spots than we would against a team that played a little different. They wanted to speed us up, make us turn the ball over, and we did turn the ball over.”
North Carolina turned the ball over 22 times throughout the game, a number that Williams was unhappy about after the fact.
“I was extremely disappointed with 26 assists and 22 turnovers,” Williams said. “It’s one of the three things we’ve been emphasizing more than anything else in the preseason. Not turning the ball over, so we got to do a better job there.”
Even with those issues, there’s a lot to be positive about the No. 8 team in the Associated Press preseason poll. This might be one of the deepest teams in recent UNC history, with 11 different players logging at least 10 minutes of playing time on Friday. Even if the rotation is slimmed down during the regular season, to have players of value ready in the wings is a strength for North Carolina.
Perhaps the biggest story of the night was watching the first game-time appearance of the three first-year players on the team: Nassir Little, Coby White and Leaky Black.
White was the star of the show, certainly in the first half at least. White started the game over junior Seventh Woods and consistently attacked the rim throughout the game. He looked like a UNC point guard, pushing the pace, dishing to players in transition and defending against the spot of attack. Despite having four turnovers in 22 minutes of play, Williams implied White would once again be the starting point guard on opening night against Wofford.
“I think it’s a great possibility,” Williams said on the chances of White starting. “He’s had a great preseason.”
Little, the No. 3 prospect out of high school according to 247Sports, was a mixed bag in his 16 minutes of play. He was tied with Johnson for third on the team in scoring with 11 points, behind Garrison Brooks and Kenny Williams. He flashed the elite athleticism that made him such a high valued recruit, including an alley-oop finish off a lob from Andrew Platek. He moved his feet well on defense, and recorded three blocks.
On the opposite side, Little looked out of control at times, especially on the break. He was called for two charges driving to the rim, including one that saw him have to leave the court after apparently banging his thigh against his defender’s knee. He also missed his one 3-pointer attempt, hitting only the backboard on a shot that was badly off to the side.
Arguably the best performance of the three came from Black, who showed serious two-way potential. He played hard defense on one end, then finished plays on the other. He was second on the team in assists with four, and had two turnovers. He registered three steals, one block and had a great sequence on defense where he tipped a pass away, jumped out of bounds and then threw it off a Mount Olive player.
Black has potential to be a big impact player this season for North Carolina. There isn’t an official listing for his wingspan on GoHeels, but he’s a long 6-foot-7 guard/forward with playmaking ability and major defensive upside. Williams praised him as such, saying he has the ability to be a difference for the Tar Heels on the defensive side of the ball.
“He’s probably a better basketball player, instinctively, than we’ve had in quite a while,” Williams said. “I can tell you he’s gonna be a really good defensive player.”
He got run time as a playmaking forward in a lineup that included White, Williams, Johnson and senior forward Luke Maye. A lineup like that, or swapping out Johnson or Williams for Little, has the ability to switch, pass and hit outside shots at all five positions.
Friday’s outing may have been a glorified practice, but it gave a taste of a deep, athletic team. Roy Williams has a lot of possibilities with lineup combinations this year, but the key will be finding what combination of youth and veterans will be the most successful.
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