North Carolina begins the season on Friday night at Tulane. The Tar Heels are coming off a season that ended with a 77-74 defeat against Villanova in the national championship game. Tulane, meanwhile, ended up 12-22, a finish that led to former coach Ed Conroy’s dismissal.
It’s college basketball’s opening night. Three things to watch for UNC:
1. Which player enters the starting lineup in place of the injured Theo Pinson.
Nate Britt, the senior guard, seems the most likely candidate to start on Friday, but that’s not a given, UNC coach Roy Williams said. Kenny Williams, the sophomore guard, could be in the mix, as well. Williams, the coach, praised Williams, the player, on Thursday, and said he’d been among the team’s most improved players during the first month of practice. Regardless of who starts, expect Roy Williams to do plenty of experimenting with different lineups early in the season.
2. The Tar Heels’ offensive efficiency in the post-Brice, post-Marcus era.
The greatest question facing UNC entering the season: How to fill the void created by the departures of Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige? Johnson and Paige last season accounted for 33.4 percent of UNC’s points, 30.9 percent of its rebounds and 26.1 percent of its assists. And then there were all the intangibles – everything from Paige’s leadership to Johnson’s contagious emotion. The offense could, and probably should, take a while to jell in their absence.
3. New players in new roles.
Junior point guard Joel Berry is now UNC’s unquestioned leader in the backcourt. Isaiah Hicks, the senior forward, goes from the Tar Heels’ sixth man to the focal point of the offense in the post. More will be expected from Justin Jackson, the junior wing forward. Kenny Williams’ role will undoubtedly expand. It will be awhile – how long is difficult to know – before the pieces come together to form a cohesive unit. The Tar Heels’ season-opener will provide an indication of how close, or far away, they are from that goal.
UNC at Tulane
When: 9 p.m. Friday
Where: Devlin Fieldhouse, New Orleans