Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the Smith Center – and to the start of the 2014-15 college basketball season. I'm here this evening for North Carolina's first game, against N.C. Central.
Before we get going, a somewhat belated list of the questions that will define the Tar Heels' this season. The answers will come during the next several months. We'll revisit these in March – or early April, perhaps – after the season ends.
1. Can Marcus Paige meet expectations as a National Player of the Year/ACC Player of the Year candidate?
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The Tar Heels appear to have their most balanced team since the 2011-12 season, and there should be less pressure on Paige than there was a year ago. Still, he's the guy who makes it go for UNC. There will be no sneaking up on anyone for him, though. Every team will scheme for him. Every player guarding him will try to make a name for himself.
2. Will one – or both – of UNC's starting frontcourt players emerge to be a “big-time player,” as Roy Williams puts it?
We're looking at you, Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks. Johnson's offensive game is no secret but he still lacked defensively for long stretches last season before improving down the stretch. Meeks is about 50 pounds lighter than he was when he arrived the summer before his freshman season. UNC needs one, or both to be consistently good.
3. Will Justin Jackson, the freshman forward, be as good as advertised – and has good as he was during the preseason?
Jackson, from Tomball, Texas, looked good during UNC's exhibition games. Real, real good. He looked like a smoother, somewhat rawer Harrison Barnes. Jackson has drawn some comparisons to Barnes, and not just because both are 6-foot-8. And as good as Barnes was – and he was good, don't forget – he always seemed to leave people wanting more. Jackson has a chance to be like Barnes only better.
4. Can the Tar Heels find some offense from the perimeter – outside of Marcus Paige?
One of UNC's biggest questions entering the season is who provides perimeter shooting outside of Paige, who made nearly 40 percent of his 3-pointers a season ago. The Tar Heels' next-most reliable perimeter shooter last season was the erratic Leslie McDonald, whose eligibility expired. So who's going to be helping Paige on the outside: Jackson? Freshmen Joel Berry or Theo Pinson?
5. Will UNC be able to make a free throw – or a good percentage of free throws?
The Tar Heels were abysmal, at times, at the free throw line last year. If you remember, they shot 62.6 percent from the line – one of the worst percentages in school history. Poor free throw shooting cost UNC a few games last season – notably the losses against Belmont and Texas early in the season. That needs to change this season.
Andrew Carter is the UNC athletics beat reporter for The News & Observer and Charlotte Observer. Follow him on Twitter at @_andrewcarter .