DEAN SMITH CENTER/CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina’s basketball season got underway on Friday night with a 108-67 blowout over Barton in an exhibition contest. The Tar Heels captured an early lead and continued to press forward, racking up points in transition and giving the nearly 15,000 fans on hand a nice show to kick off the weekend.
Junior forward Tyler Zeller lived up to advance billing as the Heels’ top interior scoring option, scoring 25 points and generally dominating a much smaller Barton frontline. Carolina’s No. 8 preseason national ranking surprised many observers after last season’s extreme disappointment, and in truth it was a mixed big for the Heels in their preseason contest.
Some positives were Zeller, steady point guard play from freshman Kendall Marshall — who figures to challenge junior Larry Drew for a starting job throughout the season — and a team that obviously is more athletic than its predecessor. Marshall, in fact, was the best of the touted freshmen: He dished out nine assists with only one turnover. That’s the kind of ball control UNC lacked all last season.
The big negative, believe it or not, was all-everything freshman Harrison Barnes. The 6-8 powerhouse wing player began the game with a pair of quick turnovers and then deteriorated from there, finishing with six errors and a 2-for-9 shooting night as well. He’ll be fine — I’ll personally attest to this one — but may need more time to adjust to the college game.
Roy Williams smiled about Barnes’ performance after the game and said he’d be delighted if Barnes is his primary concern this season.
It’s obviously unwise to read too much into exhibition game, but from my perspective last season largely boiled down to two fatal flaws: 1) injuries and 2) insufficient talent both in an absolute sense and in terms of blending styles. The most obvious change against Barton was in the team’s speed on both ends of the court, and on-court chemistry appeared to be much better.
After Williams indicated in the preseason that he’d make some strategic changes, none was apparent on Friday night. And that likely will be fine, because this season’s personnel fit the UNC philosophy much more accurately than the 2009-10 Heels.
Carolina’s season begins in earnest next Friday against Lipscomb. To see the UNC/Barton box score, click here.