Gardner-Webb at UNC: What to watch

November, 9, 2012
11/09/12
9:45
AM ET
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- When North Carolina played Gardner-Webb in 2005-06, the Tar Heels needed a game-winning 3-pointer from then-senior David Noel to secure their season opener.

Who will take the shot if the re-constructing Tar Heels need a game-winner, again, when they begin 2012-13 against the Runnin’ Bulldogs on Friday night?

“Man, that’s a hard question -- I’m not sure,” redshirt junior Leslie McDonald said. “But I’ll gladly take it.”

That last-second scenario is one of a plethora of uncertainties the 11th-ranked Tar Heels face after losing four players from last season’s Elite Eight starting lineup to the NBA draft.

In saying goodbye to Kendall Marshall, Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller and John Henson, the Tar Heels lost 66 percent of their scoring, 58.7 percent of their rebounding, 71.9 percent of their assists, 53.3 percent of their steals and 80.5 percent of their blocks, according to ESPN Stats and Information. With a freshman ballhandler in the starting lineup, questions about who will start in one of the post positions, two guards returning from knee injuries, and worries about where the points will come from, coach Roy Williams can really only hang his hat on this:

“I think they’re really going to try; I really do,’’ he said Thursday. “And when I say try, I mean physically and mentally. They don’t want to make mistakes, and they really do want to be coached and they want to be good. I think just their whole attitude and the way they handled the preseason is something I really have appreciated.”

Gardner-Webb is led by 6-3 guard Tashan Newsome, who averaged 12.3 points and seven rebounds last season and has some experience with game-winning shots of his own. He buried five in 2011-12, including four in conference play.

A few things to watch, as the Tar Heels tip off the season at 7 p.m. ET at the Smith Center:

MARCUS PAIGE

Bobby Frasor was the last freshman to start his first game at point guard at UNC -- during that 2005-06 game against Gardner-Webb, by the way -- and if he could give some advice to Paige, it would be to stay level-headed.

“He’s such a good player, I’d just tell him not to overthink things,’’ said Frasor, now the director of basketball operations at UAB. “He’s going to be out there, Coach is going to be yelling, ‘Run this, run this, run this.’ You don’t want to lose your instincts as a basketball player. As a freshman, and I was the same way, sometimes you’re na´ve to how big a stage you’re on. But I think he’s going to be fine.”

Frasor shot 1-for-6 with 2 points, 7 assists and 5 turnovers in 21 minutes during his freshman starting debut. Quentin Thomas (filling in for the suspended Raymond Felton in 2004-05) is the only other freshman point guard to start his first game at UNC in the Williams era. He struggled, going 1-for-3 with three assists and three turnovers in that loss at Santa Clara.

“You don’t know how freshmen are going to act until they get out there and do it,” Williams said this week, “but Marcus has the ability.”

THE FIFTH STARTER

Williams said Thursday that he was still unsure who would join Paige, Dexter Strickland, Reggie Bullock and James Michael McAdoo in the starting line-up.

“I’m waiting for somebody to step up and say, ‘I’m going to deserve that,’ but it may be OK, if not,’’ he said. “We may change the lineup throughout the course of the pre-conference season, too.”

Freshmen Joel James and Brice Johnson and sophomores Desmond Hubert and Jackson Simmons will all play, but it will be interesting to see who gets the starting nod -- and how he responds.

Hubert started in UNC’s Oct. 26 exhibition win against Shaw, scoring two points on 1-for-4 shooting with three rebounds in 15 minutes. But the wide-bodied James was the most impressive big man in that game, notching 13 points on 6-for-7 shooting with seven rebounds in 17 minutes. Johnson was 4-for-6 with six rebounds in 13 minutes, and Simmons scored two free throws in seven minutes.

Sophomore transfer point guard Luke Davis will also be making his regular-season UNC debut -- against his former team.

OUTSIDE SHOOTING

With so much experience on the wing and so many questions in the post, Williams said during his Monday night radio show that he’s giving his outside shooters more offensive freedom.

But with Williams more confident in his team's defense than offense, the wings must take advantage of their opportunities.

In 2010-11, UNC made only 32.8 percent of its 3-pointers, the worst outside-shooting season in school history. Last season, that percentage rose only slightly, to 33.5.

Bullock, McDonald and P.J. Hairston, in particular, have to change that clanking trend.

“I don’t think that’s too much pressure for me, Reggie, P.J. or Dexter, because we love to shoot,’’ McDonald said.

The Tar Heels were 3-for-16 from 3-point range in their exhibition vs. Shaw.

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.

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