North Carolina’s scrimmage against Division II Barton College may have not meant much, but it did give us UNC’s first look without senior point guard Joel Berry II, who broke his hand earlier in the week.
The Tar Heels knocked off the Bulldogs 91-80 in what was a rather close game for a considerable portion of the first half and towards the end of the second half. The absence of Berry, the team’s captain, was certainly felt.
Berry is ruled out for four weeks after punching a door in frustration while playing video games. If the initial prognosis is correct, Berry should return just a day before the Phil Knight Invitational – a colossal preseason tournament including 16 of the nation’s most talented programs.
Nonetheless, North Carolina showed us that the Tar Heels are certainly deep, but the majority of the production will likely come from the front court while Berry is on the sidelines.
North Carolina was led by forward Luke Maye, who posted team highs of 18 points and 11 rebounds. Sophomore Garrison Brooks was very impressive as well, as the big man had 13 points and nine rebounds. Wings Theo Pinson and Cameron Johnson combined for 25 points and six assists as well.
Joel Berry’s backup: Seventh Woods. The sophomore had a rather disappointing performance with only four points and three rebounds. Freshman point guard Jalek Felton, however, added five points and seven assists of the bench. The former Jordan All-American surely showed flashes of promise in his first career outing.
Overall, UNC’s performance was quite disappointing. The Tar Heels had an extremely quick pace that was often out of control, especially in the first half. However, its quick pace is what helped UNC post upwards of 90 points.
The up-tempo offense certainly can be effective, but Joel Berry is definitely more suited for that type of play as a veteran player. Moreover, the quick pace allowed UNC to draw plenty of fouls against an unprepared Barton defense. However, Division I programs probably won’t react similarly.
North Carolina’s front court as a whole was extremely impressive on Friday, and handily outperformed the guards. Off the bench, freshman Sterling Manley had eight points and four rebounds in only eight minutes of floor time.
Brandon Huffman, a freshman as well, had an outstanding all-around performance of six points, seven rebounds, two assists and five blocks. As it was last season, UNC could have one of the nation’s best and deepest front courts.
North Carolina’s first three games are relatively difficult and not guaranteed wins. Its opener against Northern Iowa should be an easy victory, but its subsequent contests against Bucknell and Stanford may pose challenges.
It would be shocking to see UNC lose any of these games, but it might not be a breeze considering the absence of Berry and sudden adjustments that need to be made accordingly. Berry’s nonappearance will become very concerning if he is not healthy by the Phil Knight Invitation, where the Tar Heels have potential matchups against Oregon and Michigan State.
For now, North Carolina can survive without Berry. While its backcourt is weak, the front court has incredible depth and talent that is capable of carrying the team for some time, as it showed us against Barton College. But, Berry is a virtual essential for the PK-80 when UNC faces some of college basketball’s best teams.