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Tar Heels show potential, room for growth in scrimmage

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North Carolina basketball used the school’s fall break to travel to Pittsburgh for a controlled scrimmage with reigning national champion Villanova on Saturday, Oct. 20. Afterwards, Steve Kirschner, the director of athletic communications for UNC, broke down the scrimmage on the “Carolina Insider Podcast.” Among the tidbits Kirschner shared are: 

• As would be expected given the makeup of the roster, Roy Williams used a variety of lineups, including his traditional preference of two big men and three perimeter players and “small-ball” lineups with Luke Maye at center and either Cam Johnson or freshman Nassir Little at the four spot. 

• Last season’s difficulties defending drive-and-dish 3-point shots have still not been resolved, as Villanova was able to create numerous open looks from outside. All those attempts from deep also resulted in too many second chances for the Wildcats off long rebounds. Considering the trouble Carolina had in this area last year, you can bet it will be a point of emphasis for Roy Williams through the rest of the preseason.

• The young trio of Little, Coby White, and Leaky Black displayed both potential and inexperience, with turnovers and defensive mistakes offsetting promising scoring ability. Kirschner explained that White in particular must learn to harness his outstanding speed when pushing the ball up the floor, playing more under control to avoid mistakes.

• Both Kirschner and Williams observed that Villanova brought more energy and intensity into the scrimmage, with Williams suggesting that Nova’s intensity was “a slap in the face for us” — a wake-up call that could be very valuable for a team with tremendous potential but still figuring out how to fill the leadership void after the departures of Theo Pinson and Joel Berry III. 

• Never one to over-praise his teams early in a season, Williams also expressed his disappointment “in our defensive play, rebounding, and running the floor.”

• Nevertheless, early returns from the preseason seem quite positive, with this team being deeper and capable of playing at a consistently higher tempo than last year’s unit. The biggest concern remains rim protection, without which the Heels will continue to struggle to defend three-pointers off inside-out action. If nothing else, this group should be high-scoring and fun to watch.

ONE MORE DISAPPOINTMENT

Carolina football continues to invent new ways to lose in frustrating fashion. At Syracuse, Carolina outplayed the ACC’s second-best team until the closing minutes, when the Tar Heels simply needed a single first down to put the game away before several key gaffes led to overtime and an eventual loss. 

And just when it looked like the offense had found something after putting up big yardage against Syracuse and Virginia Tech, the Tar Heel running game never got out of neutral in a 31-21 loss at rival Virginia, which kept the Tar Heel defense off-balance with the running ability of quarterback Bryce Perkins.

To this point, Carolina football has resembled the old story of plugging a leaky dam with one’s fingers — plug one hole and another opens. The one positive is that there has been no indication of diminished effort despite the frustrating results.

BASKETBALL RECRUITING UPDATE

Elite 2019 San Diego guard Boogie Ellis, who officially visited UNC on Oct. 12, will announce his college choice on Nov.9. Other programs thought to be in the running include Duke, Oregon, USC, and hometown program San Diego State.

FIRST 2020 COMMITMENT

Mount Holly Mountain Island Charter running back Elijah Burris committed to UNC on Monday. The 5-foot-10, 210-pound Burris is currently a three-star prospect according to the 247Sports Composite rating and is averaging an eye-popping 14.5 yards per carry so far in 2018.

STAT OF THE WEEK

Carolina’s loss at Syracuse was the second consecutive game in which the Tar Heels somehow managed to gain over 500 yards and still lost.

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