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October 31, 2013

Three Out for Friday Exhibition

It is hard to believe that the basketball season is already upon us, as it seems like just yesterday we were all watching March Madness and UNC's disappointing loss to Kansas.

But college hoops is once again upon us, as UNC fans get their first look at the 2013-2014 Tar Heels this Friday night in a game-like setting in an exhibition matchup with in-state foe UNC-Pembroke.

The Tar Heels open up in a game that won't count on their schedule, but will certainly be meaningful in the eyes of the coaches and fans.

UNC-Pembroke proved earlier this week in a high-scoring, narrow loss at N.C. State in Reynolds Coliseum that they're no easy pushover, as they'll compete with the Tar Heels and try to challenge them despite UNC's superiority in size, athleticism, and overall ability.

This will be the first opportunity for UNC head coach Roy Williams to get a feel for the various rotations as the Tar Heels look to replace Dexter Strickland and Reggie Bullock at the guard positions and get a look at what the team might look like without P.J. Hairston early on in the season.

The Tar Heels will also be playing Friday night without J.P. Tokoto, who was suspended for the exhibition and UNC's 'secret scrimmage' earlier this fall with Vanderbilt for playing in a couple of unsanctioned summer league games.

In addition, a UNC official announced Friday afternoon that veterans Leslie McDonald and P.J. Hairston will also miss the exhibition as they deal with continuing NCAA eligibility issues stemming from their summer activities.

Friday's exhibition gives the Tar Heel faithful a chance to look at the new freshmen in town, as Nate Britt, Isaiah Hicks, and Kennedy Meeks will get a chance to show their talents off in front of the home folks.

Meeks certainly gave them a show in this past Friday night's brief Blue-White scrimmage, as he recorded a whopping 16 points and 16 rebounds in limited action, showing his improved physique and stamina.

Even though it's an exhibition game, this isn't one that the Tar Heels should take lightly and the reality is that their opponents could give them a pretty good test, helping show UNC where they are and where they might need to grow as a team down the road.

UNC Pembroke is coming off a 96-85 loss to N.C. State Wednesday night and a season where the Braves went 22-10 last year (14-5 in the Peach Belt Conference), making their second appearance in the tournament in three years.

And without three key veterans along the wing, Pembroke might be able to make things interesting Friday night in the Smith Center.

Tar Heel Illustrated previews the matchup between the Tar Heels and Braves, who tip off at approximately 7:30 pm in the Dean Dome.


As stated before, UNC Pembroke is coming off a 22-10 record in 2012-2013---the school's best record in over 20 years, when they went 27-5 in 1990-1991.

The Braves are returning two starters from last year's squad, with one of them being the PBC Freshman of the year in Quamain Rose, who averaged 12.5 points per game last year to go along with his 4.3 rebounds, 2.3 steals, and 3.7 assists.

Brandon Winford is the other returning starter, a redshirt sophomore who averaged 8.6 points and was one of their top rebounders on the team last year.

Against N.C. State, Winford led the team with 10 rebounds, while Rose was the second leading scorer against the Wolfpack, scoring 15 points on 7-of-16 shooting from the field, though he was 0-of-6 from behind the three-point line.

The Braves started three forwards and two guards Wednesday night, but reserve Griffin Pittman, a true guard, came in off the bench and led the team with 23 points on the night, shooting 9-of-15 from the field.

The Braves played 11 different players against NCSU, eight of them receiving double digit minutes, as the Braves shot 42.9 percent from the field but only 21.4 percent from behind the arc (3-of-14).

Pembroke has some size on their team, having five different players that are 6-7 or taller, but with little experience, as four of them are sophomores or younger.


This is a great opportunity for the UNC frontcourt to get some quality court time in a game setting and get their feet wet, as James Michael McAdoo, Brice Johnson, Joel James, and Desmond Hubert look to knock the offseason dust off and get into midseason form as quickly as possible as UNC faces a brutal non-conference schedule in the coming weeks.

Coach Williams has always treated these exhibitions as glorified scrimmage, and in that regard it will be a great warm up game for the Tar Heels to see if they have made any changes and have grown into their positions from the experiences they faced last year and learning from their mistakes.

One area that will be looked at especially is the backcourt of the Tar Heels, as they start the season already depleted at the guard positions. But this a game that could give them a chance to learn and get a feel for the game, growing as a player and team.

Don't be surprised to see Paige and Britt on the court together at times, as well as a few other unique lineups to atone for the absence of McDonald, Hairston and Tokoto.

The Wolfpack shot 40 free throws Wednesday night, so for a UNC team that prides itself on making more free throws than their opponents attempt most games, this will be a chance to make up for some of those missed free throws that shrouded the team's performance in last week's Blue-White scrimmage.

After shooting poorly at the "Late Night with Roy" last Friday at the line, this is an opportunity to try and execute at the charity stripe, which of course is something that could determine victory or defeat in multiple games for Carolina in the coming months.

And even though this is a game that won't count on their record, this is certainly one that the Tar Heels shouldn't take lightly as building block to start from early on in the season.

Williams certainly will push his players early, and it will be a great time for the young guns to get their feet wet early in the Dean Dome, while getting the necessary experience that will be needed in the months of ACC play and March Madness.

Most importantly, Tar Heel basketball is back.

UNC starts out ranked in the top 15 this year in both the AP and USA Today polls as they look to make a push for the school's first Final Four appearance in five years, which is the longest drought for Williams-coached teams since he returned to Chapel Hill.


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