UNC Basketball: 5 Takeaways from Tar Heels' Opener Against Oakland

Rollin Yeatts@@TSBRollinFeatured ColumnistNovember 9, 2013

UNC Basketball: 5 Takeaways from Tar Heels' Opener Against Oakland

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    The North Carolina Tar Heels opened their 2013-14 season ranked No. 12 in the AP poll. Last night, they looked every bit the part with an 84-61 win over the Oakland Golden Grizzlies.

    Marcus Paige didn't look out of place at the 2, burying four of his seven three-point attempts. Nate Britt wasn't as dynamic running the point as he was against UNC-Pembroke, but he never looked uncomfortable.

    And, quite frankly, the absence of P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald was barely noticeable. It's scary to think what UNC could have done with those two in the game.

    Of everything that happened last night—both positive and negative—these were the five biggest takeaways from last night's victory.

Team Chemistry Is No Longer an Issue

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    Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    One of the most serious issues with the Tar Heels last season was team chemistry. Roy Williams was playing three new starters, including a freshman point guard. The other three freshmen had significant enough roles to combine for almost 30 minutes a game.

    Needless to say, the group just didn't mesh on the court. The defense suffered, and so did the offense with a serious lack of ball movement.

    Any questions about chemistry in 2013-14 were tossed out the window Friday night. I can't remember the last time I saw ball rotation this beautiful from the Tar Heels.

    Maybe 2009?

    Quality shots were passed up for wide-open shots. High-low. Inside-out. It seemed as though we saw more backdoor alley-oops last night than we saw all last season—and the lobs weren't just from point guards, either.

    J.P. Tokoto was on the distributing end of two.

    The Tar Heels finished with 25 assists on 33 field goals, and the open looks allowed them to bury five of nine from downtown—again, without the services of Hairston and McDonald.

    However, we are still left wondering what those numbers would have looked like if they played two complete halves.

The Tar Heels Still Need to Learn How to Close out Games

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    Remember the games against East Tennessee, East Carolina or a handful of others in which UNC dominated the first half? If you do, then you can probably recall the sub-par effort in closing out those games in the second.

    With a 58-21 lead at the half, it appeared the Tar Heels were well on their way to a 100-point performance against Oakland. Heck, 130 wouldn't have shocked me the way they were playing in the first.

    Then it got sloppy.

    The guys started playing too loose. Passes sailed. Paige was pelted in the back on a fast break. Shots stopped falling.

    In the first half, UNC had 17 assists, seven turnovers, 15 points off turnovers and 14 fast-break points. In the second half, the team totaled just eight assists, 11 turnovers, two points off turnovers and two fast-break points.

    As a result, the Tar Heels were outscored by the Golden Grizzlies, 40-26.

    Oakland stepped up its defense, so it is deserving of some credit. But it was also obvious that the Tar Heels took a brain nap for the last 20 minutes.

    The lesson from last night was "don't look at the scoreboard." They need to get better soon, or they just might let an easy game slip away.

Joel James and Kennedy Meeks Could Be a Lethal Rotation

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    If I had to choose which center had the best night, it would have to be Kennedy Meeks. The baby-faced brute is just a natural on the hardwood.

    There are some guys that you just can't put a finger on talent-wise. They don't jump out at you with overwhelming athleticism or highlight-reel performances. But, somehow, they always seem to be around the ball, making one big play after another.

    That is Kennedy Meeks.

    He's a slick rebounder with great hands, a heads-up passer, an efficient scorer and is proving to be a solid free-throw shooter, too. He was 4-of-4 from the stripe last night, and is 7-of-7 if you include the exhibition against UNC-Pembroke.

    He may not be the most explosive player on the floor, but he's explosive enough to jam one home. And that's just fine with me.

    Meeks finished with 10 points, five rebounds, two assists and one steal in 13 minutes.

    Joel James got the start last night and played relatively well for most of the game. He had a few mental hiccups, but they certainly weren't as glaring as those from last season.

    Aside from walking the in-bounds pass back out of bounds to inbound it. Oops.

    There is a good chance he gets clowned hard in the film room for that one.

    Overall, I was pleased with what I saw from James. He stayed composed through his mental lapses and didn't seem intimidated by the crowd. I know that doesn't have anything to do with skill, but we'll never see how good James really is until he gets over those things.

    Fundamentally, he needs to get better at boxing out and fronting the defender in the post. He did have eight boards and four points in 14 minutes, though.

    For now, it seems like Meeks may be putting a lead on James. No matter who the "official" starter is, though, these guys will be splitting minutes throughout the season. And if they can produce anywhere near 14 points and 15 rebounds in 27 minutes like last night, Coach Williams will be a happy camper.

    As a side note, Desmond Hubert appeared to injure his hand shortly after coming in the game. He only played for five minutes, adding only two points to the box score.

James Michael McAdoo May Have Reached That Next Level

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    Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    James Michael McAdoo has been busting his butt this offseason to improve his game. It showed last night—literally from the jump. He had a steal, a score and completed the and-1 on the opening tip.

    And that was just the beginning.

    One of the biggest issues with McAdoo last season was his lack of control. Whether he felt he had to prove something or thought he had to carry the team, he was always too determined to score. He would pass up open teammates to force shots over triple-teams—unbalanced and out of control.

    Last night, McAdoo found the open man every time. Even in mid-shot.

    And when he decided to take it to the rack, he was explosive and had full control of his body. He hung in the air long enough to re-balance and look the shot through.

    It was a thing of beauty.

    Most of his shots were mid-range jumpers or driving leaners off the glass, so we didn't get to see how much his post game has developed. But it was clear McAdoo is a more confident, efficient and active player in year three.

    The junior star finished with 21 points, nine rebounds and one assist.

J.P. Tokoto Is Going to Play a Very Big Role

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    Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    Of everyone that hit the floor last night, I enjoyed watching J.P. Tokoto the most.

    For one, his athleticism is off the charts—and that goes beyond his insane jumping ability. The kid is just so fluid in motion with everything he does.

    Then there is his vision.

    I was often mocked last season for pointing out how well he sees the floor. But many of his passes went awry because his teammates weren't looking for the rock. Now that he has better chemistry with his teammates, those turnovers are turning into assists.

    Tokoto finished with five dimes last night, including two perfect lobs. With Nate Britt and Marcus Paige also on the floor, it was like having three point guards in the game.

    He also scored a career-high 13 points—in the first half. He was dropping pull-up jumpers and even buried his lone three-point attempt.

    It's just a shame his game fell off in the second half with everyone else. In his last 14 minutes, he had one assist, four turnovers and no points. If he can stay consistent through an entire game, he'll be the secret weapon few saw coming.

    The second half may have been a bit disturbing all around, but, honestly, I was expecting 40 minutes of sloppy play to start out the season. Especially with Carolina's best player and second-best three-point shooter in their Sunday best.

    Any doubts about this squad are being buried fast.