UNC basketball got all the competition it wanted—and then some—during its August exhibition trip to the Bahamas. The Tar Heels split a pair of games at the Summer of Thunder tournament, falling to the Providence (Bahamas) Storm on a late three-pointer before pummeling a team of Bahamian All-Stars by a 109-52 margin.
Exhibition games rarely, if ever, provide a clear picture of the season ahead, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some useful information for Carolina fans to gain from the Caribbean tour. Among the most important lessons:
Isaiah Hicks won’t be an afterthought this season
As a freshman, the 6’8” Hicks rarely left the bench, but he was all over the floor in the Bahamas. With Brice Johnson missing large chunks of each game with an ankle sprain, the younger forward led North Carolina in scoring in both contests.
Although it’s unlikely that Roy Williams will substitute as freely in the regular season as he did in these exhibitions, he certainly has the depth to do so, and the success of reserves such as Hicks can only encourage him. The sophomore may also earn playing time in smaller lineups if classmate Kennedy Meeks (who came off the bench in the second game) fails to impress.
The shooting guard competition is wide open
Veterans Marcus Paige and J.P. Tokoto are entrenched as starters on the perimeter, but the other backcourt spot is going to be a question mark up to (and likely beyond) the season opener. Freshmen Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson could each step into a 2-guard role, or rising sophomore Nate Britt could run the point with Paige sliding over to SG.
That last option, which Williams used to open the first exhibition, has the disadvantage of moving UNC’s best player off the ball. Of the freshman alternatives, Pinson is the better defender and athlete, but Jackson (who scored a combined 26 points off the bench to lead all Tar Heels guards on this trip) is a decidedly better shooter.
Free throws are still cause for serious concern
You really would’ve thought that finishing 344th nationally in foul shooting would have convinced North Carolina’s many returnees to get in some practice over the summer. If it did, the results were not apparent in the Bahamas, where the Heels combined to shoot a grotesque 14-of-32 from the stripe.
That tally included a pair of clutch misses by Pinson that could have prevented UNC’s opening-game defeat. It’s hard to find a clearer way to demonstrate that North Carolina can’t consider itself a serious title contender until it figures out how to stop leaving easy points on the table.