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UNC travels to Bahamas for exhibition games: things to watch

By Andrew Carter
acarter@newsobserver.com
Elite Youth Basketball
SARA CALDWELL - AP
University of North Carolina's head basketball coach Roy Williams, right, watches the Oakland Soldiers and the Houston Hoops play in the Elite Youth Basketball League finals at the Riverview Activities Center at Riverview Park, Thursday, July 17, 2014, in North Augusta, S.C.

CHAPEL HILL North Carolina will play real games in the Bahamas in late November when it travels there for the Battle 4 Atlantis – a loaded tournament that includes the likes of Wisconsin and Florida, among others. The Tar Heels, though, aren't waiting that long to travel to the islands.

They left on Thursday afternoon for a preseason trip to the Bahamas, where they'll play exhibition games against the Providence Storm, on Friday night, and the Bahamas All-Stars, on Saturday night. In taking the trip, UNC is taking advantage of an NCAA rule that allows teams to travel to foreign countries once every four years during the preseason.

UNC went to the Bahamas before the 2010-11 season, and also before the 2005-06 season. In preparation for their games there this weekend, the Tar Heels practiced all week in Chapel Hill. This is, indeed, a great opportunity for UNC to get an early start before preseason practice begins in October. (And a great opportunity, apparently, for a team selfie.)

The Tar Heels are likely to enter the season ranked among the top 10 teams in the country, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see them in the top five. Marcus Paige, the junior guard and All-American candidate, is back. So, too, are forwards Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks, and J.P. Tokoto, the small forward who progressed nicely during his sophomore season.

We in the UNC media corps didn't have a chance to speak with Tar Heels coach Roy Williams this week, but he did share a statement on the trip. Williams said:

“Our young men will enjoy this trip and it will give us an early chance to see what we have. In particular, it is a good opportunity for us to see the three freshmen play. Our players were an amazing group to work with last year and I am really excited about getting to see them in action again.”

The trip to the Bahamas will offer Williams and his staff their best opportunity yet to work with Joel Berry, Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson, a trio of freshmen who were considered among the best at their positions in their recruiting class. Among those three, Jackson and Pinson probably have the best chance to contribute early, given UNC's relative lack of depth on the wing.

We won't be able to watch these exhibition games in the Bahamas. They're not televised. You can, though, follow the live stats on Friday night here, and on Saturday night here. Both games start at 5 p.m. It should be noted, too, that the competition isn’t likely to be too fierce. Ohio State beat the Providence Storm 115-63 recently, and the Buckeyes defeated the Bahamas All-Stars 88-66.

Given that we can't actually watch the games, it seems silly to list a few things to watch. But I'm a silly, silly man sometimes, so here goes:

--Who's the two guard?

Paige has gone on record saying he'd prefer be a point guard first this season though, undoubtedly, there will be times – probably a lot of times – when he's playing off the ball. But assuming Paige starts at point guard – and that seems to be a safe assumption, based on his wishes – who's the two guard? The question stumped Paige when we had a chance to speak with him earlier this summer, though he mentioned that Jackson could emerge to be that guy. We're a long ways away from anything being settled here, but these exhibition games will allow for an early look at how the pieces in UNC's backcourt are coming together. Or, rather, how they're fitting in around Paige.

–The freshmen.

It's always interesting early on to follow the newcomers, and in the Bahamas Berry, a point guard, Jackson and Pinson, a pair of wing forwards, will have their best chance yet to impress the coaching staff. Who knows. If one of them plays particularly well during these exhibitions, that seed of confidence could blossom into something meaningful down the line.

-- Isaiah Hicks.

When we had a chance to talk to the players earlier this summer, a lot of them had a lot of good things to say about Hicks, the sophomore forward from Oxford. Hicks arrived at UNC as the top recruit in the state last year, but his freshman season didn't go exactly according to plan. He never really got going, went through some admitted confidence issues and never found his place in the rotation. Since the end of the season, though, he has looked like a different player. At least, that's how his teammates describe it. What happens the next couple days won't define anything, won't make or break anything. Even so, if Hicks plays well in the Bahamas that could be a needed confidence boost entering the start of the school year.

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