UNC vs Northern Iowa: Preview, broadcast information and prediction

GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 03: Joel Berry II
GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 03: Joel Berry II /

North Carolina’s title defense begins Friday night against Northern Iowa

The North Carolina Tar Heels will take the court on Friday night in their first official action since winning the 2017 NCAA Championship game in April.

And although they are the defending champs, the team out on the court will look quite a bit different from the one that cut down the nets some seven months ago.

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The beginning of the season, in particular, will be challenging due to the absence of injured starting point guard Joel Berry II and the growing pains that will likely come with the Tar Heels’ young, inexperienced front court.

But this isn’t Roy Williams first rodeo. It’s not even his second. He’s done all of this before, and chances look pretty decent for him to do it again.

North Carolina will begin the season by taking on a Northern Iowa program that it blew out in 2016, but memorably lost to in a homecoming game set up for Marcus Paige the year before.

It’ll be interesting to see how Williams handles his lineup Friday night, particularly the front court. Another thing to watch for is the play of junior graduate transfer Cameron Johnson. He will be a difference-maker for the Tar Heels this season, and his scoring will be paramount for a deep run in March.

One UNI player to watch…

Tywhon Pickford is the lone freshman in Northern Iowa’s starting lineup, but his performance early has shown that he’s ready to play with the big boys.

Pickford’s first game action this year was in the Panthers’ loss to Wisconsin in which he scored eight points while playing with a poised demeanor that’s dissimilar from most true freshman in their first game.

And while he played well in his first game, it was UNI’s second exhibition matchup – a 72-66 win over UNC Pembroke – that really set him apart. Pickford scored 15 points, 10 of which came in a four-minute time span, and pulled down 11 rebounds.

11 rebounds for a 6-foot-4 guard is impressive enough, but the fact that eight of those 11 boards were on the offensive end of the floor is absolutely staggering.

Only one player in the UNI starting lineup, Bennett Koch, averaged double-digit scoring last year. Even if he improves on his 11 point-per-game average, consistent scoring from Pickford would greatly improve the Panthers’ offensive attack.

One UNC player to watch…

Seventh Woods will make the start at point guard in the absence of preseason All-American Joel Berry II. With Berry out for at least a couple of games, Woods will need to play well to give the Tar Heels their best opportunity to stay undefeated early in the season.

LAS VEGAS, NV – DECEMBER 17: Seventh Woods
LAS VEGAS, NV – DECEMBER 17: Seventh Woods /

Woods averaged 1.5 points, 1.4 rebounds and 1.2 assists in just 7.7 minutes per game as a freshman. His role was very limited last season, what with a tremendously deep and talented back court, but he’s going to get a lot more chances this year.

The best thing that Woods can do to begin the season is to play within himself and the scheme. There’s no need to try doing too much or making things happen when the opportunity simply isn’t there. Upperclassmen Theo Pinson, Cameron Johnson, Kenny Williams and Luke Maye are all viable options that Woods should look to work through, particularly in the half court.

Woods’ speed and athleticism on the fast break, though, should be utilized as often as possible. Roy Williams likes to play fast, and Woods can undoubtedly do fast.

Difference maker…

North Carolina freshman bigs will be playing in their first official game action. The trio of Garrison Brooks, Brandon Huffman and Sterling Manley are members of the Tar Heels’ 2017 freshman class and each will get plenty of opportunities this season.

That wouldn’t normally be the case, but North Carolina lost the majority of its front court production from a season ago. Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks both graduated, and freshman center Tony Bradley left early for the NBA.

Those three players, along with first team All-American wing Justin Jackson, gave North Carolina the most talented and experienced front court in the nation last year.

With them gone, and North Carolina’s strength now shifted to its back court, the young Tar Heel bigs will have to perform well early.

Next: Updates on Zion Williamson, Romeo Langford and more...

What you need to know

WHAT? Northern Iowa 0-0 (0-0 MVC) @ North Carolina (0-0 ACC)
WHEN? Friday, November 10 at 7:00 p.m. ET
WHERE? Dean E. Smith Center – Chapel Hill, North Carolina
TV? ESPNU (Kevin Fitzgerald and Dino Gaudio)
RADIO? Tar Heel Sports Network