Learning on the Road

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – No. 6 North Carolina will play its next four games away from the Dean E. Smith Center, its longest road stretch of the season. A lot more will be known about this Tar Heel squad once it returns from the Bahamas next weekend.

After back-to-back seasons with unbalanced roster and varying degrees of turmoil, this UNC lineup seems relatively straightforward. Sure, there’s a level of tinkering that will take place as Roy Williams determines his players’ strengths and weaknesses for this particular season, although it appears the foundation has been established.

UNC has length and athleticism at across the board, an unselfishness in its freelance offense to counter a lack of perimeter shooting, and of course, Marcus Paige.

All that suggests, however, is that the Tar Heels have the pieces in place for a solid 2014-15 season. Figuring out how those pieces fit together is the next critical step.

“To be honest, we’re still looking for our identity,” junior forward Brice Johnson said on Friday. “We might have some say in what it could be, but once more games come and we win a little bit more, then we can start to think about things like that.”

Playing away from home has a way of isolating a team and forging a bond that may not be necessary in front of cheering fans. That can especially be true against legitimate competition, which UNC will encounter in heavy doses over the next eight days.

Not only can UNC attain a better grasp on its identity, it can also determine if the preseason Top-10 ranking is legitimate or not.

When asked what he hopes to learn from the four-game road trip, Williams replied: “You hope to learn that you’re pretty good, but that’s the reason you play.”

Davidson has made 25, UNC has shot 27 First up is a Davidson squad on Saturday in Charlotte that has made 50 percent of its 3-point attempts this season. Williams noted that the Wildcats have made 25 3-pointers while his own club has only attempted 27.

“That’s a unique challenge that we haven’t played against yet this year, so that’s a way for getting us ready,” the 12th-year UNC head coach said. “Playing in a tournament for three straight days, you’re going to face three different styles; that’s another way to get us ready.

UNC opens the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas on Wednesday against Butler (2-0), a veteran team that returns four starters from 2013-14 and a fifth from 2012-13. Tournament play will determine the Tar Heels’ next two opponents, although No. 3 Wisconsin, No. 8 Florida and No. 18 Oklahoma lurk in the field.

Add in December road trips to No. 1 Kentucky and No. 20 Ohio State and there’s little doubt UNC will be seasoned by the time ACC play starts on Jan. 3.

“I’ve always said that preconference games are supposed to get you ready for conference play,” Williams said. “[The] quality of the opponents we have in preconference play this year are some of the best teams in the country and not many of them here, so it will be a big-time challenge for us.”

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