UNC notes: Strickland, leaders, going small

Some notes from North Carolina coach Roy Williams’ news conference on Thursday afternoon …

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina coach Roy Williams doesn’t know exactly what to expect Friday night at point guard (where freshman Marcus Paige will start) or in the post (where he’s still debating who will start along with sophomore James Michael McAdoo).

But there is some “comfort,” he said, in having veteran shooting guard Dexter Strickland back in the lineup, because he knows what the speedy senior can do.

“We know that Dexter can guard some people, and we know he’s a tough competitor,’’ Williams, whose team opens the season against Gardner-Webb at the Smith Center, said. “And those are two things that are really, really important for the whole thing. If there’s a loose ball, he has a greater chance of coming up with it than a lot of guys do, just because he’s going to go after it. So it does give you a feeling of comfort.”

Friday will mark Strickland’s first regular-season game since he tore his ACL at Virginia Tech last January. Williams says he is a bit concerned that the player might try to do too much, too soon, especially because he missed so many games last season.

“Also, seniors have a sense of anxiety because they’re seniors: what’s going to happen next?” Williams said. “And I think we’ve seen that hundreds of times: some guys handle it really, really well and some guys don’t handle it very well.

“But with Dexter, I have a comfort level of what he’s going to be able to do for us defensively and how hard he’s going to try. And he’s shooting the ball better, he really is. We’ve just got to get everybody on the same page and see what happens.”

LOOKING FOR LEADERSHIP: Williams said the team – which lost four starters to the NBA draft -- has so far been led more by the group than any one individual.

“Dexter and Reggie [Bullock] and Leslie [McDonald] have been around the longest; Marcus has leadership capabilities, and positioning plays helps him,'' he said. "And the two that have the most respect from everybody else on the team are Reggie and James Michael because of their ability, and because their concern about the team. Right now it’s been a shared vision.”

One of the reasons there are so many questions about leadership is the comparison of this team to the UNC squads in 2005-06 and 2009-10, which also lost the bulk of the previous season's starting lineups to the NBA draft. The '06 team had a strong leader in David Noel and flourished; the '10 team didn't, and did not.

SHHHHH: Teams aren’t allowed to publicize stats or scores of “secret” preseason scrimmages against Division I teams, but coaches are allowed to make general comments afterward.

So asked about UNC’s Oct. 28 scrimmage at Georgetown, Williams said: “We didn’t play as well as we wanted to play. … Early on, we didn’t play nearly as well as we wanted to play. And with each quarter -- I think we played five quarters, or something like that -- we got a little bit better.”

GOING SMALL: With so many wings (and so few experienced big guys) in the lineup, it makes sense that UNC might choose to go to a smaller quintet, at times. But if/when that happens, it won’t be the 6-foot-7 Bullock playing in the post.

“If we go with the small lineup, it would probably be P.J. [Hairston] or J.P. [Tokoto] as a 4,’’ Williams said. “It would not be Reggie."

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.