Zoning in on UNC's 'secret scrimmage'

Because of the nature of preseason “secret scrimmages” -- you can’t keep official score, they are closed the public and media, and they are often run more like a practice than an exhibition game -- it’s hard to know for sure who really comes out on top.

But one benefit North Carolina got out of its closed matchup with Georgetown on Sunday: going against a Division I zone defense.

“It was our first time playing against it [during this preseason] and we’d rather go against Real Blue Steel [UNC’s walk-ons] than go against them in our first time doing it,’’ shooting guard Dexter Strickland said, laughing. “But it was a good experience for us.”

Strickland said his team did a solid job against the zone -- something the top-ranked Tar Heels know could be thrown at them, what with their plethora of talented big guys and questionable shooting from the perimeter last season.

The junior said their outside shooting has improved, what with reserve guard Reggie Bullock’s knee finally healthy and the addition of sharpshooter P.J. Hairston. And then there's that Harrison Barnes guy.

“Plus, my confidence is better, Kendall [Marshall] has worked on his shot -- even John [Henson] with his 15-foot shot … everybody has the skills to be able to play well against the zone,” Strickland said.

Coach Roy Williams, too, has said he thinks his team will shoot better, plus, "I think we're a better passing team with another year's experience playing against some zones, which means you'll get the ball inside more and not just be content with the outside shot."

Under NCAA rules, teams can replace one of their two preseason exhibition games with scrimmage against a Division I team, as long as it is closed and not publicized.

Playing zone, and working against it, were among a list of things the Tar Heels practiced against the Hoyas, who were recently picked to finish 10th in the Big East. Although there was no official score Sunday -- and there are still things his team needs to improve upon -- Strickland said he hopes he team “won.”

“I just think everybody knows now that the season’s here,’’ he said. “Georgetown is a great team, has great talent, players, and I think Sunday was good for us.”