Tar Heels' starting lineup in flux without point guard Joel Berry

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Thursday, November 9, 2017

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina knows it will start the season without point guard Joel Berry II due to a hand injury. Coach Roy Williams didn't sound so sure about much else for the ninth-ranked Tar Heels' opener Friday against Northern Iowa.

Williams wouldn't say Thursday who his starting point guard would be -- or who would be in his starting lineup as a whole, for that matter. Sophomore Seventh Woods and freshman Jalek Felton are set to assume significant roles for however long Berry remains sidelined.

"Completely honest, I'm not sure what I'm going to do," Williams said. "I got mad at everybody yesterday. I got mad at Joel and he wasn't even practicing. So I really am not sure what I'm going to do. I've got to make the decision before gametime tomorrow."

The school announced Oct. 23 that Berry -- last year's Final Four Most Outstanding Player for the reigning national champions -- had broken a bone in his right hand and would miss about four weeks. Two days later, Williams said Berry was hurt when he punched a door after losing a video game to Theo Pinson and a team manager.

Friday's opener comes just shy of three weeks since the announcement, so Berry isn't expected to miss much more time. But his absence is huge, more so because he's the team's toughest competitor than the scoring (14.7 points) and outside shooting (38 percent from 3-point range) he provides.

Williams said Berry has been improving his dribbling with his left hand, and only recently started dribbling and doing some light shooting with his right.

The Tar Heels got a look at life without Berry in December last season. He missed games against Davidson and Tennessee with an ankle injury, and the Tar Heels had to grind out tough wins while never looking quite right without him.

Now it's up to Woods and Felton to get UNC off to a fast start.

"I wanted somebody to be really excited and jump up there and get in front of the other guy and never turn around and look back," Williams said. "So they haven't done that. They've had good moments. ... But I'm putting the load on them. Joel cannot play. It's that good old saying: he's not walking through that door with his uniform on tomorrow night. So it's been good for them too."

Woods started the exhibition against Division II Barton, finished with four points and two assists on 2-for-6 shooting in 19 minutes. Felton finished with five points (also on 2-for-6 shooting) with seven assists in 21 minutes off the bench.

"They know that Joel's a huge part of our team and they know that somebody will have to step up," junior Kenny Williams III said. "I think personally that they'll have to do a great job of getting our defense going, because a lot of the time that's who it starts with -- the point guard.

"If they can get our defense going and get us into the correct offense, and just to be calm, then I think they'll do a great job."

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