There will be plenty to catch your eye at Friday night's Late Night with Roy Williams, including the usual assortment of skits, dances and pyrotechnic-enhanced player introductions.
But the most relevant factor on display will be the first chance for the public to see the effects of the new effort in college basketball to encourage freedom of movement--in other words, an attempt to lessen the gladiator style of defense that has become so prevalent over the last decade.
Carolina players have experienced the new rules in several scrimmage-type situations already, and say the changes make a noticeable difference.
"It's totally different," says Joel James. "It allows so many more points to be scored. Defensively, it's a lot tougher to stop people. You have to play much more team defense now. I think it's going to make a better show for fans, because more points are going to be scored."
James said he's already been whistled for putting his hand on an opposing offensive player who was trying to back James down. With the Tar Heels hoping to see plenty of progression from their young big men this year, learning exactly what's acceptable this season will be important. James and Brice Johnson were the two most frequently whistled Tar Heels last year, with Johnson earning a foul every 6.8 minutes of court time and James being cited every eight minutes of action.
Carolina players have mixed feelings on the changes. As defenders, they're concerned about early foul trouble as they get accustomed to the new style. But on offense, they're excited about the potential for more explosive plays. J.P. Tokoto, the team's most ferocious dunker, is especially pleased with defenders no longer being allowed to slide under a soaring offensive player to draw a charge.
"The change with the charges is a big plus for me," Tokoto says. "Ever since high school, it was so easy for guys to try to slide in there after I had taken off and get a charge. This year, it's different, because from what I understand if you are in a gathering motion with the ball, you're allowed to finish all the way to the rim. A lot of those charges that have been drawn in the past are going to be too late now. I think you're going to see more people getting dunked on because players are going to be more aggressive with the ball."
Ultimately, that's what basketball is supposed to be about: offensive players being talented enough to make things happen with the basketball. It's never been intended to be a game of brute force, an argument Roy Williams was making more than a decade ago, when he was the chairman of the rules committee.
Take a look at this video from a 1984 Carolina game (it's Michael Jordan vs. Len Bias, so it's well worth watching no matter what) and notice how much different it looks than what we're used to in the modern era. At one point, a cutter even runs through the lane without taking a forearm shiver.
Hearing the players describe the effect of the new rules, the game sounds much more like the one Williams (and Dean Smith) have always favored--a free-flowing, artistic game of strategy and athleticism. At least, that's the plan here in late October. The question is whether officials will be able to continue making those same calls in February and March, or whether the game slides back toward pugilism.
"It's going to make a huge difference," Marcus Paige says. "The way it's been called so far (in scrimmages), you really can't touch anybody. It frees up the offense so much. And if the officials consistently abide by the changes, you're going to see a lot more drives to the basket and a lot more free throws. That's great for us, because we like to attack."
Adam Lucas is a GoHeels columnist and the editor of CAROLINA.