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Heel Tough Blog: Battle 4 Atlantis - Northern Iowa Preview

Grant Halverson - Getty Images

The Thanksgiving holiday is here again, which means Carolina Basketball finds itself away from home, playing in a meaningful non-conference tournament. This year, that tournament is the Battle 4 Atlantis, an event Carolina has played in twice before. The three days in the Bahamas serve as the end of the easy portion of the non-conference schedule, as the opponents only get tougher from here on out. The Tar Heels enter the Battle 4 Atlantis as the highest-ranked team in the field, and the prohibitive favorite to win three games, in three days.

The first opponent for Carolina, is Northern Iowa, out of the Missouri Valley Conference, and a team that has upset UNC in the past, dating back to their 2015 upset of the #1 Tar Heels. The Panthers are a proud program, that has recent NCAA Tournament history, including knocking out #1 overall seed Kansas, back in the 2010 NCAA Tournament. Ben Jacobson’s team was picked to finish second in the MVC this year, led by preseason all-conference players, Bowen Born, and Tytan Anderson.

Carolina is 3-0 on the season and has climbed from #19 to #14 in the AP Poll. They’ve been able to win, despite not shooting the ball the way that Hubert Davis thinks his team is capable of, from the perimeter. The influx of three transfers into the starting lineup has been a seamless transition so far, although this week will be the first test for the news Tar Heels. The best part about these events is that they create interest in the sport during the heart of football season, and they allow coaches to learn about their team. Make no mistake, starting with this Northern Iowa program, Carolina is poised to learn a lot about itself, one way or another during their week in Nassau.

  1. Perimeter Shooting: Carolina has struggled to shoot the ball well from the outside to start the season, even with better shot selection from what we saw a year ago. Hubert Davis has remained confident in his team’s ability to shoot the ball well from the perimeter, but at some point, we need to see it to believe it. Expect Davis to run some early set plays to get Davis, Ryan, and Wojcik all quality looks from the perimeter, to get some confidence in their outside shooting, because if Carolina is going to win three games in three days, they’re going to need to shoot the ball much more efficiently from behind the arc.

  2. Rebounding: Carolina got outrebounded in their last outing against UC Riverside, which is simply inexcusable. When you back to the Radford contest, Carolina only won the rebounding battle 37-34, as they were unable to overwhelm the Highlanders on the glass. Armando Bacot has recorded double-digit rebounds in two of the first three games of the season, but the only game he failed to do so, was the UC Riverside game. At times last season, the Tar Heels struggled to win the rebounding battle, if Armando Bacot was limited on the glass. With Hubert Davis playing a smaller lineup this season, it makes it all the more important, that they hold their own on the backboards. If Carolina controls the glass, they’ll control the tempo, which makes it easier to foresee them advancing in the winner's bracket.

  3. Rest: We’ve seen the deepest rotation of the Hubert Davis Era, but it’s easy to rotate against the likes of Radford, Lehigh, and UC Riverside. This week we’re going to learn how real that rotation is, and how deep Hubert Davis is comfortable going against quality competition. No matter the result, Carolina will be back in action on Thursday, making it imperative that they play in a manner that allows Davis to get his starters off their feet for as long as possible. The team that usually emerges as the winner of the Battle 4 Atlantis enters the final as the freshest, this is a perfect situation for Carolina to be as fresh as possible for their second game in the Bahamas.

Battle 4 Atlantis History:

This is Carolina’s third time competing in the Battle 4 Atlantis, having finished 5th back in 2014, and third in 2019. This actually marks the second time Armando Bacot has participated in the event after he averaged a double-double back in 2019.

Opponent History:

Carolina is 2-1 all-time against the Panthers, with Carolina winning the last two in the series. Northern Iowa upset the #1 Tar Heels in a homecoming game for Marcus Paige in the 2015-16 season. Ironically enough, Paige wasn’t able to play due to an injury, and Carolina fell short 71-67. The Tar Heel wins? An 85-42 decision in 2016-17. And an 86-69 final to open up the 2017-18 season.


North Carolina - 19th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 113.9 (19th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 93.6 (27th)

Northern Iowa - 120th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 107.8 (83rd) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 103.6 (171st)

TV Info: Today’s game will tip at 12 PM on ESPN.

The Four Corners Podcast:

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