The Tar Heels return to the basketball court tonight when they host in-state opponent, Gardner-Webb. The last time we saw Carolina, they used a huge second half from Armando Bacot to erase what was a seven-point half-time deficit, into a comfortable win over pesky, College of Charleston. Hubert Davis’s squad is currently 2-0, and despite some less than impressive performances to start the season, UNC did remain #1 in the first AP top 25 poll of the regular season.
After an off-season full of hype and expectations, it’s clear that Carolina is easing how to play with the weight of the college basketball world on its shoulders, and the absence of Brady Manek is evident. The Tar Heels have looked incomplete at times during the first two games, and the reason for that is due to an incomplete roster. Yesterday, Hubert Davis met with the media and made it known that both Donovan “Puff” Johnson and Jalen Washington are trending toward being able to play when they go to Portland next week for the PK85 Invitational. Johnson is arguably the second-best rebounder on the team, behind Bacot, and his ability to defend on the perimeter, while stretching the floor will be invaluable. As for Washington, he would add depth in the frontcourt, as we’ve yet to see Will Shaver on the floor, as he continues to get his body in shape to play night in, and night out in the ACC.
Gardner-Webb enters tonight’s contest 0-2, after starting the season with losses to Colorado State and Stephen F. Austin. They have three players that average double figures scoring, led by Julien Soumaro, who’s averaging 13.0 points per game, on 42.9% shooting from the field, including 50% from behind the arc. As you could imagine with the Runnin’ Bulldogs being from a small conference, they lack size, and evidence of that is the fact that they average only 29.5 rebounds per game, which is 340th in the country.
While it’s not time to panic about some of the struggles of Carolina, the Heels do need to start playing better to lessen not only the pressure but the questions that are starting to be asked about this team potentially being overrated, after last season’s magical run to the national championship game. Just like the first two games of the season, UNC is hosting an opponent they are more gifted and talented then, here’s how they can put together a dominant performance:
Rebound. Rebound. Rebound: In the first two games against UNC-Wilmington, and the College of Charleston, UNC lost the battle of the boards. They were also outrebounded on the offensive glass by 7 or more in back-to-back games, for the first time in Roy Williams’ first season back in 2003-04. There’s absolutely no excuse for that to happen again tonight, as Carolina is going up against one of the worst rebounding teams in all of college basketball. Even as dominant as a rebounder as Armando Bacot is, he needs help from his teammates, most notably Pete Nance, who totaled just one rebound against Charleston on Friday night.
Start Fast: One of the reasons we’ve yet to be impressed with the Heels is that they haven’t started games the way we want them to, or expect them to. You could chalk the opener to nerves, but against Charleston, they looked a step slow. The crowds have been sensational to start off the season, so there is a natural energy in the building, and they need to feed off of that. This time of the season is all about finding out who you are as a team, and Carolina doesn’t want to fall into the trap of being a second-half team.
Play Inside-Out: Gardner-Webb doesn’t have the size or the depth to compete with Carolina upfront. That means we should see a heavy dose of touches for Armando Bacot, as he proved in the second half on Friday, Carolina’s best offense still goes through him. They also need to get Pete Nance more comfortable on the offensive end. We know he’s not the perimeter shooter that Brady Manek was, but he needs to start finding a rhythm on that end of the floor, tonight is a great opportunity to achieve just that.
Series History: UNC is 5-0 all-time against Gardner-Webb, with the last matchup coming back in 2019 when Carolina won 77-61 behind 28 points from Cole Anthony and the first career double-double for Armando Bacot. All previous contests, just like this one have been played in Chapel Hill.
North Carolina - 12th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 113.6 (8th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 90.7 (29th)
Gardner-Webb - 197th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 96.2 (249th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 99.3 (146th)
TV Info: Tonight’s game will be televised on the ACC Network, and will tip at 8:05 PM.
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