Carolina returns to action at high noon tomorrow, when they host James Madison, ahead of the trip to Portland over the Thanksgiving holiday. UNC is 3-0 and still ranked #1 in the country, after some unimpressive wins to start the season. Following the win over Gardner-Webb earlier this week, Hubert Davis said that his team has lacked energy and toughness to start the season, and has caught the second-year head coach by surprise. With a tough mid-major coming into the Smith Center, and the first road trip next week, Davis knows his team needs to start playing better sooner than later.
James Madison enters the game with a 4-0 record, and they have won each game in impressive fashion. The Dukes are averaging over 105 points per game, which is second in all of college basketball. They have four players that average 12.5 points per game or better, led by leading scorer Vado Morse, who leads the team with 15.8 points per contest. Additionally, James Madison has 8 players overall that average 6.5 points per game or better, as their high-powered offense, is very well-balanced. The Dukes are putting up these ridiculous offensive numbers in an efficient fashion, as they are shooting 59% from the field, and 54% from behind the three-point line. All of that adds up to them having the best offensive rating in all of college basketball, according to Sports Reference, with a rating of 132.8.
It’s not just offensively where James Madison has impressed this season, they have overwhelmed opponents defensively, giving up just 58.6 points per game, and totaling over 12 steals per game. Despite the Dukes being a mid-major opponent, they have owned the glass, grabbing 44 rebounds per game, and when you factor in what they’ve done on offense to start the season, their defensive prowess, and the ability to dominate the glass, this is the most complete team to visit the Smith Center so far this season.
Through 3 games, we’ve yet to see Carolina play like a team that is worthy of being ranked #1, as the burden of expectations is clearly playing a factor. When you think back to last season, when UNC was making their run to the national title game, in addition to the team doing all the little things, they had fun doing so. This team isn’t having fun right now, it looks like a chore to be out there, and that needs to change. Here’s how the team can take a step toward looking like the team we anticipated seeing when the season started, and in the process avoid a major upset:
Energy. Effort. Toughness.: As important as Brady Manek was to the team on the court, he was as equally important off the court. Manek was the emotional leader of the team last season and had the ability to hold the team accountable, despite being a transfer. Right now this team is in need of having a player hold them accountable to play the way Hubert Davis wants them to play, and that player is R.J. Davis. Even though Armando Bacot and Leaky Black have been around forever, they aren’t vocal leaders. Caleb Love is only vocal when he’s putting the ball in the basket, and Pete Nance is still learning his place at UNC. Hubert Davis called R.J. the heart and soul of the team after the win over Gardner-Webb, and he needs to embrace that role. R.J. has the ability to speak up no matter how he’s playing, and he needs to be the voice that gets Carolina back on track.
Defend 3 Point Line: As mentioned above, James Madison is a prolific perimeter shooting team, as they are shooting over 54% from behind the arc to start the season. On the flip side, UNC is holding opponents to 31% shooting from deep to start the season, and that’ll need to carry over into this game. One thing we’ve seen from Hubert Davis early on in the season is a four-guard lineup, which is the vision for the program under his guidance. The difference is that we’ve seen that lineup, in an attempt to put more scoring on the floor, but in this game, we’ll see that from a defensive mindset. Like most mid-majors, James Madison does a good job of spreading the floor, to attack off the dribble. That is going to put either Nance or Bacot on an island on the perimeter, and that’s a recipe for UNC’s defense to be broken down for 40 minutes.
Rebound. Rebound. Rebound.: UNC finally won the rebounding margin in the win over Gardner-Webb, but only won so 40-38, against a team that entered the game 340th in rebounding. James Madison averages 44.0 rebounds per game, which is 18th in the country. Conversely, UNC is averaging 34.7 rebounds per game, which is 267th in all of college basketball. This needs to be a game in that Armando Bacot controls the boards, on both ends. He’s yet to record a double-digit rebounding game this season, and nobody would’ve expected that after last season.
Series History: UNC is 3-0 all-time against James Madison, but this will be the first time they’ve met in Chapel Hill, as all of the previous matchups have taken place on a neutral floor. UNC escaped the Dukes back in the first round of the 1982 NCAA Tournament, which UNC would go on to win. The last time they met was back in 1989 in the Maui Invitational, as the Tar Heels overcame a 9-point deficit in the final minute to win 80-79. The comeback was headlined by a three-pointer by some guy named Hubert Davis.
North Carolina - 18th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 113.0 (11th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 91.5 (34th)
James Madison - 80th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 106.4 (62nd) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 97.4 (109th)
TV Info: Tomorrow’s game will tip off at 12 PM on the ACC Network.
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