The Hubert Davis Era is set to officially begin tonight in the Smith Center, as #19 North Carolina will open the 2021-22 season at home against Loyola (MD). This will mark the first regular season game not coached by Roy Williams since the end of the 2023 season. It will also mark the first time an African-American will lead the Tar Heels in a regular season game, and Davis becomes just the fourth former player to coach the program.
It was an off-season filled with an emotional goodbye to Roy Williams, which was followed by the excitement of the hiring of Hubert Davis, who spent the next 3 months reshaping the Carolina Basketball program to fit his vision and personality. There was an overhaul of the coaching staff, which now includes all former Tar Heel players. That was followed by immediate success on the recruiting trail both for this season, and years to come. Davis utilized the transfer portal to bring in veteran Brady Manek, versatile Dawson Garcia, and the underrated Justin McKoy, who all will play a role for the Tar Heels to build the roster the way he wanted it constructed this season. Throughout the summer, Davis took a program that was believed to be in transition and transformed it into one with legitimate goals and aspirations this season.
Loyola enters tonight's game, coming off a 6-11 season last year, where they made their conference tournament final. The Greyhounds compete in the esteemed Patriot League, and last year due to the pandemic, played a conference only schedule. Despite last year’s struggles, they produced an NBA first-round draft pick in Santi Aldama, who became just the third player ever from the Patriot League to be selected in the first round. With Aldama absent, they will lean on senior guard Jaylin Andrews who averaged 11.6 points per game last season, and junior guard Cam Spencer who averaged 10.2 points per game a season ago. Before tonight’s opener, the Greyhounds did defeat John Hopkins 60-49 in an exhibition.
UNC enters tonight’s game as heavy favorites and is anxious to prove they belong in the national spotlight once again. Nonetheless, with the change in philosophy, there are still some kinks to work out, especially after their 83-55 exhibition win over Elizabeth City State last Friday night. We can expect some uneven play, as is custom in a regular season opener, with that in mind here are 3 keys to a Tar Heel victory:
Defend the 3: Loyola like most small Division I schools lacks the size and strength to compete with a team like North Carolina on the interior. Their only way to upset the Tar Heels is to be efficient from behind the arc. Carolina is changing the way they defend ball screens, among other actions, which are still a work in progress. With that in mind, they need to run the Greyhounds off the three-point line, get back in transition, and force them to settle for threes, instead of getting good looks at the basket.
Dictate Tempo: Roy Williams may be gone, but Carolina is still going to want to run as they have in the past, which means Loyola will do everything they can to take the air out of the basketball, and make this a half-court game. The guards, primarily RJ Davis, need to be aggressive getting the tempo where they want it, so they can wear down the Greyhounds. The Tar Heels have a handful of options to handle the ball and initiate the offense, so accelerating the ball up the floor shouldn’t be a problem against an overmatched opponent.
Win the Rebounding Battle: Loyola doesn’t have the size that Carolina has, so it’s safe to say they shouldn’t compete on the glass. Carolina out-rebounded Elizabeth City State 49-28 on Friday, including grabbing 19 offensive rebounds. The problem was that they only converted that into 19 second-chance points. Carolina may be running a more modern offense, but their best offense might be their second chance offense to begin the season. The easiest way to wear down the opponent is to beat them down on the glass and convert missed shots into second-chance opportunities. Something Carolina is more than capable of doing tonight.
Series History: This will be the second all-time meeting between the Tar Heels and the Greyhounds. Carolina secured a 64-47 win back in 1947 over Loyola.
UNC - 40th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 110.2 (23rd) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 94.1 (66th)
Loyola (MD) - 286th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 94.4 (284th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 104.5 (279th)
TV Info: Tonight’s game will be televised on the ACC Network, starting at 7 PM.
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