Today one of the best rivalries in the ACC, renews itself, as UNC plays host to NC State, as both teams seek to make a statement in the ACC in the Smith Center. Given Carolina’s overall dominance in the rivalry, it has lost steam over the years, but with the revival of NC State’s program, this game has as much juice as it has had in recent memory. The Tar Heels are coming off a workman like win on Boston College on Tuesday, as they beat a scrappy Eagles team, 72-64. In the process, Armando Bacot tied the school record for most double-doubles in UNC history, set back by Billy Cunningham in the 1960s. Given the importance of today’s game and considering the opponent, you would imagine Bacot will be motivated to break the record today in front of a capacity crowd.
Kevin Keatts entered the season squarely on the hot seat but has responded by putting together a 15-4 start, with wins over Duke and Miami, and four straight overall has the Pack sitting at 5-3 in the ACC. They are led by Terquavion Smith, who surprised everybody by turning down the NBA and returning to Raleigh. Smith is averaging over 19 points per game, along with 3.6 rebounds, and 4.7 assists, all while shooting 39% from the field, and 34% from behind the arc. He’s not the only one enjoying a great season, as transfer Jarkel Joyner is averaging 16.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists while shooting 44% from the floor, and 35% from deep. Casey Morsell is the other State player that is currently averaging double figures (12.9), but overall they have six players that are averaging 8.7 points per game or better. Their interior has been transformed by Winthrop transfer, DJ Burns, who has brought size, length, and even athleticism despite his larger frame.
In his media availability on Friday, Hubert Davis said that they expect Jalen Washington to be available, and that’s good news as Carolina will need its full complement of front-court depth. He also expressed that he had a meeting with Pete Nance about being more aggressive when on the floor, as Nance has admittedly to struggling to fit in at North Carolina. Carolina is going to need Pete Nance to return to the level of play he displayed while at Northwestern for the Tar Heels to emerge as legitimate ACC and national title contenders.
Hubert Davis has often said before big games that the reason you come to Carolina is to play in front of big crowds, in big-time games. This is one of those games, as the winner of today’s game will be able to lay claim to being the best team in the state and be mentioned in the same breath as Virginia when talking about the favorite to compete for the conference. Here’s how Carolina can earn a big win at home today:
Play With Passion: This game is always the most important game for NC State, but given that this is a legitimate NCAA Tournament team, they’ll be confident they have a chance to win. Outside of the home loss to Duke last season, under Hubert Davis, Carolina has risen to the occasion, and met the task at hand when playing in a big game in the Smith Center. They’ll need to play with a type of passion we haven’t seen from them this season, and shouldn’t be too hard as the 1993 team will be honored, which means some legendary Tar Heels will be in the crowd, making for a special atmosphere in Chapel Hill.
Limit Turnovers: One of the reasons NC State has had the type of season they have had so far, is that Keatts finally has the personnel required to play the type of full-court press, trapping defense, that made him a household name while rebuilding the UNC-Wilmington program. With better talent and more depth, NC State is forcing 14.6 turnovers per game, which has fueled their offense in the open court. Carolina is going to need its guards, Caleb Love and R.J. Davis to value the basketball, as well as they have in any game this season. Seth Trimble has seen minutes reduced the last couple of games, but expect him to see the floor plenty in this game, as Davis would feel more comfortable with three-point guards on the floor.
Win the Battle of the Interior: As mentioned above, DJ Burns has been instrumental in turning around the Pack’s frontcourt. Burns is averaging 9.9 points, 4.7 while shooting 56% from the field. Ernest Ross has also been a surprise for NC State, but you’d have to give UNC the edge entering the game because they have Armando Bacot. Bacot will be motivated to play well in this game, as it could be his last home game against NC State, but he’ll need help from Nance and Washington if Carolina wants to win the game. Carolina needs to limit their production in the painted area, and also control the blackboard.
Series History: Carolina is 163-79 all-time against their Big Four rivals, including being 80-23 in Chapel Hill. In the Smith Center, which turned 37 years old earlier this week, Carolina is 29-7 against the Pack, including having won four straight.
North Carolina - 25th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 115.7 (18th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 98.2 (63rd)
NC State - 37th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 112.7 (40th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 96.9 (46th)
North Carolina - 38th
NC State - 27th
TV Info: Today’s game will tip at 5 PM on the ACC Network.
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