We’re three weeks away from Selection Sunday, and every game from here on out matters for the Tar Heels, as they try to solidify themselves as an NCAA Tournament team. Carolina is coming off a loss to Miami earlier this week, where poor outside shooting hindered them in the second half, as they lost for the second time at home this season. That defeat made UNC’s record an underwhelming 16-10 overall, and just 8-7 in the ACC, as the team is running out of time to impress the NCAA Tournament committee.
NC State’s impressive season has continued since the first matchup between the two back in January, as the Wolfpack is all but a lock for the Big Dance, and has the type of roster that no team wants to see in a tournament setting. Like Carolina, they are coming off a loss earlier this week, as they fell in Syracuse in a highly contested game, where perimeter shooting was the difference. Still, State enters this game, with a very respectable 20-7 record, including 10-6 in the league, as Kevin Keatts has silenced the doubters in Raliegh, with an impressive bounce-back season. His team is led in scoring by Terquavion Smith and his 18.3 points per game. Furthermore, Jarkel Joiner (16.1), Casey Morsell (12.7), and DJ Burns Jr (12.3), all average double figures, to fuel an offensive attack that shoots the ball 64.2 times per game, which is 7th most in all of college basketball.
These two teams played a physical game back in February that felt like old times in the ACC. Of course, everyone remembers a foul committed by Leaky Black, that saw Terquavion Smith being taken off the court on a stretcher, followed by Armando Bacot wearing sunglasses in his postgame media availability, which drew the ire of Wolfpack fans. For as much talk as there is about this no longer being a rivalry (Caleb Love said so himself on Friday), the last game was a reminder that these two schools don’t like each other, and we should expect another physical battle tomorrow afternoon.
Carolina is 0-9 in Quad 1 games this season, and that’s a big reason why Joe Lunardo currently has this team, listed as the first team out of the projected NCAA Tournament field. With that in mind, Carolina’s win last week over Clemson improved their seeding significantly, and that was a Quad 2 contest, if Carolina were to win tomorrow, you would imagine they’d once again have an inside track to participating in March Madness. Here’s how Carolina can do just that:
Shot Selection: The Tar Heels quite literally shot themselves out of the game on Monday, as they were 5-31 from behind the arc, and at one point they were 2-23. That season low shooting performance came after they made 15 triples the game prior, just to illustrate the inconsistencies of this team this season. NC State has quite literally run opponents out of PNC Arena this season when they’ve taken bad shots, and that’s something Carolina can’t afford to do in this game. Caleb Love and R.J. Davis need to be aggressive in this game, but they don’t need to force the issue and take shots that take this offense out of rhythm. Leaky Black needs to pick his spots, in terms of seeking his own offense, and Pete Nance just has to give this team something, if Hubert Davis does choose to start him again.
Win Painted Area: You’re probably wondering why Armando Bacot wasn’t mentioned above, but this is where he needs to impact the game the most. Bacot totaled 26 points, and 18 rebounds in the win over the Pack in January, and he needs to replace that production once again. Carolina was 36-39 from the foul line in the first matchup, and you have to imagine they won’t go to the line that many times again, especially with this game being on the road. DJ Burns has been a major part of State’s emergence this season, and Bacot needs to win that battle once again tomorrow. Whichever team wins the painted area, most likely wins the game.
Limit Turnovers: And as always when you play against the press-heavy Wolfpack, Carolina has to limit turnovers. Expect to see a lot of Seth Trimble and D’Marco Dunn on the floor to give UNC extra ball handlers, to help beat the press that Kevin Keatts is known for. In the first game, Carolina only committed 7 turnovers, and they’ll need to replicate that performance once again in this game.
Series History: Carolina is 164-79 all-time against NC State, tied for the most wins against a single ACC opponent (Wake Forest). In the last 41 games, Carolina is 36-6, and this is only the third time in the last 68 years, that UNC will visit Raleigh as an unranked opponent, with the Wolfpack being ranked. Overall, UNC is 68-47 against State in Raleigh, including 18-5 in PNC Arena.
North Carolina - 38th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 113.5 (35th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 97.9 (50th)
NC State - 43rd overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 113.1 (38th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 98.2 (55th)
North Carolina - 45th.
NC State - 38th.
TV Info: Tomorrow’s game will tip at 1 PM on ESPN.
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