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Heel Tough Blog: Phil Knight Invitational - Alabama Preview

After suffering their first loss of the season on Friday, the Tar Heels are back in action later today, when they face Alabama in the third-place game of the Phil Knight Invitational. The last time we saw the Heels, they were upset 70-65 by Iowa State, despite holding a 60-53 lead with under four minutes left in the contest. Poor shooting and turnovers led to the loss, but given the way the team had been playing to start the season, a defeat was inevitable. Now Hubert Davis and his team are challenged with responding to the first dose of adversity in the 2022-23 season.

Alabama has the same record as Carolina (5-1), and they are looking for their second marquee win in Portland. The Crimson Tide took down Michigan State in the opening round of the event, before getting bullied 82-67 by UConn. Nate Oaks’ team is arguably the best rebounding team in all of college basketball, as they lead the country in total rebounds per game (49.8), are third in offensive rebounds (16.3), and second in defensive rebounds (33.5). They are led in scoring by Brandon Miller, as he’s averaging 20.5 points, on, 45% shooting, including 52% from behind the arc. Miller is also the top rebounder for Alabama, averaging 9.2 rebounds per game. Mark Sears is the only other Alabama currently averaging double figures scoring, at 12.7 points per game.

There wasn’t a sense of panic coming from the Tar Heels after the loss to Iowa State, but this team knows they need to start playing better. If you look ahead at Carolina’s schedule upon leaving Portland, it doesn’t get any easier, as UNC will travel to play Indiana on Wednesday, before playing their first ACC game against Virginia Tech next Sunday. With the schedule starting to heat up, the time is now for this team to at least start putting it together:

  1. Rebounding: Alabama is by far the best rebounding team that Carolina has played so far this season. After being out-rebounded in the first two games of the season, UNC has won the rebounding margin in four straight games, and Armando Bacot is averaging over 11 rebounds per game. Carolina has gotten nice contributions on the glass from Leaky Black, Caleb Love, and R.J. Davis, but Pete Nance has yet to make an impact in this category. Nance who averaged a double-double last season at Northwestern, is currently only averaging 4.7 rebounds per game. For Carolina to win this game they are going to have to win the rebounding and to do that, they’ll need Pete Nance to be a game-changer on the backboards.

  2. 3 Point Defense: Alabama averaged 9.7 made triples per contest, and they attempt over 28, so they aren’t going to be afraid to let it fly in this game. Nate Oaks has brought an NBA style of basketball to Tuscaloosa and that’s a big reason why he’s revived the once dormant Alabama program. UNC came to Portland, holding opponents to just 29% from behind the arc, but Portland shot 38%, and then Iowa State shot 45%, so their defense hasn’t traveled so far. There might be a chance that Hubert Davis has to go zone in this game if his guards can’t contain the ball, and if the struggles with ball screen action continue

  3. Play Inside-Out: Armando Bacot was 5-6 from the field against Iowa State, and the problem was that he only took 6 shots. Furthermore, UNC was in the bonus at the 13:47 of the first half, and the double bonus by the under 12 minute of the second half, and instead of attacking the rim, they settled for contested perimeter jumpers. Caleb Love and R.J. Davis might make up the best backcourt in the country, but Carolina’s best offense still ruins through Bacot. UNC’s size won’t overwhelm Alabama, but they need to make sure they get plenty of paint touches for Bacot, and that the guards are aggressive in getting to the lane.


North Carolina - 21st overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 114.0 (10th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 94.4 (50th)

Alabama - is 14th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 113.1 (19th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 90.6 (19th)

TV Info: Today’s game will tip at 3:30 PM on ESPN.

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