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Heel Tough Blog: Phil Knight Invitational - Iowa State Preview


The Tar Heels will be playing their second game in as many days today when they play Iowa State in the semifinals of the Phil Knight Invitational. Carolina advanced to the winner's portion of the bracket, after beating Portland yesterday 89-81, on Thanksgiving day. The win improved UNC to 5-0 on the season, even though the questions about their validity remain as the #1 ranked team in all of college basketball. The win over Portland saw Pete Nance have his best game in Carolina Blue, and it was also the first win away from Chapel Hill this season, and the challenge is to build off the good things they did yesterday and clean up some of the mistakes made along the way.

Iowa State enters a perfect 4-0, after beating Villanova 81-79 in overtime yesterday. The win over the Wildcats is the best win of the young season so far for the Cyclones, who previously beat IUPUI, NC A&T, and Milwaukee. They are powered by Jaren Holmes, he’s averaging 18.3 points per game, 4.7 rebounds, and 3.3 assists. Additionally, Aljiaz Kunc (12.0) and Osun Osunniyi (11.3) are the other players on the roster that average double figures scoring. This team has made its mark on the defensive end of the floor, as they entered their game against Villanova allowing the fewest points per game (45.0), and were the number one-rated defensive team, according to Sports Reference. Furthermore, they are fourth in offensive rebounds per game (16.3) and ninth in steals per game (11.7)

Hubert Davis was visibly frustrated with his team at halftime, and after the game, even went as far as to claim that his players do things during the game, that they don’t even practice, let alone try to execute in the actual game. The expectation for the team this season was to play with a level of desperation to get back to the Final Four and finish the job, but for some reason, that hunger isn’t visible, and Davis isn’t sure why. You would think after a handful of close calls to start the season, that would change, but as yesterday proved, so far it hasn’t.

We knew entering this event that no matter if UNC won all of its games or not, we were going to learn a lot about this basketball team. Yesterday they showed their composure and held off a hot shooting team. Today, they have to handle a defensive juggernaut, more than capable of grinding UNC’s offense to a screeching halt. Here’s how they can avoid that from happening:

  1. Play in Transition: One of the reasons Davis has been frustrated early on in the season is that his team hasn’t yet dictated the way the game is going to be played. Carolina has simply won all of its games because they have more talent and depth than its opponents. Iowa State is smart enough to realize that they can’t run with Heels, and their game plan will be similar to when you see Carolina face off against Virginia. Many believe that Caleb Love and R.J. Davis combine to make the best backcourt in all of college basketball, and they’ll need to display that in this game. They need to dictate the tempo and flow of the game and utilize every chance to get out and run and try to generate offense before Iowa State is able to get back, and set its defense.

  2. Value Possessions: In addition to playing in the open floor, when doing so, UNC needs to protect the basketball. The 13 turnovers committed yesterday didn’t hurt as much, given the number of possessions played, but Portland was able to score 20 points of Tar Heel turnovers. Again, this is another area that Love and Davis need to have their impact felt, and not commit silly turnovers that lead to runouts going the other way. Armando Bacot was doubled as much as he has been so far in 2022-23, and that won’t change with this game, so he’ll need to be strong with the ball, and make smart decisions.

  3. Rebounding: This continues to be a point of emphasis, but this time it’s because the opponent is one of the best in the country at crashing the offensive glass. Rebounding is a lot like defense, where effort is the biggest key to success, but the technique will play a role in keeping Iowa State off the offensive glass. When a shot goes, UNC needs to make sure they have position on the opponent, and limit the second chances as much as possible. Armando Bacot has rounded into form as an individual rebounder (11.8), but will need help from the other guys on the court, to control the boards the way we expect a Tar Heel team to do so. :


North Carolina - 19th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 114.5 (11th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 93.2 (42nd)

Iowa State - 51st overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 105.4 (94th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 91.4 (25th)

TV Info: Today’s game will tip off at 5:30 PM on ESPN.

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