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Heel Tough Blog: Phil Knight Invitational - Portland Preview

For the first time this season, UNC will play outside of the friendly confines that are the Smith Center, as UNC has traveled west, where they will compete in the Phil Knight Invitational, an event filled with several high-quality basketball schools, funded by Nike.

Carolina last played on Sunday, where they took down James Madison 80-64, in their best performance of the season. The Tar Heels are powered by Armando Bacot, who’s currently averaging 18.2 points and 11.8 rebounds. Additionally, Carolina has Caleb Love, R.J. Davis, and Pete Nance averaging double figures scoring, as the Heels offense is averaging over 80 points per game.

Portland enters this matchup, with a 4-2 record, but their four wins have come against Lewis & Clark, Florida A&M, Portland State, and Air Force. Furthermore, their two losses have come to the hands of Kent State and Seattle. The Pilot's offense is fueled by Tyler Robertson, who averages 17.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.3 assists. They also have Moses Wood, Kristian Sjolund, and Mike Meadows all averaging double-figures scoring, as they also have a high-flying offense.

The best part about this event, and this weekend as a whole, is that UNC is going to learn a lot about themselves, as they are finally going to be tested, as the non-conference season is starting to heat up. As you typically see during “Feast Week”, many teams have made statements like Arizona, while some are still learning who they are like Texas Tech. This event provides UNC the opportunity to make a statement, and defend its #1 ranking. Here’s how they can do just that:

  1. Play With Energy: UNC will be playing at 1 PM local time, but it will only be 10 AM in Portland, and even though the Tar Heels will be well represented out west, it won’t be the liveliest of crowds, especially with this game taking place on Thanksgiving. Carolina has started slowly in virtually every game this season, except during Sunday’s win over JMU. This game will be a lot like when teams play on the opening day of a conference tournament, as there won’t be many people in the gym, factor in an early start, and UNC must get off to a quick start. This is where UNC’s experience should come into play, as they’ve played a lot of games, in a lot of different settings, including a COVID pandemic season, where they had no choice but to create their own energy. If the Heels don’t come out sleepy, they shouldn’t have any problems with the WCC school, if not they could find themselves in a dog fight.

  2. Make Perimeter Shots: Carolina enters this game shooting only 29% from behind the arc, and everyone knows that is not sustainable for the team to meet their regular season goals, let alone postseason goals. Caleb Love is only shooting 19%, and R.J. Davis is shooting 30%, numbers you expect to climb drastically as the season moves along. Hopefully, that starts this weekend, as Carolina seeks to find the offensive rhythm they had at the end of last season, all while playing more players, and working in another transfer.

  3. Rebounding: Carolina has out-rebounded their last two opponents, most notably James Madison, 50-34. While the concern of Portland out-rebounding UNC is all too high, what’s important now, is that the team continues to impose its will on the board, and continue to form into the rebounding team they are capable of being. After Sunday’s 23-rebound performance, Bacot is all of a sudden averaging 11.8 rebounds per game, and the Heels are getting quality contributions from Leaky Black (7.0), Caleb Love (5.5), and even R.J. Davis (4.8), but they need more from Pete Nance, who is averaging 3.3 rebounds per game.

Series History: UNC is 1-0 all-time against Portland, having played the Pilots back in the Phil Knight Invitational in 2017, as the Heels grounded the home team 102-78

UNC in Oregon: Carolina is 8-1 all-time in the state of Oregon, with their only loss coming to Michigan State in the Phil Knight Invitational final back in 2017.


North Carolina - is 18th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 113.8 (13th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 92.0 (34th)

Portland - is 131st overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 104.1 (122nd) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 110.6 (145th)

TV Info: Thursday’s game will tip at 1 PM on ESPN.

The Four Corners Podcast:


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