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Heel Tough Blog: Radford Preview

After an off-season spent revamping the Carolina Basketball program, the Tar Heels are ready to put last year behind them, as they open the 2023-24 season at home later tonight against Radford. There is a different vibe around the team entering this season, as compared to 2022-23, given that Carolina isn’t the preseason #1 team, nor are they expected to win the ACC regular season title, or make the Final Four. Instead, Carolina starts as the #19 team in the country, picked to finish 3rd in the conference, and is hoping to return to the NCAA Tournament, after missing it altogether last year.

After not making the Big Dance, Hubert Davis opted to skip the NIT, and instead begin overhauling his program. Part of that meant, shipping players out, via the transfer portal, including Caleb Love, a player that nearly took the Tar Heels to a national title the season before. Love wasn’t the only one, as fan favorite Puff Johnson also transferred, along with local product Dontrez Styles, and talented freshman Tyler Nickel.

The mass exodus of players meant Davis and his staff had to go find players, and they did just that, bringing in the highly regarded Harrison Ingram, along with college basketball veterans, Cormac Ryan, and Paxon Wojcik. Jae’Lyn Withers and James Okonkwo, round out the transfers, and Carolina added reclassified freshman Elliot Cadeau, and Zayden High as the two recruits. Believe it or not, after seeing so many players come and go, Hubert Davis finally has a roster that fits his vision for the program and also has the type of depth to build out a legitimate ACC rotation.

Radford has long been a very competitive program in the Big South, and like UNC-Wilmington, is a nice test for the Tar Heels to open up the season. Last year, the Highlanders went a respectable 21-15, including 12-6 in conference play, before losing in the semifinals of their conference tournament. After not making the NCAA Tournament or the NIT, the team competed in the CBI tournament, losing to Charlotte in the final. Three key plates are back from last season, including leading scorer, DaQuan Smith, who averaged 13.9 points per contest. The other two key players are Kenyon Giles (8.4 PPG), and Justin Archer (7.7 PPG), from 2022-23. Like most mid-majors, they either excel at perimeter shooting, or on the defensive end of the floor, and that’s where Radford excelled, as they only gave up 64.8 PPG last season, which was 40th best in all of college basketball.

In the preseason, we saw the ingredients of a Tar Heel team, that looks vastly more invested and should be more fun to watch than last season. Now the challenge will be for that to carry over into the regular season, as an entirely new group will play their first game together. Here is how they can start the season off on a good note, and start building momentum for 2023-24:

  1. Control Pace: Radford doesn’t have the athletes or the depth to run with Carolina for 40 minutes, and they will make it a priority to make it a half-court game. Something Hubert Davis has emphasized all summer long is getting his team to dictate the way the game is going to be played, instead of letting the opponent do so. This team is built to run the floor better than last season, and given the return of the secondary break offense, it’s imperative that Carolina runs to generate easy offense, in transition, and in the half-court.

  2. Dominate the Paint: There isn’t a lot of height on this Radford team, meaning Carolina should pound the ball inside to Armando Bacot, and control the glass. Harrison Ingram started the exhibition at the “4” spot and grabbed nine rebounds, and was able to shoot over smaller defenders inside the three-point line. Even though the Highlanders are a Division 1 program, the same type of mismatches will be there for Carolina on the interior, and they should exploit them early and often.

  3. Limit Turnovers: The best way to give a mid-major opponent hope when playing on the road, is to turn the basketball over, and Carolina needs to be aware of that. Assuming that Radford is as good defensively as they were a year ago, they are going to guard Carolina, hard, and try and force them into mistakes. This is where that coveted three-guard lineup that Hubert Davis has always desired to play will come in hand, giving UNC more ball handlers on the floor than previously seen. If Carolina can limit the turnovers, and not give Radford easy buckets in transition, it’s hard to envision them scoring enough to keep pace with the Heels.

UNC in Season Openers:

  • In their previous 113 season openers, Carolina is a healthy 101-12, and they haven’t lost a season opener, since losing to Santa Clara in 2004-05, ironically in a season that Carolina would go on to win the national championship.

Opponent History:

  • Carolina is 2-0 all-time against Radford, and this is the first time they’ve met since the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The most recent meeting was back in 2016, a 95-50 UNC victory.

KenPom Rankings (Preseason):

North Carolina - 17th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 110.0 (15th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 89.4 (24th)

Radford - 168th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 99.6 (160th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 99.5 (176th)

TV Info: Tonight’s game will air on the ACC Network, with a 7 PM scheduled tip.

The Four Corners Podcast:


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