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Heel Tough Blog: Tennessee Preview

AP - Tim Aylen

The Tar Heels are back from the Bahamas, but the schedule is getting any easier, as tonight, the #10 Tennessee Volunteers, visit Chapel Hill, in the inaugural ACC/SEC Challenge. Carolina went 2-1 in the Battle 4 Atlantis, picking up their first marquee win of the season, taking down Arkansas in the third-place game. As you probably know, this is the time of the year, when the ACC would face off against Big 10 schools, but after the Big 10 signed a TV contract that excluded ESPN, that meant the end of the ACC/Big 10 Challenge and the birth of the ACC/SEC Challenge.

The Vols are ranked inside the top 10, even after going 1-2 at the Maui Invitational. Their losses came against Kansas and Purdue, the two teams ranked 1 and 2 in the polls at the time. As you can imagine, Rick Barnes’s team excels on the defensive end of the floor, as they allow just 61.5 points per game, and are the #1 defensive team according to KenPom. They are led in scoring by Northern Colorado transfer Dalton Knecht, who is averaging over 17 points per game.

Cormac Ryan missed the final game of the Battle 4 Atlantis after spraining his ankle in the game against Villanova on Thanksgiving, and his status for tonight’s game is uncertain after Hubert Davis met with the media yesterday.

This continues the part of the non-conference schedule, that is going to help us learn a lot about this team. The 2-1 showing in the Bahamas was a promising sign that this team can compete against the best in the sport. A win over Tennessee would be another step in the right direction, for a team looking to bounce back from a disappointing season, a year ago. Here is how Carolina can take down the #10 Volunteers:

  1. Contain Knecht: Knecht is Tenessee’s best offensive player, which means his usage rate will be the highest of any Volunteer. After Carolina got torched by Eric Dixon and Tramon Mark down in the Bahamas, they can’t continue to let their opponents’ best players, have career days against them. Expect Seth Trimble and Jae’Lyn Withers to take turns guarding him, in hopes of not seeing him go on for a career night in the Smith Center.

  2. Match Physicality: Tennessee is as physical as any power conference team Carolina will play this season, and Carolina has to match their physicality. They did that against Arkansas, and it resulted in a 15-point win. Armando Bacot had a rough week in Nassau and will need to respond tonight, against another physical frontcourt. With that, Carolina needs to defend better without fouling. Now you’re hoping that tonight’s game isn’t called as tightly as the games were last week, but they still have to defend without fouling.

  3. Create Fast Break Opportunities: Given Tennessee’s prowess on the defensive end of the floor, Carolina needs to look to create easy scoring chances in transition. While The Vols are allowing under 62 points per game, the Tar Heels are averaging north of over 85 points, so it’s going to be strength versus strength. Given that Carolina is playing smaller this year, and they have four ball handlers on the court at all times, it’s easier for anyone to advance the ball up the court. If Carolina can find anywhere from 8-10 points in transition, it might be the difference in the game.

  4. Limit Turnovers/Make Free Throws: With this game going to be played similarly to the way you play against Virginia, it makes it all the important that Carolina does all the little things well, including limiting turnovers and capitalizing at the foul line. Tennessee’s opponents are attempting 22 foul shots against them, but only making 13, which is 59%. That type of number won’t be good enough tonight.

UNC in the SEC Challenge:

  • This is the inaugural ACC/SEC Challenge. In previous similar challenges, Carolina was 11-13 in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge, and 2-1 in the ACC/Big East Challenge.

Opponent History:

  • Carolina is 10-2 all-time against the Volunteers, including 1-0 in the Smith Center, and they are 3-0 overall in Chapel Hill. The last time the two schools faced off, was back in 2021, an 89-72 route for the Vols, in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic.


  • North Carolina - 12th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 117.8 (11th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 94.6 (24th)

  • Tennessee - 7th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 111.7 (53rd) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 87/5 (1st)

TV Info: Tonight’s game will tip at 7:15 on ESPN.

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