There haven’t been many times during that Carolina Basketball has found itself playing must-win games in February, but that’s exactly where the program was this time last season, and now this season, as they travel to Wake Forest later tonight. The Tar Heels enter tonight’s game at 15-8 overall, and 7-5 in the ACC, which is good for sixth place, but with only one Quad 1 win on their resume, they find themselves squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble. The last time we saw the Tar Heels, they lost to Duke 63-57, as inefficient offense hindered them from beating their arch-rivals. The loss to Duke was the second straight for UNC, after winning 10 of 12, as an uneven, underwhelming season continues.
Just like Carolina, Wake Forest is playing for their NCAA Tournament lives, as they enter tonight’s game with a 15-9 record, and they are 7-6 in the ACC. The Demon Deacons are coming off a blowout win over Notre Dame over the weekend, to snap a four-game losing streak. At home, Wake has been a completely different team, as they’ve beaten then ranked Duke and currently ranked Clemson at home. Steve Forbes’s team has four players that are averaging double figures, led by Tyree Appleby’s 18.0 points per game. Additionally, Damari Monsanto (13.7), Cameron Hildreth (12.9), and Andrew Carr (11.6), all average double figures scoring, as Wake Forest boasts the second-highest scoring offense in the league at 77.4 points per game.
The first game between these two, was a high-scoring affair, as Carolina outpaced Wake, 88-79. The Tar Heels forced 15 turnovers, to lead to an efficient night on offense, as Carolina shot 52% from the field, and 38% from behind the arc, to put together arguably the best offensive performance of the season. After the win, many believed (including me), that this team had turned the corner, and was starting to round into form. At 15-8, and 7-5 in the league, it’s obvious that didn’t happen, and now the preseason #1 team in the country, finds itself in a position nobody thought they would be back in November.
UNC kicked off the month of February with an important six-game stretch, and so far they are 0-2. A win tonight would preserve hope that they will solidly make the field of 68, and still give them an outside chance to win the ACC, with home games against Clemson and Virginia coming up later this month. A loss tonight, all but eliminates them from ACC title contention, and makes it even tougher for Carolina to make the NCAA Tournament, here’s how they can avoid just that:
Shot Selection: After Saturday’s disappointing loss to Duke, Hubert Davis was baffled at the fact that his team only took 3 free throws, as they lead the ACC in made free throws, and free throws attempted. But, Carolina also settled for 27 three-pointers, including 19 in the second half. Duke was able to take Armando Bacot out of the game, so you have to believe that the main focus tonight will be to get him established. In the first matchup, Wake Forest had no answer for Bacot or R.J. Davis, and that needs to be the game plan tonight. Carolina’s best offense is when they play inside-out, and that was never more true than during the first matchup between these two back in January.
Turnovers: On the road, Carolina has still struggled to limit their turnovers, although, on Saturday, they only turned it over 7 times in hostile Cameron Indoor Stadium. The first goal tonight is going to be to limit turnovers, something they didn’t do last season, and that resulted in a blowout defeat. On the flip side, they need to recreate the defensive intensity they had in the first game, where they forced 15 Demon Deacons turnovers. If Carolina can find a way to force double-digit turnovers, it will help lead to easy buckets in transition, and give this inefficient offense some life.
Defend 3 Point Line: Wake Forest averages 9.3 made three-pointers per game, which is 23rd best in the country. In the first contest, Wake was 10-21 from behind the arc, and had they won, that would’ve been a big reason why. Carolina’s three-point defense has been really solid all season long, and it needs to be that way tonight. The hard part of defending Wake Forest is that they have four players that are shooting 38% or better from behind the arc, and virtually every member of their rotation is more than capable of getting hot from deep.
Series History: UNC is 164-68 all-time against Wake Forest, tied for the most wins against any ACC opponent (NC State). UNC is 55-33 in Winston Salem, but only 15-12 in Lawrence Joel Veterans Coliseum, as Wake Forest has won the last two times they’ve played in Winson Salem.
North Carolina - 36th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 1141. (33rd) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 97.7 (45th)
Wake Forest - 66th. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 115.2 (27th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 104.0 (146th)
North Carolina - 44th.
Wake Forest - 70th.
TV Info: Tonight’s game will tip at 7 PM on ESPN.
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