The Tar Heels return to action later tonight when they host Big Four rival, Wake Forest in a very important ACC game for it to only be January. The last time we saw the Heels, they got upset at Pittsburgh 76-74, as they failed to match the intensity of the Panthers, and in the process, Carolina’s four-game winning streak was snapped. After the game, Armando Bacot voiced his displeasure with some of his teammates not being locked in for forty minutes, a sign of leadership from Carolina’s best player. At 9-5, it’s fair to call the season a disappointment so far, and if things don’t come together sooner than later, they’ll be back in the same position as last season.
Steve Forbes continues to do a nice job in Winston-Salem, as he has the Demon Deacons at a respectable 10-4 record, with quality wins at home over Duke and Virginia Tech. Wake Forest was poised to make the NCAA Tournament last season, but after being upset by Boston College, they missed the tournament because they lacked enough Quad 1 wins. With wins against the aforementioned Duke and Virginia Tech, a win tonight in the Smith Center would go a long way, as the program seeks a return to the Big Dance. They are led in scoring by Tyree Appleby, who averages over 18 points per game while shooting 50% from the field, and 45% from behind the three-point line. Additionally, Cameron Hildreth (12.0), Damari Monsanto (10.5), and Andrew Carr (10.4), all average double figures scoring for the Deacs, as a team they average nearly 76 points per game.
Hubert Davis did reveal earlier this week on his radio show that they will be without reserve big man Will Shaver, as he is set to have surgery to repair a broken bone in his left foot. Last week, UNC did see the return of D’Marco Dunn, but it’s starting to look like Davis only has seven players that he can trust to play on a night-in, night-out basis. It’ll be interesting to see how this year's Tar Heels hold up if more depth doesn’t emerge.
If you take a look at Joe Lunardi’s first projected NCAA Tournament field of 2023, you’ll find that he projects North Carolina as a No. 6 seed in the West region, while Wake Forest doesn’t appear anywhere on the bracket as a whole. With that, you could imagine that Wake is going to treat this as the most important game of the season so far, and as blunt as Steve Forbes has probably made that clear to his players. That means Carolina needs to come better prepared to match the energy and emotion of their opponent, if not they could suffer their first home loss of the season:
Contain Appleby: Tyree Appleby might be the smallest player on the floor later tonight, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of taking this game over. He has led Wake in scoring in six games this season, with a season-best 26 in a loss to LSU. Carolina’s guards have to be better at making life harder on the offensive end, than what happened last Friday in Pittsburgh. You would imagine that Hubert would deploy the full court that has been so effective this season, to make Appleby work harder on that end of the floor. Even though Wake Forest has four total players that average double figures scoring, Appleby is the engine that makes this team go, if you limit his damage, you limit his counterparts.
Turnovers: Wake averages over 13 turnovers per game, which means that Carolina should be more aggressive on that end of the floor, to try and force turnovers, to get out and play in the open floor. If Wake emerges from this game with less than 10 turnovers, we’re going to have to take a hard look at Carolina on the defensive end of the floor, because the data shows that Wake is liable to turn it over, no matter the quality of the opponent.
Points in the Paint: In the loss to Pittsburgh, Carolina got outscored 42-26 in the painted area, as they struggled to contain the basketball on the defensive end, and went away from Armando Bacot on the offensive end. If that happens again tonight, the result will most likely be the same. Bacot has established himself as the team’s leading scorer, while shooting 57% from the field, meaning that Carolina needs to play inside-out. Defensively, Love and Davis need to do a better job containing the dribble drive and make Wake’s offense more perimeter-oriented.
Series History: Carolina is 163-68 all-time against their Big Four rivals, and has won 8 of the last 10 matchups. In Chapel Hill, UNC is 79-18, and 24-5 in the Smith Center. Carolina has won seven in a row in Chapel Hill.
North Carolina - 23rd overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 114.2 (12th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 95.2 (60th)
Wake Forest - 87th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 107.7 (65th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 98.5 (109th)
North Carolina - 29th.
Wake Forest - 78th.
TV Info: Tonight’s game will tip off at 9 PM on the ACC Network.
The Four Corners Podcast: