NC State Wolfpack vs North Carolina Tar Heels
Gametime: 2:00 pm
Streaming: ACC Network (Fox 50)
Location: PNC Arena (Raleigh, NC)
Getting reacquainted with the Heels…
The last time we previewed the Tar Heels we focused on Joel Berry and Luke Maye. These are Carolina’s leading scorers at 18 and 17 points per game respectively and again, they deserve the most attention. However, UNC has made some adjustments over the past two weeks and have added a little more dimension to their offense.
Suddenly, Junior guard Kenny Williams has become a scoring threat. He only had 4 points the first time these two teams met in Chapel Hill, but over his past 2 games he’s been forcing the issue a bit more and really finding success. He put up 15 points against Pitt and then dropped 20 two nights ago against Duke. Williams was only 1-9 from long range during Carolina’s 3-game losing streak but has snapped out of that funk, hitting on 9 of his last 17 from deep.
It’s also important that we note Theo Pinson. What he did against the Pack last time out was insane. His 22 points were a season-high. In fact, in the 3 games since the matchup with the Wolfpack, Pinson has a total of 6 points. So did he just get got, or does NC State have a matchup problem? … Probably a little bit of both, but either way, NC State can not allow Pinson to have anywhere near the game he had last time.
As for Berry and Maye, UNC will look for ways to replicate what Maye was able to do while trying to figure out ways to get Berry going early. Joel Berry was bothered by Markell Johnson’s defense and never could get many clean looks in game 1. Meanwhile, Maye went bonkers for 31 points. State will need to replicate their execution on slowing down Berry while figuring out how to neutralize Maye on the interior.
Stats to Watch
- NC State shooting % – Last time out the Pack shot 44% from the floor and 50% from long range. I don’t think you can rely on another 50% game from long range, but we do think they’ll be able to shoot it at a high clip from the floor vs UNC. Markell Johnson was getting wherever he wanted to on the floor and creating open shots for everyone. If he can replicate that and State can get more low post touches for Yurtseven, then I don’t think another 44%+ night it out of the question.
- Turnovers– This is one area where the Pack has made their money all season. Last time these teams met, State turned Carolina over 14 times at their place. UNC will definitely try to keep that number down (and they only turned it over 2 times vs Duke), but with this game being at State and with a team void of lightning quick ball handlers, we could see State forcing somewhere in the 14 range once again.
- Rebounding– Another place that the Pack has excelled, but one where UNC is simply better. Rebounding. The Heels do an amazing job on the glass thanks to a big but quick lineup across the board. Last time out UNC punished the Pack to the tune of 48-34 on the boards. This is where State needs to improve. We told you that we doubt we’ll see the same kind of 3pt performance we saw out of NC State this time (but hey, we could be wrong), so where will they make those points up? It will have to be on the glass. Yurtseven had 13 (a game-high) and he will probably have another good rebounding day, but Dorn’s 4 needs work. Couple that with the fact that his guy, Pinson, led UNC with 13. They have got to block him out if they want to keep the rebounding numbers closer.
- Can Keatts go 2-0 vs UNC and Roy Williams in year one? If so, how does that shift the rivalry or the perception of State in the ACC?
- Can Keatts complete the regular-season Tobacco Road sweep?
- Will UNC get revenge after losing to NC State at home?
- How will the players respond to Joel Berry’s quote that NC State is not their rival?
- Would a win today finally lock NC State into the NCAA Tournament?
Keys to the Game
We ran these earlier, but we feel they are worth repeating.
- Capitalize on the timing. UNC is coming off a very emotional, hard-fought, comeback win over Duke. If you watched that game, you saw how Carolina scrapped and clawed on every possession. These types of games drain you both physically and emotionally. On top of that, UNC has a one-day turnaround to prepare for the Pack. Now, this is a rivalry game (no matter what Joel Berry thinks) so the Heels will show up. The question is, how mentally and physically ready will they be and will they be able to sustain that for 40 minutes, on the road, in front of a sell out NC State crowd that will be loud and aggressive.
- Keep the chip on your shoulder. Joel Berry said he didn’t consider NC State a rival. Don’t think for one second that isn’t being used as a driving motivator for this game, especially with Keatts. He’s a competitor and he’s not here to barely raise the status-quo. He’s here to blow up the entire power structure. Step one to doing that would be a clean sweep of Tobacco Road in year one. Going 2-0 against Roy would surely put a crack in the big blue narrative.
- Stop Joel Berry. Markell Johnson did it in game one and he’ll need to do it again. Berry only had 6 points in the first game on 3-12 shooting. He really didn’t push the issue in that game, but he’ll certainly look to get going early in this one.
- Don’t lose sight of Kenny Williams. Then junior guard did next to nothing against the Pack in game 1 (4 points), but that 3-game losing streak the Heels went on must’ve made Roy issue him a challenge. Over the past two (both wins) Williams has been very aggressive and very effective. He’s gone 13-24 from the field and 9-17 from 3 and totaled 35 points in those game. Beverly will likely get this matchup, but man, he’s been getting killed on the dribble drive lately. Teams are specifically attacking him. Keatts needs to find a way around this. You need him on the floor for offense, but at some point you wonder if he’s going to be forced to play Batts and take the shooting hit.
- Find the right matchups. This is tough. NC State played great on offense, but it really hid the deficiencies they showed on D vs. UNC. Maybe the Virginia Tech loss will finally prove to them that they need to figure out their defense and do so fast if they want to contend for anything. How will they match up with UNC’s frontcourt is the big question. Pinson abused them with dribble penetration in game one and Luke Maye as out there looking unstoppable That can’t happen this time if State wants to pull this off.
- Play together. Let Markell lead. UNC couldn’t’ stop Markell Johnson down the stretch. He finished with 20pts and 11 assists. The Heels just don’t have a guard who can stay in front of him. Yurt’s ability to pick and pop makes him that much more dangerous. They need to let him probe and drive on the UNC defense and find open guys. That’s how they beat UNC the first time and that’s how they can do it again. A 7-7 night from Al Freeman would be fine, but if he’s off, State can’t allow him to take him down that 1 on 1 hole he likes to explore for 5 minutes every game.
- Feed Yurtseven– The Virginia Tech game may have gone differently had they been able to keep Omer on the floor. He’s the key to this team’s balance. He already had a big game against UNC this year (16pts) and Duke’s big just smoked Carolina’s front line last night. Yurt could be in store for a big game if he stays out of foul trouble vs UNC.