Location: Chapel Hill
Date: Monday, February 2nd
Time: 7:00 ET
After a slow start to the season that included a home loss to Iowa in the ACC/Big Ten challenge, UNC had been on fire. They'd won 6 in a row, and 11 of 12. Then they lost, in OT, at Louisville. That's certainly not a bad loss, and likely does not change the Heels' outlook going forward. As we know, the Hoos dropped their first game on Saturday. Both teams will need to bounce back, on a quick turnaround, to play again Monday night. Whichever team is more easily able to put the tough loss behind them will likely come out on top in this game.
UNC is likely to be the fastest paced team the Hoos face this season. They are the 17th fastest team in the nation, and only 4 of the teams above them are likely to make the NCAA tourney (West Virginia, Iowa St, Arkansas and Iona). (These, and the rest of the stats in this preview, do not include Saturday's matchups.)
Like most Roy Williams coached teams, the Heels like to get out and run. Unlike most fast paced teams, UNC isn't a guard oriented team. Only one of UNC's top 6 in minutes is truly a guard. That is Marcus Paige. Generally speaking, as Paige goes, the Heels go. This isn't quite as true as it was last season. The Heels have had some good wins this year with Paige off his game. The most impressive of these would be the first Louisville game, in which Paige was just 4-12 from the field for 10 points and 3 assists. UNC still won, though by just a point. They completely dominated the glass in this game, and still needed Louisville to essentially choke the game away.
UNC's 2 worst offensive performances of the season came in early season losses to Iowa and Butler. Paige was a combined 9/33 from the field in those two games. Both Butler and Iowa also performed very well on the offensive glass in those games. On the season, UNC is #2 in the nation in offensive rebound rate, grabbing 43% of their own misses. They've been a bit worse than that in conference play, but still over 40%. None of their conference opponents, other than Wake Forest, are particularly good on the defensive glass. The Hoos are #3 in the nation in preventing offensive rebounds. A good showing on the defensive glass will go a long way towards shutting down UNC's offense.
Despite having the 14th ranked offense in the nation, UNC isn't a very good shooting team. They are 208th in the nation in 3 point shooting, at just over 33%. And that is with Marcus Paige shooting 39% and taking nearly half of the team's treys. Sophomore PG Nate Britt is shooting 38%, but he only plays about 16 minutes per game. Junior J.P. Tokoto is best known for defense, but he's shooting 37%, though on just 27 attempts. They also do not shoot FTs particularly well, with only Paige and Britt shooting over 70% (though both are well over 80%).
The Heels are loaded on the interior. One of the few teams in the nation that are deeper in the post than the Hoos. The starting big men are Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson. Meeks, though slimmed down this year, is still listed at 6'9" and 290 lbs. He can be a beast in the post, but he's still a bit inconsistent. Johnson is taller and much thinner, though also more explosive. He's been very good in ACC play, with 5 double-doubles. Meeks had 15 and 9 against the Hoos in last year's matchup, the only Tar Heel who really showed up in the Hoos 15 point win at JPJ. (Paige shot just 4-14 with 9 points.)
As we've repeated in pretty much every preview this year, the Pack Line defense does not give up a ton of points on the interior. Beating the Hoos pretty much requires scoring from the perimeter. In this game, that means Paige. Based on last year's game, it seems that Malcolm Brogdon is up to the task of keeping him off balance. The only other real perimeter threat UNC has is freshman Justin Jackson. Jackson had a reputation as a shooter, but he's struggled from the outside. He's been better that expected at getting to the rim and drawing fouls though. And at 6'8", he uses his length to get his shot off over smaller defenders. He also uses his length well on the defensive end. Look for Justin Anderson to be in his grill all game long. (It is possible that Perrantes watches Paige with Brogdon on Tokoto.)
Shutting down Paige would mean the Heels will need big games from the interior guys in order to be successful. It will be on the Hoos three-headed (four-headed?) interior monster to keep him and Johnson off the glass and out of the paint.
Obviously, playing on the road makes this game tougher than it would be at home. Still, this is a good matchup for the Hoos. Teams that can't shoot from the perimeter do not tend to do very well against the Pack Line. So if the Hoos play their game, they should be successful.