UNC(9-3) vs UNLV(11-1), 2:00 PM, ESPN2
If there is such a thing as a must-win game at this stage of the season, this one certainly qualifies as such for UNC. With an 0-3 record against the KenPom Top 100 and all three of those losses included massive deficits at some point in the game. This is also the last non-conference game of the season and the last chance to register a solid win for the NCAA Tournament resume prior to ACC play. In most seasons, UNC's NCAA Tournament concerns are about seeding but simply making the tournament could end up on the radar if the ACC ends up being as mediocre as people think it will be. Assuming this team will still be a bit of an up and down team, ending up 20-11 and 10-8 in ACC play is possible which makes beating UNLV very important.
The question is will UNC be able to do in this game what they have failed to do in games against Butler, Indiana and Texas? Can UNC put together a consistent effort on both ends and keep a good team from running out to a huge advantage? Playing at home will help in this respect since the Tar Heels have been a very good three point shooting team in Chapel Hill. However, the bigger issue lies on the defensive end where UNC has not done a great job with assignments and rotations leading to open looks galore for opposing teams.
Against UNLV it will take a top level effort and a fair amount of cohesion on the offensive end. The Runnin' Rebels have one of the better freshman in the country in Anthony Bennett. The 6-8 rookie is averaging 19.5 ppg and 8.5 rpg which makes him nothing short of a handful. When you also add in three other double figure scorers(four if Mike Moser plays) and a couple more averaging 8 ppg that gives UNLV multiple scoring options. It is not about shutting down one or two players but keeping the entire offense off-balanced which can only happen with a consistent effort and everyone being on the same page.
This will be an up-tempo game which traditionally helps UNC and possibly even more so in this one. The Tar Heels have had trouble running an effective half court game in a balanced manner. UNLV has size which is going to make running anything through the interior more difficult than usual. That leads to two options. UNC shoots lights out from three or the Tar Heels get efficiency offense out of the transition game. Both are certainly doable in this kind of match-up.
UNC needs a signature win coming out of the 2012 portion of the 2012-13 season. The Heels need confidence, momentum and some kind of sense they are better than they have been so far. A win versus UNLV does that to a point. It is not the answer to everything but for a team that no one can figure out yet, it could be the first step towards getting their footing for the remainder of the season.
UNC 81 UNLV 71