Miami was one of the four ACC schools last spring (and eight in the last three years) to change coaches. It's ironic then that this small school with title interest in basketball got the one with the biggest ACC pedigree. Jim Larranaga got his first coaching position as an assistant to Terry Holland at Davidson, and later reunited with Holland at Virginia for the Ralph Samson years. More recent Carolina fans know him as coach of the George Mason team that knocked UNC out of the tournament en route to the Final Four in Tyler Hansbrough's freshman season; either way the man has experience beating the Heels.
Not that it was of much help in January, when Carolina easily beat the Hurricanes in Chapel Hill. Since then, Miami has gone on a bit of a tear, winning six of their next eight conference games. And while some of that is the weakness of their opponents, they did knock of Duke in Cameron in overtime, and handily dispatch Virginia Tech. This is a team that has definitely staked a claim as slightly above average in the conference, and are angling for an NCAA bid.
A lot of that is due to improvement in the frontcourt, as Reggie Johnson has returned to full health and Kenny Kadji has gotten more accustomed to ACC play. Johnson in particular had a phenomenal game against Duke. UNC's front line is of course a bit harder to handle than the Blue Devils, and although both Hohnson and Kadji hit double-digit scoring against the Heels, both were out rebounded and Kadji especially was ineffective on the boards.
The perimeter game hasn't changed much since the last meeting. Miami may be slowly trending towards taking more threes, but not significantly. The commonality in their big wins is the Hurricanes perimeter defense, which held Maryland and Duke to 21% and 29% behind the arc, respectively. They'll usually let the big playmaker score at the expense of taking away everybody else, a trend UNC fans are familiar with. I'd expect Harrison Barnes to have a big night, both to atone for his six point performance in the teams' first meeting, and as he shakes off the remnants of the injuries that slowed him down against Duke and UVa.
But Carolina wil continue to get most of their points from inside, and I expect them to have only a little more difficulty than they did last time. This will also be a good test of if the defense has suffered in the absence of Dexter Strickland, as it's the first game with a repeat opponent. I don't expect it to – Reggie Bullock has been really good – but we'll see. UNC should win again, if not quite so handily the second time around. And no amount of Zen meditation is going to overcome that.