North Carolina(13-5, 3-2) vs NC State(15-4, 3-2)
For the first time since 2006, NC State is favored in a game against UNC. That game, played in Raleigh ended with a 22-point Tar Heel win after David Noel scored 25 points. That game in 2006 was also the second in the series that season with UNC winning he first as part of Roy Williams 24-1 career record(19-1 at UNC) against the Wolfpack.
Taking into account the half-decade plus of futility versus UNC and the Pack losing two of their last three, there is far more pressure on NCSU to win this game than UNC. Not that the Heels couldn't use a road win or extend the win streak over NCSU to 14 games. Both of those would be really nice and a bit of surprise. NCSU is the favored team here, playing on their home court during a season they were picked to win the ACC. Winning this game is a must if the Wolfpack plan to get anywhere near fulfilling those expectations.It is also a must in avoiding a potential tailspin.
The toughest aspect of this game for UNC will be slowing down NC State's offense. The Wolfpack have, for all intents and purposes, six players averaging in double figures. Lorenzo Brown is one of the better point guards UNC has seen so far this season. Brown paired with Rodney Purvis means Marcus Paige will end up guarding someone he may have problems containing. Reggie Bullock did an outstanding job keeping Scott Wood in check during both games last season. If he can do that again, it takes one of the Pack's weapons off the table. The other difficulty for UNC lies in defending Richard Howell and C.J. Leslie. James Michael McAdoo going against Leslie on both ends could very well end up being a wash. Stopping Howell is a different matter altogether. He is rebounds the ball well and is strong enough to give anyone UNC trots out there at the five serious issues. NCSU is the 7th best offense in the country according to KenPom meaning a UNC win here will require one of the best defensive efforts of the season for a team that is fairly mediocre on that end of the floor.
Of course as average as UNC is on defense, NC State is markedly worse. The Wolfpack are 157th in defensive efficiency which showed up in full blossom at Wake Forest this past Tuesday when NCSU allowed a struggling Demon Deacons team to score 51 points in the second half. Teams don't shoot great against NC State but the Wolfpack do not force many turnovers and do a poor job controlling the defensive glass despite Howell's best efforts. That being said, teams are only shooting 29% from three against NC State which could hurt the Heels since one gets the feeling UNC will need to shoot well from the perimeter to get a win.
With a three game winning streak, UNC has looked better leading to the notion that this is a game UNC can win. No one would have said that two weeks ago when NCSU knocked off Duke and UNC barely notched ACC win #1 after losing its first two league games. As it stands right now, both teams are closer with the impression they are heading in opposite directions. Given UNC's team makeup, there are going to be ups and downs. NCSU has shown the ability to play at a higher level in "big" games even if they play down to the Wake Forests and Clemsons of the world. The Wolfpack will be ready for this game and stands a good chance at winning it. As long as UNC continues to show progress and is competitive, the season can continue to move in the right direction even if there is a loss.
NCSU 78 UNC 71