Where: Dean Smith Center, Chapel Hill, NC
When: Saturday, January 29th, 2:00 PM
Records: UNC 14-5, 4-1 ACC; NCSU 12-8, 2-4 ACC
Someone call Admiral Akbar because what we have here is a trap game.
UNC is 4-1 in the ACC, 14-5 overall and has seemingly "isolated" the loss to Georgia Tech as more or less a "bad game." The question for this team is whether than can keep it rolling or allow themselves to be victims to a letdown at home versus a rival desperate for the kind of huge win? The most important aspect in all of this, even above the need to beat NC State for the sake of beating NC State is defending home court. UNC's 2-1 road record means a 7-1 record at home(one loss to Duke) puts them at 9-7 in the ACC if the worst case(and possible) 2-6 road record materializes. So holding serve at home is monumental. Beating NC State is enough incentive to show up big in this game but the ACC implications should be as well.
NC State on the other hand is in turmoil. They have been roundly criticized for a lack of effort and intensity. Freshman CJ Leslie has been a trainwreck to the point NCSU fans would prefer he not play. Tracy Smith has been rusty since coming off knee surgery earlier in the season and the Pack have had their own point guard controversy involving a freshman in Ryan Harrow who most think should start and play ahead of a senior Javi Gonzalez. In their past two games NCSU has built huge leads only to give them away. Against Miami a 17 point lead evaporated but the Pack held on. On Tuesday at Clemson NCSU was up 31-12 before Clemson went on the always popular 48-19 run to win the game by ten. That contest was marked by such poor offensive execution and general effort on the part of the Wolfpack the Fayetteville Observer's Dan Wiederer called it the worst loss of the Sidney Lowe era(and that is saying something.) That has led to a general sense Lowe is done in West Raleigh, talk of player only meetings and the real possibility the Wolfpack comes out like gangbusters versus UNC. It is important to remember NCSU is still plenty dangerous. Scott Wood is capable of reigning threes, Harrow is quick, Smith is physical enough to give UNC interior players trouble and players like Richard Howell have performed well of late even if the likes of CJ Leslie have not.
The key for UNC then? Blow their doors off at the start. Do not give them as much as 90 seconds of game time where they think any newfound intensity or sense of purpose is actually paying off. UNC needs to play the first half of this game like they did versus Clemson. Such a half should effectively demoralize NC State. UNC also needs to play a complete game which means no letdowns, no stretches of looking like they can't pass the basketball or forgot how to shoot, just straight Carolina basketball. Roy Williams' is old school ACC which means Big Four games are huge to him and as he famously noted a few years ago, he would rather "beat NC State than eat." I imagine this will be impressed upon the young Heels but even more so we know from the summer league games in Durham, Harrison Barnes, Reggie Bullock and John Henson already understand what this game means. It is not the rivalry it once was but we still have to be around these people so I would much prefer we keep their bragging to football.
UNC 93 NCSU 76