Where: RBC Center, Raleigh, NC
When: Wednesday, February 23rd, 9:00 PM
TV: ACC Network/ESPN3
Records: UNC 20-6, 10-2 ACC; NCSU 14-12, 4-8 ACC
As we saw versus Boston College, the first meeting of the season is of little value as a predictor for the second game. The same will be true here for a variety of reasons. First and foremost UNC is experience a wee bit of a drop off in their offensive game. When I say wee bit I mean dropped like a bag of wet cement out of an airplane at 15,000 feet. While the Heels defense has been good enough to actually win games while only scoring 48 points that is not a formula the Heels can keep banking on it. Roy Williams has indicated that it is not the shot selection that is problem but merely the shots refuse to go through the hoop. Hopefully that will change starting in this game.
On the other side you have NC State who, while UNC was on the rise in late January/early February, was in a complete tailspin. The Wolfpack looked like a lost team with zero interest in competing. Prior to the Duke game freshmen C.J. Leslie was suspended and the Pack was blown out in Durham. Since then NCSU ripped Wake Forest on the road, beat Clemson at home and played very well at Maryland before coming up short. The common theme in the Wolfpack turning things around has been the play of Leslie. Sidney Lowe started Leslie upon his return from suspension. In those three games Leslie is averaging 18.3 ppg and 8.3 rpg. The Pack's play in general has improved over the past three games making them plenty dangerous. Not to mention, this might be the last chance NCSU has to post any sort of meaningful win. Yes, there is the ACC Tournament and maybe the NIT. However beating UNC would mean more to the fan base than anything else the team could accomplish save win the ACC Tournament.
NCSU will be missing their second leading rebounder for this game. Richard Howell suffered a head injury versus Maryland and will not be available in this game. That hurts the Pack's depth and rebounding which was already going to be a tested considering the Heels size and prowess on the boards. UNC will also be seeing Wolfpack PG Ryan Harrow for the first time. The matchup between Harrow and Kendall Marshall is an intriguing one and well worth watching. Another matchup to note will be Leslie versus John Henson. It was clear in the first game Henson messed with Leslie's head, especially after the former reached a hand out and blocked the latter's jump shot. Lesle does present a matchup issue since he can pull Henson away from the basket and leave Pack center Tracy Smith to go against Tyler Zeller without Henson's long arms to help. Also of concern for UNC is the likelihood Scott Wood is not going to have another bad shooting game. Keeping him in check will be huge since he is very capable of hitting threes in bunches and keep NCSU in the game.
For UNC, the offense will be a huge focus. Roy Williams' toughest job right now is to make sure the bad shooting does not begin having a negative psychological effects. When you are in a slump, the last thing you want is the bad shooting to weigh on you and further exasperate the funk. That, more than anything, is why Roy is saying the shot selection is fine. For one, that appears to be the case but also it is a good thing the players don't have another aspect of the game to worry about. If it really is about the shots falling then the so called "law of averages" dictate they will. That and we have seen these Heels hit perimeter shots. That being said, the perimeter shooting should be a secondary issue and only important to keep opposing defense from packing in on the Tar Heel interior players. UNC should get the ball inside early and often for some reliable offense but also to see if they can get Wolfpack players in foul trouble. The best thing that could happen for this team is to come out of the gate hitting shots from the start and allow the confidence to build from there. For that to happen it really comes down to Marshall creating some opportunities for his teammates and Harrison Barnes hitting a few shot early on. UNC has the weapons, they just need to shoot the ball better and be smart/focused enough to execute an efficient offense.
UNC has really stalled since the FSU game. Outside of the first half in Durham, the Heels have struggled to play well on the offensive end for three straight games relying heavily on the defense to keep the opposing team down. While they have been winning, it is not really impressing anyone as a 2nd straight week at 19th in both polls would indicate. With the Heels only one game back of Duke, this win is a must to stay right behind the Devils for the ACC regular season title and good position for a top four regional seed in the NCAA Tournament.
UNC 79 NCSU 70