Where: Bank United Center, Coral Gables, FL
When: Wednesday, February 15th, 8:00 PM
Records: UNC 20-4, 8-2 ACC; Miami 15-8, 6-4 ACC
This is not the same Miami team UNC saw a month ago in Chapel Hill.
I cannot say for sure when the light bulb came on, but since UNC laid wood to Miami in Chapel Hill, it definitely came on. Reggie Johnson getting into game shape was one major factor. The play of freshman Shane Larkin is certainly a reason as well. Kenny Kadji is also a key component to Miami's resurgence which saw the Hurricanes win at Duke and play toe-to-toe with Florida State on Saturday. In addition to Miami's improvement UNC has lost Dexter Strickland to a knee injury which is a huge loss considering how much quickness Miami has in the backcourt. Strickland's play was a major reason why UNC handled Miami so easily in the first game. His play on both ends of the floor was outstanding and key in UNC's transition game.
This game will be different and like the Duke game, UNC will deal with a team that shoots threes and has a versatile power forward who will pull John Henson away from the basket. This will leave Tyler Zeller guarding Reggie Johnson and reacting to penetration which could spell more foul trouble for the senior. It also puts more of the rebounding burden on Zeller. The degree to which Kendall Marshall, Reggie Bullock and Harrison Barnes guard the three will dictate how this games goes for UNC defensively. Unlike when Miami played Duke, the Hurricanes likely won't get as much from Johnson as they did versus the Blue Devils. In fact, the more UNC gets out in transition and can leak Zeller out the more open looks he will get because Johnson will not be able to keep up.
On the offensive end, someone needs to hit a three pointer. In fact someone needs to hit 4-8 three pointers. If UNC can do that, it will mitigate, to some degree, whatever the defense gives up on Miami threes. It also opens up the middle and while Kadji can pull Henson away from the basket Henson can make Kadji guard him on the block which could create foul trouble for Miami. Bench production for UNC is also a factor, especially if it looks like it did on Saturday versus Virginia. James Michael McAdoo looks like he might be figuring his game out. Stillman White and Justin Watts were very serviceable in their stints on the court. There is no word at this point on whether P.J. Hairston will play but unless he is healthy and his jump shot is on, I am not sure how much help he can be considering his defense hasn't been very good. Depth is depth but only if it doesn't hurt you which is not where Hairston has been over the past 2-3 weeks.
Here is the bottom line. UNC needs to finish 14-2 in the ACC to win the regular season and get in position for top line seed in the NCAA Tournament. In fact UNC probably needs to go 14-2 and win the ACC Tournament to get the best possible placement in the bracket. I also think, if UNC has any designs on being in New Orleans that there needs to be a point where the Heels really ramp up their play. That can start tonight and get the ball rolling. For that to happen UNC needs everyone contributing at a high level. Tyler Zeller has been there through all ten ACC games. The rest of the team needs to get on his level.
UNC 80 Miami 71