North Carolina vs Davidson, 5:00 PM, ESPNU
There is a lot swirling around this game, more so than one might expect for a late December game. UNC is looking to bounce back after a loss and a 5:00 AM practice on Thursday with an enraged head coach. Some recent personnel news means there will be some element of adjustment going on. The injury to Joel James and Leslie McDonald back for his second game will lead to some shifts in the rotation, particularly the starting lineup where someone will be replacing James. Then there is the emotional impact surrounding the closure in P.J. Hairston's eligibility issues and coming to terms with the fact he won't be playing this season.
All these aspects probably make this game more interesting than it would be otherwise because on paper this looks like a game UNC should win easily. There are some obvious caveats here. The first is Davidson, under Bob McKillop, is normally a well-coached team. Secondly, UNC's free throw shooting continues to be a major issue that has a way of leveling the playing field with any team they face. As a team UNC is shooting 59% from the line and 55% at home. Those numbers are dangerous in close games and in a game like this could make things tighter than it should be given the difference in teams. It should be noted that Davidson's leading scorer and preseason Southern Conference Player of the Year De'mon Brooks is out with a knee injury making this a tougher chore for McKillop's team.
On the list of things to watch for is obviously the lineup Roy Williams decides to use with Joel James out. Does he start Brice Johnson at the five or go with Kennedy Meeks? In his Friday press conference, Williams said he was leaning towards starting Johnson but had not had time to discuss it with his staff or review the scouting report on Davidson. Either player is going to be an effective option against the Wildcats given their limited size. If it is a question of defense then Johnson is probably the better option.
The play of Leslie McDonald also bears watching. McDonald was outstanding in his first game back hitting four threes and scoring 15 points. McDonald has developed a bit of a reputation of only being a good shooter when UNC plays mid-major caliber teams. Obviously that wasn't the case against Texas. The question is whether he can keep the ball rolling consistently over the remainder of the season. When a player returns from a layoff they can sometimes struggle before getting back into a groove. Other times they can be really good buy level off(see Ryan Kelly last year for Duke.) Since UNC won't be getting P.J. Hairston back, UNC needs McDonald to be a consistent scoring threat the way he was versus Texas.
Lastly, it is imperative over the next three games of UNC playing a lighter schedule that Marcus Paige's minutes be reduced. Paige continues to play 35 mpg which could catch up with him and UNC later in the season. With McDonald back and the competition of the low mid-major variety, Paige's minutes should be curtailed some.
UNC 90 Davidson 60