North Carolina(16-6, 6-3 ACC) vs Miami(18-3, 9-0 ACC), 2:00 PM, ESPN
UNC faces the first of two road games against top ten teams really needing a quality win for the sake of the NCAA Tournament resume. It is also the first rematch on the conference schedule for UNC with the Heels dropping a 68-59 decision in Chapel Hill nearly a month ago. In that game, UNC held a two point lead with ten minutes to go but allowed a 20-9 run by Miami to salt the game away. James Michael McAdoo, Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston combined for 30 points but went 11-40 from the floor as a group. As a team the Heels shot 40% and only took a scant eight free throws for the game. Miami on the other hand got huge games from Kenny Kadji and Julian Gamble to overcome less than stellar outings from Shane Larkin and Durand Scott.
So what might be different this time? For one, Reggie Johnson will be back in Miami's lineup having missed the first game with a broken finger. That only serves to complicate issues for UNC on the interior. Since no one had answers for either Kadji or Gamble, stopping a center which outweighs Brice Johnson by 103 pounds is going to prove difficult. That likely means more Joel James in hopes of matching size with size though James too will have trouble handling the surprising athletic Johnson.
Given the sheer number of weapons Miami has, the best UNC can hope for is limiting certain individuals while banking on a better offensive performance this time around. Dexter Strickland is looking more like his old self on the defensive end and Marcus Paige's development has progressed nicely. Both can play a key role here in keeping the Hurricanes back court contained in hopes the front court defense will do the same. It won't be easy but then again being an unranked team on the home floor of a top ten team never is.
The bottom line is UNC needs highly productive offensive games from the Big Three and some others also need to get into the act. Miami has actually improved on defense since the last meeting but then again one could argue so have the Heels. There is also Miami's ACC winning streak which is at nine and have the Hurricanes on the verge of clinching a first ever 10-0 start in league play. That means Miami is probably "due a loss" except this is a team that has done an excellent job of building on the early ACC successes to become a legitimate contender for a #1 seed in March. Given what we know, there is little chance this goes differently although like last time, the Tar Heels should give Miami all they want.
Miami 79 UNC 73