North Carolina at Wake Forest, 8:00 PM, ESPNU
The Tar Heels open the ACC season with a trip down I-40 to Winston Salem for their 221st game all-time against Wake Forest. Both teams enter the game at 10-3, however UNC's 10-3 includes wins over three ranked teams . The Demon Deacons have largely feasted on a weaker schedule with five wins over teams ranked 300+ in the KenPom rankings.
Since this is the beginning of conference play none of that matters nearly as much as one would think. The best description for the start of ACC play is, "This is where things get strange." Miami went to #2 Syracuse yesterday and hung tough until a 14-4 Orange run pulled out a 49-44 win. Duke lost at Notre Dame with Mike Krzyzewski leaving Jabari Parker on the bench over the final four minutes of the game. Conference play brings out all sorts of big games from players, teams and includes funky things like what happened in South Bend on Saturday. In other words, a loss on the road in ACC play is not necessarily a surprise, especially with a team that has a reputation of not playing well against unranked teams.
All that being said, UNC would do well to get off to a fast start in ACC play before taking a trip to New York on Saturday to face the aforementioned Orangemen. This game also serves as an opportunity to go one the road and win against a team UNC's has generally struggled with this season. Wake Forest has been solid on defense and does an outstanding job limiting opponents offensive rebounds. With UNC likely missing Joel James for a fourth straight game, the Tar Heels interior play and defense could be suspect.
With James out, attention turns again to who will start at center for the Tar Heels and if that individual can play well. The past three games have seen both Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks take a turn at starting then play poorly. Johnson did so for two games but played better off the bench when Meeks was made the starter. Such has been the issue with these two starting, perhaps Roy Williams should toss Desmond Hubert out there and allow him to absorb all the bad mojo before bringing the other two big men off the bench.
When the Heels take to the defensive end, Wake's Codi Miller-McIntyre has seven games with 20 or more points this season including 26 in a loss to Kansas. Robert Morris transfer Coron Williams is shooting 43% from three making him a player UNC cannot lose in defensive rotations. Speaking of which, in recent games against the lighter portion of the schedule Roy Williams has opted for more scramble and press defensive looks. Doing that can have an impact when there is a great disparity between in the aestheticism and talent of the teams on the floor. It will be interesting to see how much UNC uses it in ACC play.
Given the start of the ACC play and how scarred I still am about the Sunday night game at Winston-Salem during the 2009 season, I don't have a good feeling about this one.
Wake Forest 65 UNC 59