North Carolina vs UCLA, 7:00 PM, AXS TV
There is a pro and con to being in a tournament like this. The pro is UNC gets an immediate shot at redemption and snag a win against a quality team. The downside is UNC could play poorly again and take another loss like the Tar Heels did in 2010-11 when the Heels lost twice in Puerto Rico. With Florida's loss sending the Gators to the loser's bracket, UNC could still end up facing two "ranked" teams before heading home to North Carolina.
Needless to say this game will be an up and down the floor affair. Both teams are in the top 20 for tempo and KenPom is predicting a 79 possession game. In most games UNC plays, teams do not attempt to match pace with the Tar Heels mainly because most teams operate at a much slower pace as a function of playing style. This will be a rare case where the opposing teams will attempt to beat UNC doing what UNC does best. This usually benefits UNC, providing the Tar Heels shoot the ball well enough.
UCLA comes into the game shooting 39.5% from three and 50% from two. Bryce Alford(15-40), Isaac Hamilton(10-24) and Normal Powell(11-21) make up the bulk of the Bruins perimeter shooting. Alford shot 37% from three last season, Powell is a career 32% three point shooter while Hamilton is in his first full season of action for the Bruins. UNC, despite giving up some open looks against Davidson and Butler is holding teams 30.7% from three.
Another key factor for UNC will be controlling the boards. After one of the worst rebounding performances in the Roy Williams era, UNC will look to get back on track rebounding the basketball. UNC is holding opposing teams to 34.6% shooting from two and is fifth nationally in block% at 21.0. In theory that should create plenty of rebounding chances on the defensive end. UNC clearly does enough to stop opposing teams with the concern being a 36.6% offensive rebounding rate for opposing teams.
UCLA has comparable size and athleticism across the board. Freshman Kevin Looney is averaging 12.8 rebounds per game and three games with 14 or more rebounds. Kennedy Meeks had a fairly muted game offensively but did pull down 10 rebounds and block five shots against Butler. Brice Johnson, Isaiah Hicks and Meeks will need to reassert UNC's strong interior play and control the defensive glass to give UNC a chance to get into an ideal offensive flow. Marcus Paige led UNC in scoring on Wednesday but didn't shoot the ball well. Paige will undoubtedly continue to draw heavy defensive attention means UNC needs to be more intentional about getting him open.
There are no must wins at this point in the season but to keep the current year from looking too much like a repeat of last season a win here would be in order. The question with losses, like the one UNC suffered against Butler, is how the team responds in the next game. UNC teams under Roy Williams bounce back rather well and if what happened against Butler was simply an outlier, the Heels can get back on track with a win here.
UNC 88 UCLA 81