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Game Preview: #12 UNC vs Iowa

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

ACC/B1G Challenge: North Carolina vs Iowa, 7:30 PM, ESPN

For a third straight game UNC will take on a Power 5 conference opponent and a team ranked in KenPom's top 30. This game serves as another early season test for a Tar Heel team that is still in the process of putting the pieces together. UNC, playing at home for the first time since November 16th, is coming off a 2-1 trip to the Bahamas that saw the Tar Heels stumble against Butler but bounce back to knock off UCLA and Florida.

The Heels will look to ride that momentum against Iowa which began the season just outside the AP Top 25. So far the Hawkeyes have dropped a pair of games to Texas and Syracuse while beating five teams ranked between 134 and 345 according to KenPom. This game has been designated as a "Turn it Green" game to raise awareness regarding recycling. Everyone attending the game will be given a green shirt made from recycled plastic bottles.

The Hawkeye offensive attack is keyed on 6-9 senior Aaron White. White leads Iowa with 16.7 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 2.4 apg and 1.9 spg. He has hit 63% of his two point attempts but just 25% of threes going 2-8. White will be paired with Jarrod Uthoff at the two forward spots. Uthoff is Iowa's only other player averaging in double figures hitting 48% of his threes but just 40% inside the arc and 47% from the line. Iowa doesn't have one really prolific rebounder but four players averaging at least five boards per game. In terms of rebounding rate, the Hawkeyes are 59th in offensive rebounding rate and 192nd in defensive rebounding.

On the UNC side of the equation, Marcus Paige spent the better part of the Bahamas trip being more assertive and a catalyst for the Tar Heels in two wins. Paige shook off a poor shooting effort against Butler to score 21 in the win over UCLA hitting four threes and dishing out five assists. The following night, Paige went 9-10 from the free throw line on the way to 16 points and four assists in UNC's 75-64 win over Florida.

Since Paige is an Iowa native, there will be a great deal of focus on his performance against a hometown team. When UNC faced Iowa State last season in the NCAA Tournament, Paige hit four threes and scored 19 points in the 85-83 loss. Paige admits that playing against Iowa is a much bigger deal given more of the state has an allegiance to the Hawkeyes over the Cyclones.

While there is an extra layer to this game for Paige, the key for UNC lies with the Tar Heel big men, especially given Iowa's comparable size. The loss to Butler may very well end of being an outlier, however the formula behind it did illustrate the importance of UNC's effort and rebounding. Just because the Tar Heels have great size, length and athleticism doesn't mean rebound will just happen. UNC's offense is also rooted in the post and also in moving the ball. When the Tar Heels have both of those facets working, the team can be highly successful. Of the three primary big men, Kennedy Meeks has certainly played the best. Brice Johnson has shown flashes but has yet to really put down a solid game against quality competition. In four games against the KenPom Top 100, Johnson is averaging just 8.5 ppg and has committed 14 fouls including a DQ versus Davidson. The junior forward needs to be better if UNC is going to be a more balanced team.

With UNC playing the next two games at home and one of them being a stiff test, the Tar Heels have a chance to really get its footing as a team ahead of two huge games against Kentucky and Ohio State.

UNC 85 Iowa 70