North Carolina at NC State, 8:00 PM, ACC Network(Tim Brant, Mike Gminski)
There is actually a lot going in as far as storylines go in this game. UNC heads to Raleigh riding a nine game winning streak and ranked for the first time since January 5th. UNC is two wins away from clinching a Thursday bye in the ACC Tournament or can clinch that tonight with a win over NC State and a Pitt loss to Boston College. The Tar Heels are also banged up a little with Kennedy Meeks and Leslie McDonald both nursing injured ankles. Both did practice on Tuesday and expected to play tonight versus the Wolfpack.
The more pressing question for this Tar Heel team is how they deal with success. While the players and coaches claim they pay little attention to the rankings, it does raise the stakes a little in terms of trying to continue the success that earned said ranking in the first place. There can also be a temptation to lift the foot off the accelerator every so slightly. That is not something this team can afford to do in this game or any game really. UNC has turned the season around by playing with a high level of effort and intensity first. That and the fact UNC plays at high tempo and controls the offensive glass has effectively boosted an inconsistent offense. It also helps that the defense continues to be very good.
In this game UNC's best-in-the-ACC three point defense will face the ACC's worst three point shooting team. What that practically means is NC State will look to drive the ball, a lot. That was the one weakness the Wolfpack found in UNC's defense in the first game and something Wake Forest exploited on Saturday. In the first game Desmond Lee in particular got to the rim multiple times. Cat Barber and T.J. Warren has the capability to do the same. If Tyler Lewis does so, it will be to pass to an open teammate possible for an easy shot. UNC's troubles guarding the drive could lead to some shifting defensive sets like the Heels used against Duke. Some zone mixed in could prove effective, especially since NC State is not a good three point shooting team.
The other element of concern for UNC is NC State really needs this win. It's a rivalry game, it's at home and the Wolfpack's NCAA Tournament hopes pretty much hinge on winning out in the regular season. This game would help because UNC is a top 50 team in the RPI and ranked. UNC on the other hand must learn to live with success. On some level that test was passed when the Heels beat Duke then crushed Wake Forest 36 hours later. However this is another test in that regard because of the number in front of UNC's name, the opponent is better and the stakes are real.
UNC 78 NC State 70