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Game Preview: #18 UNC vs #5 Louisville

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Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

North Carolina vs Louisville, 2:00 PM, ESPN

Is this a must win game for UNC? In some respects it is since starting out ACC play with two losses at home would put UNC in a very tough position. The Tar Heels also need to pick up a solid win and in terms of team rankings a win here would certainly fit the bill.

One common theme for Roy Williams' teams is they generally bounce back from losses. In the Roy Williams era UNC is 60-18 in games following a loss. Losing streaks are rare things under Williams and losing streaks at home are almost unheard of. In 12 seasons UNC has lost back-to-back games at home just once, in 2010 when UNC dropped consecutive games in Chapel Hill to Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. UNC is 6-1 in games at home following a home loss under Williams.

Given Louisville's defensive prowess and pressure defense, UNC's ability to take care of the basketball will be a critical factor in this game. Louisville comes in forcing a TO% of 26.8 and only one team has kept their TO% under 20 versus the Cardinals. Wake Forest manged a 16.8 TO% in Demon Deacons' loss to Louisville on Sunday night. The rest of Louisville's opponents have been had TO% of 20 or worse. UNC struggled with turnovers for a stretch in December but has been sound over the past three games with a TO% of 16.9, 9.8 and 11.3.

The other concern facing the Cardinals is Montrezl Harrell. The junior big man is incredibly athletic and hitting 67% of his shots to go along with an offensive efficiency of 117.2 and 9.3 rebounds per game. Harrell is one of four Cardinals averaging in double figures including leading scorer Terry Rozier at 17.0 ppg. Those four scorers also comprise the bulk of the Cardinal scoring with no other player averaging more than four points per game. Louisville doesn't have great perimeter shooters but the perimeter players, particularly Rozier and Chris Jones will test the Tar Heel defense. Rozier is the best three point shooter among the regular players hitting 32% from beyond the arc.

In that respect, this game will come down to UNC's ability to take care of the ball and muster consistent offense while shutting down Louisville's scoring threats. This will like bear out to be a defensive struggle with the question being which offense can produce enough against a very good defense. On paper UNC has the better offense but Louisville's defense is incredibly good with the potential for a high TO% neutralizing any potential for the offense to get on track.

UNC's loss to Notre Dame wasn't damaging but given the difficult of winning ACC games on the road, dropping serve in a second straight game at home could put the Heels in a tough spot, especially with a return game to Louisville coming in just three weeks.

UNC 73 Louisville 66