North Carolina at North Carolina State, 7:00 PM, ESPN2
Battle of the letdown games?
Over the weekend both UNC and NC State got big, emotionally charged wins at home. In UNC's case it was a 13 point comeback to knock off #5 Louisville. A day later NC State upset #2 ranked Duke 87-75. In ACC play the schedule moves quickly and the next game is just as big, maybe bigger than the one before it.
While UNC pulled off a big win, the argument could be made it was a match-up of two fairly even teams and UNC didn't necessarily played at a higher than normal level. The emotional element is in play however the Heels have had a bit more space from their win. The Wolfpack, on the other hand, played out of their collective minds against Duke. It was an impressive performance across the board. NC State had an offensive efficiency of 124.7, hit 10-16 from three, blocked ten shots and held Duke to 45% shooting and 7-27 from three. It was easily NC State's best game of the season relative to the caliber of the opponent.
The question going into this game is does NC State have another game like that in it or will the inconsistency that has marked the Wolfpack season so far show up again?
NC State certainly has the makeup of a team that can give the Tar Heels trouble. While UNC has some much improved numbers in terms of three point defense and overall defensive efficiency teams like Notre Dame and to some extent Louisville have caused UNC some struggle. The Wolfpack have two players, Trevor Lacey and Turner Ralston who are shooting better than 40% from three. The Wolfpack guard play with Lacey and Anthony "Cat" Barber will be a test for UNC's backcourt which is struggling with injuries. Marcus Paige has plantar fascitis and also sprained an ankle on Saturday. Joel Berry is dealing with a groin injury leaving Nate Britt as the fully healthy point guard. These injuries simply make the task of guarding NCSU's backcourt more difficult.
On the interior UNC has the depth and size to control the boards but it will be challenging. In last season's epic 85-84 overtime win BeeJay Anya recorded his only double figures scoring game of the season with 10 points. This past Sunday, Anya hit double figures for the second time in his NCSU career with 14 points against Duke to go along with six rebounds and four blocks. More than his offense, Anya's shot blocking could present an issue for Kennedy Meeks. Anya is 4th nationally in block% swatting 16.4% of shots and blocks 3.1 shots per game. On the flip side, Meeks can pull Anya away from the basket and has shown the ability to hit face up shots negating Anya's shot blocking.
Ultimately the key to this game will be which team can put together a consistent offensive performance. Over the course of the season UNC has been better on both ends but NC State's three point shooting could be the equalizer, that is assuming the Wolfpack can get a repeat of Sunday's performance.
UNC 80 NC State 72