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Game Preview: #15 UNC at Wake Forest

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Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

North Carolina at Wake Forest, 7:00 PM, ESPN2

The second of three games against teams outside the KenPom top 100 as the Heels look to add another win to the foundation. The Tar Heels will travel to Winston-Salem to take on Wake Forest in what tends to be a very tough game for most teams that visit Joel Coliseum. Both Louisville and Duke had their share of trouble already this season playing against Wake Forest on the road. It stands to reason UNC will find this game just as challenging, especially if the Tar Heels aren't in the proper mindset going into it.

UNC certainly didn't approach the Virginia Tech game with an ideal mindset having come off three very tough games. The ugly win over the Hokies gave Roy Williams the "get the players' attention" benefit a loss can provide but without the pesky blemish on the record. In theory, the win over Virginia Tech, as putrid as it may have been, should have served as an opportunity for the Heels to get a bad game out of the system and refocus before heading on the road where playing poorly really complicates matters.

Speaking of being on the road, UNC is looking to go 3-0 in ACC road games for only the second time under Roy Williams and for the first time since 2008 when the Tar Heels navigated league play without a single road loss. With the Heels already having dropped a home game in ACC play, picking up every possible road win is crucial to offset getting serve broken at home.

While the numbers certainly favor UNC, there are some match-up elements to this game that are concerning for the Tar Heels. 6-9 forward Devin Thomas is nearly averaging a double-double on the season. Thomas scored 12.9 ppg and pulls down 9.7 rpg. Thomas has 10 or more rebounds in three of Wake's first four ACC games.  The impressive number for Thomas is his DRB% which is almost 30%. Wake Forest's impressive DRB% of 76.3 is a cause for concern since it strikes at the heart of one of UNC's strengths: offensive rebounding. If UNC shoots the ball poorly, controlling the offensive glass will be critical. Even then it doesn't make success for the Tar Heels a lock. Last season in the 73-67 loss at Wake Forest, UNC collected 48% of it's own misses but failed to convert those to points.

Wake Forest does not shoot the ball particularly well though against UNC such things always seem to magically improve. On the season, the Demon Deacons' best three point shooter is Mitchell Wilbekin who has hit 41% of his threes. In ACC play, Wilbekin has hit 6-20 from three and no Wake Forest player has shot better than 30% from beyond the arc. The Tar Heels have given up 32.8% shooting from three in ACC play and 27.2% on the season.

On the season UNC has played three teams ranked 100-200 in KenPom and won by an average of 23.3 points per game. That includes a 24 point win at Clemson and a 15 point win versus Virginia Tech on Sunday. This game stands to be a much tougher test than either of those games. If a focused Tar Heel teams shows up with solid offensive execution, the winning trend should continue. Anything short of that is going to be a wild ride.

UNC 81 Wake 74