North Carolina vs Florida State, 2:00 PM, ESPN
To say the Tar Heels go into this game a little shorthanded would be an understatement. Thanks to injuries to Joel Berry, Stilman White, Luke Davis, Theo Pinson and Nate Britt possibly missing the game thanks to 15 stitches in his mouth, the Heels are now suddenly very thin on the perimeter. How thin? If Nate Britt is unable to play, walk-on Justin Coleman might see sport minutes and J.P. Tokoto run the point to ensure Marcus Paige can at least get a breather. A depleted roster means foul trouble is magnified and the zone defense could make another appearance.
The thinner roster is made more complicated by UNC's schedule. The Tar Heels are facing back-to-back Saturday-Monday games. UNC faces FSU today and Syracuse on Monday night with Louisville and Virginia next weekend. This schedule in combination with fewer players could put a strain on the personnel, especially at UNC's preferred pace.
For these reasons, UNC playing a game similar to the second half in Winston-Salem on Wednesday night would be an outstanding idea. The starting perimeter trio of Paige, J.P. Tokoto and Justin Jackson will end up playing most of the game anyway but doing that with the contest well in hand after halftime is far less taxing. Ideally the Tar Heels need to drop the hammer early and finish out the game in worry free fashion.
Part of making that happen could be the play of Justin Jackson. The freshman guard has long been considered the key cog that pushes this team to a different level. In ACC play and especially over the past two games, Jackson has performed at a high level. In six ACC games, Jackson has an offensive efficiency of 134.8. He has hit 76% of his two point shots, is 11-13 on free throws and 4-11 from three. His eFG% of 70% is tops among ACC players in league games. Jackson's rebounding is the only real complaint as it he probably doesn't get the ball nearly enough. With Pinson being out, Jackson will play extended minutes and in turn have more opportunities.
On the other side, the bulk of FSU's offense comes from three players: Montay Brandon, Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Devon Bookert. From a scoring standpoint, FSU does not get a lot of production from the interior despite boasting tremendous size. The trio of Brandon, Rahtan-Mayes and Bookert are the biggest concern especially the latter pair given UNC's perimeter depth. On the season, Bookert is FSU's best three point shooter at 38.7% and in ACC play Bookert is 15-39 from beyond the arc. Robbie Berwick, while not carrying a high scoring average is FSU's second best perimeter shooter in ACC play going 5-11 from three.
As has been noted many times, there are no easy ACC games, even ones that should be on paper. UNC's injury issues make this game more difficult than it would be under ideal circumstances. That being said, the Tar Heels still have their six best players available. Barring foul trouble or heaven forbid another injury, it should be fine.
UNC 88 FSU 64