North Carolina at Louisville, 4:00 PM, ESPN
The Tar Heels' third Saturday-Monday set of the season begins today with a trip to #10 Louisville. While these quick turnaround games are tough this three day stretch of playing #10 Louisville then #2 Virginia will serve as an nice simulation of what it would be like to be in the Sweet Sixteen or even Final Four. The quick turnaround is also a test for UNC's bench which is much thinner than it used to be, especially on the perimeter.
This is the second meeting in three weeks between these two teams. On January 10th, UNC rallied from 13 down to knock off Louisville 72-71 on a Marcus Paige layup with eight seconds left. Little did anyone know at the time, that game serve as a catalyst for both Paige and the Tar Heels. The win over the Cardinals kicked off the current six game winning streak and Paige has been really good since. In fact UNC has had one of its most efficienct offensive stretches of the season with an efficiency rating of 116 or better in four of the last five games. During that span the Heels have had an eFG% of over 60% and FG% of 55% three times.
The recent offensive prowess will be put to the test against the Cardinals. While Louisville's defensive efficiency in ACC play is 102.4, well above the season average of 88.8, Louisville will present plenty of issues for the Tar Heels. In the first match-up UNC finished with a TO% of 18.1 but a string of second half turnovers helped dig the 13 point hole the Tar Heels ultimately had to climb out of late in the game. In ACC play, the Cards defensive TO% is just 16.7 with a 23.5 for the season as a whole. UNC is coming off a 20 turnover game against Syracuse which served to keep Syracuse in the game longer than they would have been otherwise.
The question for Roy Williams facing a Louisville team that, like UNC, doesn't shoot well from the perimeter but has interior scorers is should UNC zone? Duke played a zone in the Blue Devils' 63-52 win at Louisville two weeks ago. The game plan then was to force Louisville's suspect outside shooting to beat the Blue Devils and the gamble paid off. Louisville got plenty of open looks but failed to convert them.
Williams dislikes playing zone for a variety of reasons but wil use it to cover for foul trouble or disrupt the opposing team by changing to it out of a timeout. It should be noted, UNC did go zone versus Kentucky earlier this season because of the Widcats' size and lack of perimeter shooting. Kentucky hit a number of threes over the zone. Therein lies the danger for the Tar Heels. UNC has had issues keeping quick guards out of the lane. The Cardinals' Chris Jones and Terry Rozier will tax the UNC defense with penetration. UNC's lack of perimeter depth means the Tar Heels perimeter players cannot be as aggressive guarding Jones and Rozier. In that respect it could come down to a "pick your poison" situation where UNC has to choose whether to stop the drive and give up threes or give up drives which could lead to easy baskets and kick outs for open threes.
Of course, it would benefit UNC immensely if the Cardinals would simply shoot along their season average while UNC keeps the turnovers in check and continues to roll offensively. After a stretch of games where UNC "had to win" because a loss would have been devastating given the level of competition, the next two games constitute opportunities to bolster the NCAA resume The games also significantly improve UNC's position to finish in the ACC's top four and avoid an extra game in the league tournament.
UNC 78 Louisville 72