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Game Preview: #9 UNC vs Northwestern

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

CBE Hall of Fame Classic - North Carolina vs Northwestern, 9:15 PM

Now we will see how these Tar Heels bounce back.

Under Roy Williams, Carolina tends to recover from losses and play well in the next outing. In fact during the Roy Williams era at UNC, the Tar Heels have lost back-to-back games in November and December just once. In 2011, UNC lost to Minnesota and Vanderbilt on consecutive days in Puerto Rico. That team was fairly young with a freshmen Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall plus John Henson in his second season. There was some expectation that season would start slowly but eventually round into form which it ultimately did.

Heading into this season, the Tar Heels were expected to hit the ground running or at the very least pick up close to where UNC left off last season. The injury to Marcus Paige and some inconsistent performances from Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson have made the going tougher than anticipated. How much of the latter is because of the former is unclear but for now the Tar Heels still need to work some things out. In other words, it's a typical November/December stretch for the Tar Heels.

Tonight's business is with Northwestern which is coached by former Duke player and assistant coach Chris Collins. The Wildcats opened the season 3-0 but needed overtime to dispatch Columbia 83-80 after trailing for much of the game. Still UNC will have its hands full with a Wildcat team that has some size on the interior and capable three point shooters. Since the Tar Heels will again be without the services of Marcus Paige, UNC will need to find a way to keep Northwestern in check with a defense that hasn't quite gelled without its best perimeter defender on the court.

Another boost UNC needs to for the sophomore trio to play well at the same time. Joel Berry's first three games were solid but he struggled against Northern Iowa's Wes Washpun. Justin Jackson was off track but then posted a career high 25 points in the loss on Saturday. Theo Pinson is a huge key for UNC defensively but is not a factor on the offensive end outside of 3-7 shooting from three point range. While Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson are the lynch pin of the offense with Paige absent, UNC needs Berry, Jackson and Pinson to step up offensively.

Another factor is the half court offense. Northwestern is UNC's second straight opponent who enjoys swimming at the slower end of the tempo poll. Northern Iowa and Northwestern both average 67.5 possessions per game putting them in the 330s nationally for tempo. A slower game tends to mean more half court offense and without Paige that has proven to be a bit dicey. Better offensive execution, particularly in half court sets will be crucial if the Tar Heels cannot get as many transition looks.

UNC 77 Northwestern 69