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Game Preview: #9 UNC vs Kansas State

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

CBE Hall of Fame Classic - UNC vs Kansas State, 10:00 PM, ESPN2

UNC will attempt to close out a three game road trip and presumably a six game stretch without Marcus Paige tonight versus Kansas State in the championship game of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic. For UNC this is an opportunity to close out the Paige-less stretch with a 5-1 mark and carry some momentum into next week's battle versus a top five ranked Maryland team.

Standing in the way will be a Kansas State team that returns just two starters from a year ago and is relying on significant minutes from three freshman. Senior guard Justin Edwards  leads the team in scoring at 16.0 ppg and is one of five Wildcats grabbing at least five rebounds per game. 6-7 forward Wesley Iwundu(14.0 ppg), freshmen Dean Wade(13.5 ppg) and Barry Brown(10.3) round out the double figure scorers for Kansas State. Wade, at 6-10 and with some outside shooting ability provides the most intriguing match-up for the Tar Heel big men given some of the issues Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson have had closing out of perimeter shooters.

For UNC this is another game without Paige. During the previous five games, the Tar Heels have had some fairly uneven moments on both ends of the floor. The offense clicks at times but when the lineup is shuffled, it can sputter a bit. On the defensive end stopping dribble penetration has been an issue and that breakdown in the defense has allowed three point shooting teams open looks. Kansas State is a more interior focused team which makes this a bit of a strength vs strength match-up. The ability of UNC big men to play defense without fouling will be crucial to slowing down the Wildcat offense.

Given Kansas State shoots a worse percentage from beyond the arc than UNC this could be a game where the Tar Heels can gain an advantage on the perimeter. UNC still needs to strive for balance offensively, something that was lacking at times last night with UNC's 3PA/FGA rate at 40%. Northwestern playing zone the entire game was obviously a factor there but there is a tendency with this Paige-less backcourt to settle for jump shots too often.

Working in UNC's favor against Kansas State is the tempo. The Wildcats are much closer to the Tar Heels' preferred pace of play averaging 71.6 possessions per game. A game played at over 70 possessions usually benefits UNC or at the very least is more comfortable for the Tar Heels than plodding contests versus zone defenses.

After the loss to Northern Iowa, UNC can finish off this three game road trip with a win with eyes on a Marcus Paige return and Maryland on December 1st.

UNC 85 Kansas State 70