North Carolina vs Tulane, 7:00 PM, ESPN2
Temporary life without Kennedy Meeks begins tonight with UNC welcoming Tulane to Chapel Hill for the first time since UNC avoided an 0-3 start with a triple overtime win over the Green Wave in the 1982-83 season.
Under normal circumstances this game would be about UNC's response to a tough loss. During the Roy Williams tenure, the Tar Heels have shown great bounce back ability following a loss. Going against a team that struggles on both ends of the floor, UNC is almost assured to win this game in dominating fashion. The loss of Meeks creates certain problems for the Tar Heels, especially given how much his presence contributes to UNC's overall efficiency and rebounding on both ends of the floor.
With UCLA on the schedule for Saturday in Brooklyn, UNC has the opportunity to use this game to tinker with the lineup and figure out what works. Most lineups using a combination of Brice Johnson, Isaiah Hicks and Joel James have proven to be deficient on the defensive end. Offensively there isn't much drop-off without Meeks other than rebounding. Johnson and Hicks are capable offensive players who will produce on that end of the floor. Defensively, UNC has struggled even with Meeks and that doesn't stand to improve without him. If anything, this game needs to be about figuring out what works from a defensive standpoint as much as anything else.
One potential hurdle in that respect is Tulane's offensive rebounding. The Green Wave pull down 35% of its own misses which is 58th nationally. UNC has been a very good defensive rebounding team but without Meeks there could be some struggled in that area. Green Wave forward Dylan Osetkowski leads the team with an ORB% of 10.4 and DRB% of 21.6. That translates to 9.6 rebounds per game. After Osetkowski, the next best rebounder on the team is Jernard Jarreau at 5.9 boards per game and a DRB% of 20.0. Keeping those two off the boards will go a long way towards securing UNC control of the rebounding battle.
While much of the attention is on the interior players, Theo Pinson could very well be the key to stabilizing the defensive issues. Pinson played sparingly versus Texas thanks to having been ill in the days prior to the game. While Meeks has a huge impact on UNC's offense and defense, Pinson likewise can be a lynch pin at times. He is UNC's best perimeter defender and through nine games leads the teams with 4.4 apg while playing just 24 mpg. The issue for UNC is finding Pinson playing time, something that might be resolved with a few doses of small ball.
This is not a game UNC should have any trouble winning but it wouldn't be at all surprising to see an uneven outing given the loss of Meeks and the normal December rough spots as the lineup kinks continue to work themselves out.
UNC 89 Tulane 66