North Carolina vs NC State, 8:00 PM, ACC Network
But will they play the game?
As of this writing, snow is falling in the Triangle area of North Carolina with reports out of Chapel Hill of slick roads. That raises the possibility of the game being postponed but for now it is scheduled to be played.
Obviously this is an important game for both teams, Roy Williams noted when asked about NC State needing a win. The Wolfpack has once again dug a hole as far their NCAA Tournament viability is concerned and needs another big win to stay in play for one of the final at-large spots. A road win versus North Carolina would certainly help. UNC also needs wins to snag a double-bye in the ACC Tournament and improve seeding position in the NCAA Tournament. A loss here does serious damage to both of those prospects.
The biggest concern for UNC facing NC State versus the January 14th meeting which the Tar Heels won 81-79 is the improved play of Wolfpack guard Anthony "Cat" Barber. Barber was a non-factor in the first game playing 29 minutes, scoring 5 points with four assists and four turnovers. The sophomore guard went through much of the season as a non-threat from beyond the arc hitting just five threes through NC State's first 22 games. That all changed on January 31st at Georgia Tech when Barber went 4-5 from three. He followed that up with 4-8 versus Clemson and 2-4 against Virginia Tech. During the past five games Barber is averaging 18.6 ppg, 4.2 apg and shooting 11-19 from three.
Barber's emergence as a scoring threat presents a new problem for the Tar Heels. UNC has had issues keeping quicker point guards out of the lane. With Trevor Lacey and Ralston Turner also on the court plus capable big men underneath, the possibility of a broken down defense and open looks could be an issue for the Tar Heels. The absence of Theo Pinson complicates this and while J.P. Tokoto shut down Lacey in Raleigh, NCSU still has plenty of weapons.
On the flip side, UNC has been really good offensively over the past four games. Even while Pittsburgh was raining shots, UNC played fairly well on the offensive end. Against Duke it really seemed like something clicked with this team on the offensive end and it carried over against Georgia Tech. J.P. Tokoto being aggressive and hitting shots is a huge factor as is tremendous production from Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson and Isaiah Hicks. In the first meeting against NC State, the Meeks, Johnson and Hicks combined for 37 points and 19 rebounds.
However the focus will be on Marcus Paige who has made a habit of destroying NC State at every opportunity. His 14 points and 8 assists versus NC State in the 2013 rematch game in Chapel Hill was one of the first moments Paige showed he could be a special player. After a quiet 15 points in UNC's first win last season, Paige exploded for 35 and the game winning shot against NC State in an 85-84 overtime classic in Raleigh. On January 14th it was more of the same as Paige went for 23 points, 9 assists and 5-5 from three. Needless to say Paige will draw a ton of attention but if that happens it should open the gates for UNC's other weapons to produce.
UNC 85 NC State 70