ACC Tournament Quarterfinals: #5 North Carolina vs #4 Louisville, 2:30 PM(approx), ESPN/ACC Network
The rubber game of what is now a three game series. UNC won the first game in Chapel Hill rallying from down 13 in the second half winning the game on a Marcus Paige layup with eight seconds left. The second game in Louisville, UNC owned an 18 point lead early in the second half. Louisville chipped away and eventually tied the game. The Heels fell by ten in overtime. Given how even the teams were in two games, it stands to reason a third match-up will be tight although the teams aren't the same as they were in the previous two meetings.
Obviously the personnel change for Louisville in the loss of Chris Jones and UNC possibly being without Kennedy Meeks offers a different dynamic for both teams. Louisville has had time to adjust to Jones' being off the team and the Cardinals' win over Virginia shows it isn't necessarily debilitating. The Tar Heels have had just one game without Meeks though there was a stretch of games where UNC relied on Isaiah Hicks more. The issue there is UNC isn't nearly as good defensively and losing a big man creates a depth issue. Fouls were a huge problem for UNC in the second game and a quick to fouls on Brice Johnson or Isaiah Hicks could be problematic.
The X factor could be how well the Tar Heel perimeter players perform especially Marcus Paige and Justin Jackson. Paige simply looks like he has returned to last season's form. He wouldn't go as far as to say he was 100% but put his health north of 90%. The difference between Paige struggling with injury or not is the difference between him being a spot up shooter who lives on the perimeter versus a complete scorer. While Paige is an effective three point shooter, what made him a complete offensive threat last season was the ability to drive the basketball. Paige getting into the lane opens the door for easy looks and setting up his teammates. It also backs the defender off to create space to take three pointers.
Likewise Justin Jackson has been a critical piece for UNC since the loss at Duke. Since February 18th, Jackson has scored in double figures in six straight games. His personal offensive ratings have been 123, 95, 120, 140, 158 and 134. The only game under 100 was versus NC State where he actually scored 16 points but did so on 5-13 shooting. In Jackson's first 26 games of the season he hit 11 threes. He is 8-18 in the past six games or 44% to go along with being more aggressive on the offensive end. Jackson providing complimentary scoring to Paige could give the Heels a boost that hasn't been there all season offensively.
UNC 72 Louisville 69