North Carolina at Florida State, 7:00 PM, ESPN
The Tar Heels head to Tallahassee for a second game in three days to face Florida State. The Seminoles are coming off an 84-75 loss at Clemson while the Heels rallied from nine down in the first half to beat Georgia Tech 86-78 at home.
Here are some things to look for.
Things get weird for UNC in Tallahassee
I wouldn't call playing in Tallahassee a "house of horrors" for the Tar Heels under Roy Williams, after all UNC is 6-2 at FSU during his tenure. However the games between these two teams on the Seminoles home court are historically very odd affairds. Two of the eight contests have been decided in overtime with the teams splitting those games and each winning by nine points. Four of the last five games have been decided by six points or less all UNC wins. Two of those games included Tar Heel game winning three pointers at or near the buzzer. Ty Lawson's runner capped of a furious late game comeback and Harrison Barnes' three was classic freshman season Black Falcon.
Tallahassee was also the site of FSU dropping UNC by 33 in 2012 and Roy Williams taking his team off the court to avoid a court storm only Blue Steel was left behind. Two years ago, James Michael McAdoo fouled out after playing just 13 minutes and it's entirely possible referee Tony Greene called at least one if not more fouls that didn't exist. And who can forget Lawson's high ankle sprain in 2008 on Super Bowl Sunday that very nearly derailed a Final Four run.
In eight games in Tallahassee there is just six points of separation between these two teams or an average margin of 0.75 in UNC's favor. Given UNC's third ACC game of the season under Roy Williams is always a bit of an adventure, the Tar Heel trek into Florida's capital Monday night should be more of the same.
The Joels Return to Florida
This game is a homecoming of sorts for Joel Berry and Joel James who both hail from the state of Florida. Then again, neither player's hometown is anywhere close to Tallahassee with Berry coming from the Orlando area and James arriving from West Palm Beach. UNC also played in Jacksonville last season for the NCAA Tournament so this isn't either player's first trip back "home."
Regardless, both Berry and James are coming off solid outings against Georgia Tech. James had arguably the best game of his four year career scoring 11 points on 5-6 shooting and grabbing 5 rebounds. After struggling most of the season with his shot or doing things like catching entry passes, James was a force in the lane hitting his three straight baskets. Given UNC will be facing a team with size in FSU and Kennedy Meeks ruled out for a seventh straight game, James putting together a similar effort would be ideal.
For much of Saturday's game, Berry did not play well and his five turnovers was a career worst for the sophomore guard. Berry eventually made up for it scoring six straight points to help UNC wrestle control of the game away from Georgia Tech on the way to an eight point win. Berry ended up with a career high 19 points to go along with four assists.
On the season Berry is shooting 37% from three and 48% on twos while hitting 81% of his free throws. His ability to get into the lane and the strength he possesses to finish around the basket with contact fits with what UNC has had in the past with point guards like Raymond Felton and Ty Lawson. Berry doesn't possess the same speed as those two players but at this stage is trending towards being a very effective steward of the coveted one spot in Roy Williams offense.
At some point it has to get better right? Maybe stop getting worse?
As good as UNC has been offensively, the defense still remains a major point of concern. In the context of 351 Division I teams, it isn't horrible. UNC is 63rd in defensive efficiency at 97.7. The defensive eFG%(49.5) is a little worse at 145th overall. The Tar Heels rebound well on the defensive end(DRB% 73.7) and teams don't enjoy the same parade to the FT line as last season as UNC's defensive FTR is a tidy 26.8(25th) down from 37.8 last season.
Then again, if an opponent can hit 38.5% of their threes it doesn't make much sense to try and draw fouls. The three point shooting defense is likely driving UNC's defensive efficiency in the wrong direction. For the season UNC's defensive 3PA% is 37.6 which is actually improved on earlier in the season and only slightly worse than UNC's 36.8 last season. The biggest different now versus a year ago is teams are shooting the ball 8.5% better from three than in 2015. Under Roy Williams the worst defensive 3P% UNC has ever given up is 35.2% is 2004. If the current trend holds it would easily be the worst.
The question is whether that trend will hold. UNC has some issues on defensive but at the same time it also feels like the Tar Heels have been a little unlucky on some of the made threes. Georgia Tech's Adam Smith hit two threes with Marcus Paige and Joel Berry practically touching the ball. There have been long threes(vs Texas), halfcourt shots at the buzzer(Northern Iowa) and a variety of contested shots that find a way into the basket.
UNC's issue vs Florida State is the Seminoles have players who can hit threes even if the current season averages say it isn't happening right now. UNC's big loss in 2012 and the win in 2013 includes FSU hitting threes from all over the floor. While FSU is at 31% in both shooting percentage and 3PA%, it doesn't mean we won't see threes raining all night.
Ultimately UNC's biggest concern in this game is the same as it was versus Maryland and Texas. UNC has the offensive firepower to put up enough points to win. The problem is games where it feels like the Tar Heels can't get a stop and the first empty possession will spell certain doom for UNC's chances to win the game. Getting to a point where UNC can at least get the late game stops is a step in the right direction.
Given the history of the series in Tallahassee, UNC is going to need to do exactly that.
UNC 81 FSU 79