North Carolina at Syracuse, 8:00 PM, ESPN
UNC heads to the Carrier Dome to face Syracuse. Here is your preview complete with Star Wars quotes
"I have a bad feeling about this"
There are a variety of factors at play that point to the distinct possibility UNC loses on Saturday night. Let's list them
-UNC has never started 4-0 in the ACC under Roy Williams
-Jim Boeheim's first game back after his nine game NCAA suspension meaning the crowd and team will be hyped up.
-Syracuse is 0-3 in league play putting the Orange in dire straits to get an ACC win and avoid 0-4.
-The game is on the road.
-Syracuse loves to shoot threes.
-Syracuse plays a zone defense.
And while we are here, making Boeheim's first game at home back from NCAA suspension be against UNC is just another example of the continuous de facto penalty for the Tar Heels right? Okay, maybe not.
Point here is there are a lot of reasons why UNC might lose this game, especially given the wackiness of the college basketball season in general and ACC play. If that happens it shouldn't be taken as any sort of indictment of UNC or extrapolated for to determine what the season might hold.
"I can feel your anger. It gives you focus, makes you stronger"
We are, of course, referring to Brice Johnson who seems to play at his best when he angry. Not frustrated mind you. Frustrated Brice Johnson gets his head out of the game but Angry Brice Johnson does things like go for 39 points and 23 rebounds while attempting to damage the rim in some way. Roy Williams nor his teammates have not discovered the key to getting Johnson's intensity level up only that when it happens, good things usually follow.
The question for Johnson has always been consistency though I would argue he has been really consistent this season. Roy Williams rightly points to his 3 points and 1-8 shooting versus Clemson but that has been his only single digit game of the season so far. It was also the only game he didn't shoot 50% from the floor. In that respect you could argue Johnson isn't necessarily inconsistent but rather not as consistently dominant as he could be on a given night.
Another key for Johnson is staying out of foul trouble. While still prone to the silly foul at times, Johnson is committed 4.3 fouls per 40 minutes down from 4.8 last season and 5.8 in 2014. This has helped him stay on the floor and be a bigger factor in the offense. His %Min is up to 65.8(from 61.4 last season) In three ACC games that number is 75.0 versus 63.8 in ACC play last season. All of this while generally playing better defense both as a rebounder and rim protector.
"Kennedy Meeks, that's a name I have not heard in a long, long time."
All signs point to a return for Kennedy Meeks to the UNC lineup on Saturday. Roy Williams said Meeks had gone through parts of practice on Wednesday and Thursday with the plan being a full practice on Friday. If that all pans out, Meeks will see the floor versus the Orange. What is less clear is whether he starts or comes off the bench not to mention how effective he is in his first game since December 19th at Texas.
Against the Syracuse zone, Meeks' passing acumen could be key as is his rebounding efficiency. With the way Johnson has been hitting the boards, the combination of the two should completely dominate the rebounding in this game. That assume Meeks can get back into the flow without being too rusty. At any rate, it would not be surprising to see Meeks eased back in and not play heavy minutes in this first game back.
If that's the case, that will mean more Isaiah Hicks but not necessarily as much Joel James. Williams stated on Friday the small lineup, which has been used at times, wasn't going anywhere. If the match-up called for it then Williams is more than willing to use it. The one downside is the rebounding which might not be as good with Justin Jackson or Theo Pinson at the four. Given the Orange's size and the perimeter scoring, the small lineup likely sees some run in this game as it may be the best defensive counter to what Syracuse does offensively.
Bonus: "Help us Justin Jackson, you're our only hope"
Okay, not UNC's ONLY hope.
Still waiting for the Justin Jackson who showed up after the loss at Duke in 2015 to make a consistent appearance. We saw some flashes during the Northern Iowa/Kansas City swing and yes he is shooting 59% from two. However the three point shot isn't quite there and since his three straight 20 point games in November, Jackson hasn't topped 15 points. With Paige returning, obviously he hasn't been nearly assertive and Joel Berry is carrying a much bigger offensive load than people probably anticipated. Still, Jackson should be a mismatch against most teams he faces and the Orange zone could provide chances for him to do what he does best: find the weak spots.
Syracuse 77 UNC 72