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UNC vs. Northern Iowa: Game Preview

The Heels take on the Panthers tonight in Chapel Hill

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Kentucky
Guard Nate Britt against Kentucky
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The #8 North Carolina Tar Heels will host the Northern Iowa Panthers tonight in the Smith Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 8:00 PM and can be seen on ESPN2 and heard on your local Tar Heel Sports Network affiliate.

After Saturday’s emotional loss against Kentucky, UNC cannot have a letdown against UNI. Last year, Northern Iowa took down the #1 Tar Heels in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The Panthers return two starters and two reserves that logged minutes from that game. Carolina needs to refocus on fundamentals after a shootout on Saturday, and make the most of their height and athletic advantages over UNI.

North Carolina

Any questions about Carolina’s offensive output were put to rest on Saturday. The Heels scored 100 points, shooting 53% from the field and nearly 53% from three-point range. They were out-rebounded by four, although they had a slight advantage on the defensive glass, 25-24. In recent seasons, Carolina getting out-rebounded is a rare occurrence, but it was against another elite rebounding team. From the free throw line, the team shot 75%.

The glaring issue from the Kentucky game was foul trouble, especially in the frontcourt. Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, and Tony Bradley logged fewer minutes in the Kentucky game than their season averages due to foul trouble. Luke Maye, filling his role as a stretch four, answered the call, posting career highs in points scored, three-pointers made, and minutes played. At the final whistle, Joel Berry II and Meeks fouled out, and Hicks played just 15 minutes with four fouls. As Coach Roy Williams moves toward shortening his bench in conference play, fouls will remain an issue, especially with Meeks and Hicks. Bradley and Maye have given valuable minutes off the bench, however the team will be better served with them subbing in for reasons other than starters being in foul trouble.

There is no doubt that as Berry goes, so goes the Tar Heels. Berry logged 34 minutes in his first game back from injury, scoring 23 points on 9-15 shooting, including 3-5 from long range and 2-2 from the charity stripe. In the last two games before the ACC season begins, Berry must balance between ensuring that his ankle is back to 100% and maintaining his offensive and defensive rhythms on the court. Having said that, valuable minutes from Nate Britt, Seventh Woods, and even Stilman White at the point will help them remain engaged with running the offense when they are called upon. They will be needed in the next couple months when Berry needs a breather or there is foul trouble.

Northern Iowa

The UNI Panthers are coming off a season that included knocking off the #1 Tar Heels in November 2015, winning the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, and advancing to the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament. This year, Northern Iowa is 5-5 on the season. They have notable wins against Arizona State and Oklahoma, and two losses against ranked Xavier. UNI played Xavier in the Tire Pros Invitational in Orlando, FL and then played the Musketeers in a regularly scheduled game just six days later.

The player to watch on Northern Iowa is senior guard Jeremy Morgan. Morgan was a starter on last year’s team that defeated Carolina, but has a much larger role this year. He leads UNI in per-game averages in points, minutes played, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. Morgan is shooting 43.9% from the floor this season, including 43.1% from three and 80.4% from the free throw line. Two games ago in Northern Iowa’s comeback victory against North Dakota, Morgan dropped a career-high 38 points. As Jeremy Morgan goes, so goes the Panthers.

UNI has used different lineups so far this year, so it will be interesting to see how the Panthers line up tonight. Against Carolina, Coach Ben Jacobson might try a larger lineup in the frontcourt to deal with UNC’s size. Additionally, the use of senior guard Jordan Ashton might help on the defensive side of the ball better than one of the freshman guards.

Projected Lineups



Kennedy Meeks – F – SR

Ted Friedman – C – JR

Isaiah Hicks – F – SR

Klint Carlson – F – JR

Justin Jackson – F – JR

Jeremy Morgan – G – SR

Kenny Williams III – G – SO

Jordan Ashton – G – SR

Joel Berry II – G – JR

Spencer Haldeman – G – FR

UNC will win if they

  • Play at their tempo
  • Look inside first on the offensive end
  • Limit the effectiveness of Morgan on offense

UNI will win if they

  • Force Carolina to shoot from low-percentage areas
  • Convert turnovers and defensive stops into points
  • Have the right combination of defensive stops and Morgan having a day