The UNC basketball team heads back to Chapel Hill on Sunday for a game at 2:00 against the Radford Highlanders (I don’t expect for it to be an Assembly Hall type crowd. Sorry, Roy.). This will be the only the second time that these two teams have met, as the Heels last defeated the Highlanders 101-58 in the first round of the 2009 NCAA Tournament.
The Highlanders have gotten off to a 3-4 start on the season. They opened the season with a loss to Wake Forest (80-59), but they did win their most recent game vs. VMI on Wednesday (74-67). In their victories, Radford has averaged 81.7 points per game; however, in their losses they are only averaging 52.8 points (they have averaged 65.1 points per game in their first seven games). The Highlanders will certainly need to be somewhere up in the 80s if they want to even keep this game close, or it is going to be closer to a 30 or 40 point loss.
Radford currently only has one player who averages in double figures on the season, Caleb Tanner, who averages 10.6 points per game. Tanner has also shown the ability to hit the three-point shot, as he is shooting 46% from three. He made 4 of 5 threes and had 17 points in Wednesday’s victory over VMI.
Ed Polite Jr. is the Highlanders second leading scorer with 9.5 points per game, and he is their leading rebounder with 9.7 rebounds per game.
The Carolina connection to the Highlanders is Steve Robinson, as Coach Robinson both coached and played at Radford back in the 1970s and 80s.
The Tar Heels will look to “get right” after their loss to Indiana on Wednesday night. This is UNC’s first game back in the Smith Center since November 15th, and Radford will give the Heels a great chance to right what went wrong in Indiana.
From the start, UNC should pound the ball inside to Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, and Tony Bradley. Radford has no answer, size wise, for the Heels big men. The Highlanders’ tallest player is 6’8’’. UNC’s guards should continue to feed the bigs down low until Radford decides to collapse their defense to help defend on the inside, which will open up some outside shots for UNC’s shooters. The Heels’ big men should also have big games on the offensive glass, as Meeks and Bradley are two of the top three in the country in offensive rebounding percentage.
Speaking of UNC’s shooters, the Tar Heels are shooting 50.4% on the season, which is 17th in the country. The Heels shot under 40% against Indiana, due to the Hoosiers’ defensive pressure. Look for the Heels to be back up near that 50% mark if the Highlanders are not able to defend in the post or they decide to leave the UNC shooters open on the outside.
Who will start for the Tar Heels at the 2-guard position? Not sure if the starting lineup from Maui was statistically the best lineup for the Heels (someone who studies analytics/numbers will know whether this lineup was the most efficient or not), but interesting note nonetheless from the game against the Hoosiers.
UNC lineup that started all 3 Maui games (Berry, Williams, Jackson, Hicks & Meeks) played together 26 seconds vs. Indiana (h/t @FreeportKid)— R.L. Bynum (@RL_Bynum) December 2, 2016
Justin Jackson showed in the Indiana game that he is someone the Tar Heels can rely on for a big bucket, but ultimately this is Joel Berry’s team. Berry did not play well in the game on Wednesday, so look for him to bounce back in this game against Radford. The Heels will not only need Berry’s scoring, but they will need him to push the tempo on offense and help create some turnovers with his defensive pressure.
UNC’s transition offense has struggled in their past two games against Wisconsin and Indiana. The Tar Heels only had two total fast break points in the game against the Hoosiers. Coach Williams hopes that his team will run early and often, so that they can create some easy baskets with their fast break and secondary break offense.
The Tar Heels are averaging close to 90 points per game early in the season. If UNC can get back to the level of where they were playing in Maui, they should exceed their season average and there will be many fans cheering for free biscuits on Sunday.
Radford can win if:
- The Tar Heels forget that the game is on Sunday.
UNC can win if:
- They just play their game: get out in transition, rebound the basketball, and play good defense.