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UNC vs. Florida State: Three things to watch

Key points for Carolina’s key ACC matchup

North Carolina v Wake Forest Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The #11 North Carolina Tar Heels take on the #9 Florida State Seminoles tomorrow at 2:00 PM in the Smith Center. The Seminoles are tied for the ACC lead and are riding a 12-game winning streak. The Heels are coming off a hard fought road win against Wake Forest and will have a tall task tomorrow in Chapel Hill. Here are three things Tar Heel fans should watch Saturday afternoon against the Noles.

Foul Trouble and Injuries in the Frontcourt

At the 3:39 mark of the first half against Wake Forest, Tony Bradley had a collision with Dinos Mitoglou and hit the court hard. It looked as though Bradley hit Mitoglou’s torso with his head, and his head struck the court during his fall. It has not been announced whether or not Bradley will play against FSU, but his absence in the Wake Forest game caused some issues in the frontcourt as Isiaiah Hicks and Luke Maye got into foul trouble in the second half.

Update, 1:49 p.m. EDT: Tony Bradley is ruled out against Florida State.

Hicks had a turnover at the 17:32 mark of the second half, and Maye subbed for him. On the next two Wake Forest possessions, Maye was called for his third and fourth fouls. Hicks subbed for Maye at the 16:54 mark. By the time there was 14:21 left in the game, Hicks had three fouls, and Kennedy Meeks subbed for him. On the very next Demon Deacon possession, Meeks picked up his third foul. At the under 12:00 media timeout, Wake Forest was already in the double bonus. Wake Forest was taking what they wanted driving to the basket, and at the 9:43 mark, a Keyshawn Woods layup shrunk a 19-point WF deficit down to just one point. Once again, Carolina showed some grit and was able to stretch the lead back to nine before holding off a late Wake Forest comeback attempt to win by six.

Meeks, Hicks, Maye, and Joel Berry II all finished the game with four fouls. With Tony Bradley potentially out against FSU, the UNC frontcourt will have to stay out of foul trouble. The “small” lineup used briefly against Wake was not successful in keeping the Deacons out of the paint or off the scoreboard. To be fair, that lineup has not been used very often in recent games. It is clear that Carolina earns their keep on the glass and in the paint. The Seminoles have some length that are important contributors, notably 6-10 freshman forward Jonathan Isaac and 7-1 senior center Michael Ojo. Carolina should have the advantage on the glass with the more talented duo of Meeks and Hicks, but only if they are on floor.

Berry versus XRM

Once again, a key one-on-one matchup will be between Joel Berry and the opponent’s point guard. Xavier Rathan-Mayes, a 6-4 junior guard, has had an impressive year averaging 11.1 points and 4.6 assists per game. Like Berry for Carolina, Rathan-Mayes is the leader for FSU. This season, the point guard matchup has not necessarily the most influential factor in the outcome of every game, but still a factor nonetheless. In some aspects, the offensive performance for Berry has been more important than the offensive performance of the opponent’s guard. As Tar Heel Blog has noted before, Berry creating opportunities for his teammates and making the tough shot when the Heels need one are the situations that can make-or-break a game for Carolina. Rathan-Mayes has improved his defensive performance this year, while dropped his turnover average. This matchup will exponentially increase in importance if UNC’s frontcourt gets in foul trouble.

The Difference in the Paint

Of Florida State’s 88 points against Duke, 13 points came from the free throw line, 15 points were from beyond the arc, and four points were mid-range jumpers. The remaining 56 points were in the paint. Against Wake Forest, 44 of Carolina’s 93 total points came from the paint. Perhaps more than any other game so far this season, the team will the most high-percentage low-post shots will win the game. Unlike the beginning of the Wake Forest game, the Heels need to go to the inside first, rather than settling for jumpers. The jump shots will go down, as Justin Jackson and Joel Berry have proved in the second halves of road games in Clemson and Winston-Salem. However, it is not a secret that Carolina is first in the national in total rebounding and first in rebounding margin. The Heels need to play to their strengths, and the simple truth is that they can work the ball inside and almost half of the time can grab their own missed shots. The most important game of the season thus far will be on Saturday. A 2:00 PM Saturday tip against a top-ten opponent will bring a full house to the Smith Center. Working the ball inside and establishing a presence on the glass will settle any nerves of this veteran team and create an offensive rhythm that will open up the shooters from outside.

What will you be looking for when the Heels host the Noles?