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UNC vs Portland: Three things to watch

Joel Berry is back and so is Kenny, but who else will contribute from beyond the arc?

NCAA Basketball: Bucknell at North Carolina Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

North Carolina continues its west coast stint tomorrow when they kick off the PK80 Invitational Tournament against host Portland. The Heels are coming off of a dominating performance over Stanford and are looking to keep their unbeaten streak alive. What should you be watching for when the Tar Heels go toe-to-toe with the Portland Pilots?

UNC Basketball on Thanksgiving Day

Using historical calendars, I went back to look at how many times UNC Basketball has played a game on Thanksgiving day. This is not something that happens, folks. (From the earliest schedules I have, North Carolina did not start playing games before the new year until the 1940’s. It wasn’t until much later that games before Thanksgiving appeared.) This is only the Tar Heels’ third ever appearance on Thanksgiving Day. The other two are comparatively recent.

The first happened in 1997 against UCLA during the Great Alaskan Shootout. UNC won that game 109-68. Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter led the Tar Heels with 23 and 22 points respectively. Of note, Makhtar N’Diaye started the game over notable UNC players like Jamison and Brendan Haywood.

Their next appearance happened in 2014 in the Battle 4 Atlantis, also against UCLA. The Tar Heels also won that game; 78-56. Marcus Paige led the scoring with 21 points and Justin Jackson chipped in 12. Also of note, Joel James started the game over notable UNC players like Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks.

This time, the opponent isn’t UCLA. However, much like the other two, the Tar Heels are in a tournament that takes them far away from the comfort of the Smith Center. The Tar Heels will look to improve their Turkey Day record to 3-0.

North Carolina Perimeter Shooting

In just three games, North Carolina has attempted 61 three pointers and made just 23. For anyone who has an aversion to numbers like I do, that’s right around 37%. Williams: 10-16; Berry: 6-16; Maye: 5-9; The rest of the team is 2-20 combined.

With Cameron Johnson out, North Carolina needs to continue to feed the ball to Williams and Maye on the perimeter. Joel Berry II will inevitably get his shots. However, they will need at least one (or even two) more shooters to be reliable behind the arc. Theo Pinson, Seventh Woods, or Jalek Felton will need to step up. If they can manage just 30% from three, that will keep defenses from collapsing on Berry, Maye, and Williams.

The Continued Growth of the “Baby Bigs”

Garrison Brooks, Sterling Manley, and Brandon Huffman have all exceeded expectations thus far. There may have been a little hiccup against the versatile and experienced front court of Stanford, but they handled the pressure well (all except the foul trouble). In a combined 32 minutes of play, the freshmen were able to post a combined stat line of 15 points and 13 rebounds. Sure, you would like that to come from just one of them, but they are improving. It seems that Coach Williams is content on playing “Center by Committee” this season with neither Brooks or Manley outpacing the other by a lot in terms of minutes. Huffman should continue to see his minutes rise as he becomes more acclimated to the college game.

Bonus: North Carolina Crowd

It seemed that, even though it was an away game, North Carolina had a majority of the capacity crowd in the Maples Pavilion on Monday night. Of course, North Carolina is a national brand and has a huge following, but takeovers like that do not happen often. Hopefully our west coast brethren continue to pack out the arenas and give our guys some of that Smith Center magic!