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UNC Basketball vs. Tennessee: Game preview

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Exams are over and the Heels hit the road to Knoxville

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at North Carolina Evan Pike-USA TODAY Sports

Congratulations, everyone, we made it. Exams are done, and basketball is back as the march to ACC season renews. Today, Carolina travels to Knoxville to face old foe Rick Barnes and the Tennessee Volunteers. The Volunteers look to avenge the close loss in Chapel Hill last year and build their resume with a power win, while Carolina looks to knock off the rust following exams.

Tennessee

Tennesse does not play pretty basketball, which is pretty much a hallmark of Rick Barnes as a coach. They are averaging under 80 points a game, shoot around 45% overall, and are holding their opponents to about 66 a game. They also manage to get 21 points, or about 25%, of their points via turnovers. The Volunteers will hound you, force turnovers, and take their time to find their shot as they average 19 assists per game.

The Volunteers don’t have anyone averaging more than 28 minutes a game, and only have three players, Grant Williams, Jordan Bowden, and Kyle Alexander, who have started all eight games Tennessee has played so far. The sophomore Williams is the leader in minutes and points, and is second in rebounds. He will also be the guy who, at some point, will be referenced as “grew up in North Carolina and didn’t get any attention from the local schools.” The Charlotte, NC native will likely be the key to their offense, and look for him and Maye to go up against each other a lot.

Bowden, meanwhile, provides the outside punch for the team. He’s hitting on an astounding 59% of his three pointers, converting 16 out of 27 for the season. Sophomore Lamonte Turner also will shoot from outside, hoisting up nine more shots, and converts at a 39% clip. Alexander is the tallest member of the squad, going at 6’ 11” and leads the team in rebounds while only playing about 20 minutes a game.

Tennessee played out in the Bahamas for their holiday tournament, going 2-1 with a win over a good Purdue squad, losing to eventual champ Villanova, and rounding out with a win over NC State. To Barnes’ credit, he has not sheltered this team in Knoxville, playing both his former school in Clemson and Georgia Tech on the road. When you have that resume, and you played Nova close to lose only by nine, you earn your ranking at 20.

We’ve detailed here just how much experience Barnes has playing against Roy Williams, and the crowd in Knoxville will be ready for an upset. Thompson-Boling Arena has a capacity about as big as the Smith Center, and every seat has been sold and will likely resemble their checkerboard pattern thanks to a t-shirt giveaway. The Volunteers will be ready to fight, even though they’ve had a eight day layoff themselves.

North Carolina

It’s tough to draw on last year’s game against Tennessee as both Berry and Pinson missed the game, and it took a Tony Bradley block to seal a comeback win for the Heels. The box score reveals only three players who will suit up for today’s game: Luke Maye, Kenny Williams, and Brandon Robinson.

This was pre-Kentucky Luke Maye, by the way.

You do wonder if this game will be a preview of what we will see in the ACC. Jake did a great job earlier in the week breaking down both how Luke Maye has forced defenses to change, and how the UNC offense has opened up thanks to Maye’s ability. This will be a new look for Barnes, as it is for any coach who has gotten used to defending Roy Williams and Carolina in a certain way. They’ve also had over a week to prepare, so any changes in their defense to account for Maye will be good practice for the rest of the team when others in the ACC do the same.

The other thing to look for here will be how the newcomers adjust. Tennessee’s front court starters will provide perhaps the biggest test to the trio of big men since Michigan State, and Jalek Felton will continue to assume the role of backup point guard, playing his first road game in that role. How they react will be telling.

Prediction

If I were sly, I’d try to hedge against my prediction earlier this week, and I’d have my bases covered. The problem with that, of course, is that I just told you I was one of the staffers who picked the Vols.

On paper, this should be a Carolina win. On paper, Duke should have beaten Boston College last weekend. Chad did a great job breaking down the post-exam game over the last few years, and I think that layoff plus a lot of x factors will lead to Tennessee scraping by with a win. I would love to be wrong, trust me, it wouldn’t be the first time. Or the second. Just ask my wife.

Tennessee wins 82-77