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UNC vs. Tulane: Three things to watch

North Carolina v Davidson Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The 10-point victory for the North Carolina Tar Heels does not adequately reflect the highs (largest lead at 18 points) or lows (first lead for UNC nearly 10 minutes into the game) from their game against Davidson in Charlotte. The Wildcats and their deep ball abilities posed a challenge for the Tar Heels.

Carolina has just one day off before their next contest. Tulane comes to town for the Green Wave’s first game against a P5 school, and Mike Dunleavy’s boys will be looking for the upset. Here are three things to watch during Carolina’s Sunday matinee at the Smith Center.

Slow starts

The beginning of the game versus Davidson felt eerily similar to the start against Michigan State. The Tar Heels allowed the opposition to control the pace and play. Carolina look rushed on the offensive side of the ball, turning the ball over and forcing shots. On defense, the Wildcats seemed to be on pace for another three point bonanza.

However, Luke Maye was able to keep Carolina in it, unlike the game against Michigan State when neither he nor any other Tar Heel could seem to score. Maye’s production in the early going kept UNC in it and put him on a path to a first half double-double. Maye scored 11 of Carolina’s first 14 points.

In a search for some energy off the bench, Coach Roy Williams put in Brandon Robinson early, and Robinson made the most of his opportunity. He scored eight straight points for UNC, which included the team’s first lead of the evening at the 10:47 mark of the first half.

Most notably, the difference between the Tar Heels busting through the gate or stumbling from the starting block is the production of Joel Berry II. Cold through nearly 13 and a half minutes, Berry’s first points of the evening gave Carolina the lead at the 6:28 mark of the first half. Berry ended with 12 points in the first half, and UNC went to the break with a 43-37 lead.

In these sluggish starts, it is obvious how important Berry is to this team, especially with this young front court. Perhaps there is a sense of responsibility to produce and make things happen from the opening tip. This may be reflected in his field goal percentage because so far this season, Berry is averaging the lowest field goal percentage of his career.

The good news is his points per game production is the highest of his four years, and finishing with 27 points (four points from his career high), including a perfect 7-7 from the free throw line, is pretty good too.

Perimeter defense

Everyone and their brother knew Davidson was going to shoot a lot of threes and make quite a few of them. Until late in the second half, when UNC stretched their lead to 18, the intensity and movement required on the perimeter simply was not there.

Davidson finished the game shooting 40.6 percent from the field. From three point range, the Wildcats shot 42.4 percent.

With all the chatter about the inexperience in the front court, more is expected and needed from the back court on defense.

Davidson is not the norm, as they are the leading three-point shooting team in the nation. Yet this game can be a valuable learning experience for the Tar Heels, especially when it comes time to face other certain teams in conference play that rely on three pointers.

Two veteran guards are leading the way for Tulane, and may cause problems for the UNC perimeter defense. Melvin Frazier is the Green Wave’s leading scorer, averaging 18.9 points per game. He is shooting 63.8 percent from the field, including 45.8 percent from three. Cameron Reynolds is right behind Frazier, averaging 16.9 points per game this season. He is shooting 45.3 from the field, shooting 46.2 from deep.

The small lineup from Coach Williams helped the effort against their three point shooters, but that is not likely the long term solution for the Tar Heels. The freshman bigs will get more experience getting off the screens as December rolls along, and the veterans in the back court must set the attitude for their defensive efforts.

Have a day, Luke Maye

Alley-oops. Three pointers. Two-handed slams. Mid-range jumpers. Maye is scoring from everywhere. He finished the Davidson game with 24 points, going 10-18 from the field, including a three pointer and three free throws.

In addition to having his sixth 20+ point game of the season, Maye pulled down 17 rebounds. Across the court, he added many hustle plays, including a nifty save of a ball that he bounced off a defender to retain possession.

Will the Tulane game be his seventh 20+ game of the season?

In short, Maye has been doing it all. However, the Michigan State game proved there is still work to be done. Even so, Tar Heel fans are seeing a special season in the making for the junior from Huntersville.

What will you be looking for in the game versus Tulane? Let us know in the comments below.