With just a couple games until conference play, the North Carolina Tar Heels still have some work to do if they want to have a strong start to the ACC season. Most notably, improved play at the point and the post are absolutely necessary as January draws closer.
Davidson comes to the Roy Williams Court at the Dean E. Smith Center 9-3 on the season. Two games ago, the Wildcats nearly beat Wake Forest in Winston-Salem and are coming off an easy 88-54 over Central Penn.
Needless to say, the Heels cannot look past Davidson. For this Saturday matinee, here are three things to watch.
How will the teams respond to the week-long holiday break?
Both teams last played on Saturday, December 22 in very different games. Davidson handled their Division II opponent with ease, while Carolina struggled with turnovers and rebounds in a nationally televised game against a ranked opponent.
The biggest advantage of the break for the Wildcats will be the probable return of Kellan Grady, the 6-5 sophomore guard and member of the preseason Naismith Award watch list, is Davidson’s leading scorer at 19.4 points per game. However, he has missed the the past three games with a knee injury.
If he is healthy, or at least healthy enough to play, Grady will undoubtedly be on the court in Chapel Hill.
As for the home team, was there enough time between the Kentucky game and the Christmas break to regroup? From defensive effort to rebounding to shot selection, there was a lot left to desire from the Carolina effort last Saturday.
Issues in the Front Court
The Tar Heels were out-rebounded 44-33 against Kentucky, and the combination of Garrison Brooks, Sterling Manley, and Brandon Huffman scored just nine points. Granted, grad transfer Reid Travis was a force in the post, but certainly more was expected this season out of Brooks and Manley.
Davidson’s third leading scorer, Luka Brajkovic, is a talented 6-10 freshman who has started all 12 games for the Wildcats this season. His most impressive performance was against Wake Forest, where Brajkovic scored 19 points and pulled down 14 rebounds. With more involvement in the Davidson offense since Grady’s injury, including back-to-back double-doubles, can one of the Tar Heels big men step up and slow down the freshman?
Defending the Three
The Wildcats are averaging 9.8 made three-pointers per game, good for 32nd in the country, and the second-highest of any Carolina opponent this season behind Elon.
Unfortunately, the Heels rank 165th in the country in three-point defense, allowing the opposition to hit 33.2 percent of their threes. In the past three games, UNC has allowed nine, eight, and eight three pointers.
As is the recipe for any upset, the underdogs have to make some shots and hitting some from behind the arc helps that effort. If the Tar Heels are sluggish on defense after their holiday break, there could be trouble in store on Saturday.