After surviving the unforgiving wrath of the AP voters earlier this week, the No. 14 North Carolina Tar Heels will welcome the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks into the Dean Smith Center. The Heels will look to rebound from the loss that they suffered up north against Michigan in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge last week.
The UNCW Seahawks are led by former UNC assistant coach C.B. McGrath, who helped lead the Tar Heels to their 6th NCAA national championship when they defeated the Gonzaga Bulldogs in 2017. In his first year as head coach, McGrath and his team went on to finish with an 11-21 record, winning seven of their eleven conference matchups. So far this year the Hawks are 4-5, with their most significant win being against East Carolina.
The Tar Heels are looking to use this game as the first step to get their defense back on track. In the past three games, they have allowed a field goal percentage of 40% or more, with the same being true about three-point percentage. The three-point percentage issue may somehow be the most startling, as they allowed the three teams to shoot 45.8%, 45.5%, and 50% respectively. There are plenty of reasons why this is happening, but one of the most notable from a X’s and O’s perspective is that the Heels have had a hard time stopping dribble penetration in the half court.
However, the general issue with UNC’s defense is that the team has not been playing with a sense of urgency in general on that end of the ball. Roy Williams and Kenny Williams were vocal following the Michigan loss about the lack of toughness that this team has exhibited during this stretch. While it’s not worth diving into Roy’s harsh words about his own coaching ability, as he was no more self-deprecating than what we’ve seen in the past following an awful performance, the focus on what he said in that entire press conference should be on what he said about Michigan being tougher than they were. It was obvious against Texas, UCLA (despite the win), and Michigan that the other team wanted it more on both sides of the ball than the Heels did, and it’s safe to say that Roy Williams has attempted to correct that over the weekend during practice.
Another big storyline in this game will be how the Tar Heels will perform without starting point guard Coby White. Roy Williams announced on his radio show that White will sit out during the UNCW game as a precautionary measure in regards to an ankle injury. This means that Seventh Woods and Leaky Black will split time at the point guard position, and so it will be interesting to see how the Heels fair with White’s absence. He has easily been UNC’s best player since the Texas game, and was the biggest reason that they were able to hang with the Longhorns. The Heels should have too much talent for UNCW to handle, but let’s be honest: are mid-major games that comfortable to witness following last year’s loss to Wofford?
The final big storyline of the game will be seeing how the seniors respond coming off of that brutal three-game stretch. Luke Maye has been struggling lately, despite recording a double-double against Michigan, Cameron Johnson has had a rough couple of games after starting the season ridiculously well, and Kenny Williams is just now starting to find his shot again. What will be more crucial to the team’s success than stats, however, is which of the seniors will step up and show some leadership with this team. Personally, my eyes are on Kenny Williams to lead the charge both vocally and with the amount of effort he is capable of giving while he is on the court.
All and all, this should be a good tune-up game before the Heels take on Gonzaga. While it isn’t a guaranteed win by any stretch, I’d be surprised if the Heels didn’t come out angry and ready to show that they are a better team than they have shown that they are the past few games. The goal is simple: go out, show out, and get out. The number one team in the country is coming soon, and there’s still a few Zags that haven’t forgotten about 2017.
Prediction: UNC 102, UNCW 65