The ACC schedule is weird, there’s no other way to describe it. After the infamous three games in five games, it’ll take North Carolina 11 days to play their next three. As I wrote this weekend, Carolina controls whether or not they get the double bye. The march to that begins this weekend in Louisville. What are some things we can look for tomorrow?
Rest versus Rust
While Carolina had to play that brutal stretch, the ACC at least helped them out by making Notre Dame also play in a short stretch, and forced them to travel from South Bend in order to do it. The quotes coming out of the locker room after that game indicate that the Heels took that stretch as a challenge, and Coach Roy Williams did a deft job of managing the players during the first half in order to be the fresher team at the end of the game. That management led to the explosion at the end of the game, making the score look closer than it really was.
On Saturday, it’s the opposite. Rightfully, Coach Williams gave the team two days off from practice to get their legs back under them, and the hope is that they don't come out flat against the Cardinals. Louisville won’t be bringing an advantage of having a recent game, however, as they last “played” on Sunday against Pitt. So, whereas Monday you had two teams that were coming off short rest, where Carolina’s was shorter, Saturday you have two teams coming off a long break, except Louisville’s is longer.
How Carolina responds will be telling for the rest of the season. The short stretch with big rivals presented easy motivation for the team, but will the team come out flat after not playing for so long? Louisville will be motivated with a home crowd that has never seen Carolina win there. Carolina will need to be ready from the jump to preserve a remarkable streak of consecutive road winning seasons in ACC play.
Handling that Deng (Adel) Size
The 6’7” junior is the leading scorer on the team for Louisville this season, and forms a potent force that has size down low. Louisville starts the lean 7’0” Anas Mahmoud, who plays about 25 minutes a game, and the 6’10” Ray Spalding, good for 26. They also can rotate in 6’11” Malik Williams for about 11 minutes. In a lot of ways, the rotation resembles what Carolina had in Meeks, Hicks, and Bradley.
That said, no one in this group is averaging a double double. Spalding is the leading rebounder at 8.8/game, and Adel is snagging 5.1. For perspective, Luke May is averaging 10.1 and Theo Pinson is averaging 6.1, and Carolina has grabbed more rebounds than their opponents in their past six games. This includes Duke and NC State, both of whom have guys significantly taller.
This will probably be the biggest test of the starting lineup to date when it comes to both defending inside and rebounding. Carolina has adjusted their defense to try and account for teams killing them from beyond the arc, but with all of the size that Louisville can throw, one would think that Coach David Padgett will try to pound Carolina inside as much as they can. If Carolina adjusts and slips back into their old ways, it could leave shooters open to bury the Heels. The names to look for there? Ryan McMahon, shooting 40% in 17 minutes a game this season, and Jordan Nwora shooting 49% in 12 minutes. They would follow the script of Allerik Freeman for NC State and John Mooney from Notre Dame. It could be a case of the Heels picking their poison.
On offense, It’ll be interesting to see if Luke Maye repeats his performance from NC State. Louisville’s post is set up very similar to NC State, and Maye outright abused Omer Yurtseven. Looking at the roster, it’s tough to see who can actually come out and guard the junior beyond the arc. Maye would have scored more on Monday night, but he clearly was affected by the third game in five nights, as several short shots couldn’t go down. That shouldn’t be a problem tomorrow.
Free throws may not be as sexy as three pointers, but when someone on the floor getting over 25 minutes a game shoots under 50%, it absolutely is a factor.
With post play, you would expect Louisville to be able to rack up trips to the Free Throw line. While they are shooting a relatively good 73.8% from the line, they also have a couple of shooters who are spotty, at best. Specifically, Mahmoud is hitting just 46% on the season, and Spalding just 65%. If the game is close at the end, they could find themselves needing to hit some freebies in order to try and keep a lead.
It’s worth noting this because Carolina has had remarkable luck in their opponents’ free throw shooting during the season. There’s no other word to use because you can’t defend this, you just wait. To wit:
Odd stat— Dadgum Box Scores (@dadgumboxscores) February 15, 2018
Carolina's opponents have made just 66.2% of free throws
That's 3rd best in country (not sure best is right word?)
Notre Dame made 52% of free throws the other night, Irish make 76% on the season
If only the 3PT defense was as good as the free throw defense
On the Carolina side, the free throw shooting has been more consistent, as Garrison Brooks has been the worst of the lot and is still hitting over 50%. An interesting note is that Sterling Manley has the fourth most made free throws on the season so far, 44, and is shooting them at a 67% clip. It’s also a reason you may see him on the floor more during late game situations. If he has the ball in his hand, he’s an easy target but will shoot better than Luke Maye and Kenny Williams from the stripe.
Free throws will of course matter late, but if Carolina’s free throw luck continues into this game, it’ll make their lives a lot easier.