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Game Preview: UNC vs. Miami

The Tar Heels take on the Hurricanes on Senior Night.

NCAA Basketball: Duke at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Last time they took the court, North Carolina extended their win streak to six games when they took down Syracuse on the road. It was also probably the worst game they played in the winning streak.

UNC gets to come home tonight, but they also face a team that is, at least on paper, a step up in competition. Miami comes into Chapel Hill on a two-game win streak, having beaten Notre Dame and Boston College in their last two games. Prior to that, the Hurricanes had lost their previous three, including games against BC and the Syracuse team the Tar Heels just beat.

For the last month, Miami has been dealing with having to replace Bruce Brown. The Hurricanes’ third leading scorer and leading rebounder has been out since January 27th with a foot injury.

On a per game numbers basis, the injury has had an effect. Their points per game has dropped, their opponents points per game has risen, and their rebounds per game are down as well. (Some of this should be taken with a pinch of salt since the full season numbers include non-conference games, while the post-Bowen injury games are all in ACC play.) Still, it’s not surprising when you take him out of the lineup that they’ve seen a drop.

However, they’re still 5-3 in that period, and in some ways, the per game drop hasn’t had the impact it would seem on the surface. For instance, their total rebounding percentage is very slightly up.

One thing that is very noticeably up post-Brown injury is their opponents field goal percentage. In the 20 game Brown played, opponents shot just 40.3% and 30.8% from three. In the eight games since, those numbers are 48.8% and 34.4%.

To deal with that, Miami will try and slow things down, which is already what they do. The Hurricanes are in the 200s in terms of tempo on KenPom. They don’t play Virginia slow (literally no one does), but they’re certainly not in a rush. They might look to slow it down even more against a UNC team that wants to play fast and will probably have a decent time rebounding their own misses.

On offense, the Hurricanes are a fairly balanced team. Brown was actually the third leading scorer on the team at 11.4 ppg, but that was just 0.2 off the leader, Dewan Huell. In all, Miami has six healthy players going for at least eight a game.

If there’s one player who has taken over of late, it’s been Lonnie Walker IV. Walker’s averaging 14.3 points in his last eight games, and hit the winning shot last time out against Boston College.

The freshman has scored over 20 points three times this season. On the other hand, he’s scored in single figures 13 times. That’s what sticks out when browsing his box scores from this season. He can go for 25 and shoot 5-9 from three against Louisville. He could also go 2-9 overall against Boston College.

If you’re wondering about Miami’s shooting as team from three (since that obviously could occasionally be a weak point for the Tar Heels), it’s fine but not great. They’re in the mid 100s at 35.7% on 21.5 attempts per game. Chris Lykes is leading them with over four attempts per game, making them at a 33.6% rate.

As long as they don’t go nuts from three, UNC might be able to do a good job inside. Miami’s leading scorer on the season is Huell, but he’s struggled a bit recently. He scored 16 points against Boston College, but then again, he also scored a combined 16 in the four previous games.

UNC will go into this game as favorites, and they should be. They’re at home. They’re the better team. Their opponent is missing a key player. Miami can hurt them if they let them. It would probably take UNC playing dumb once again. It’s hard to see Joel Berry and Theo Pinson letting that happen on their senior night, however.

Prediction: UNC 79, Miami 69