The Tar Heels have gotten off to quite an interesting start to ACC play this season. They blew past what had appeared to be a struggling Pitt team (who has wins over Louisville and #11 Florida State), beat a ranked NC State squad, lost to unranked Louisville in humiliating fashion, and finally, handled their business against Notre Dame, despite what was a very rocky first half. College basketball fans without a horse in the race live for this kind of stuff, but UNC fans have been on quite the roller coaster. Well, the roller coaster continues as the Heels travel to Coral Gables to take on Miami.
Let’s just get this out of the way now: this is another one of those “On paper, UNC should win” type games, but there are a couple issues with that statement that need to be pointed out:
1.) Louisville was a win for the Tar Heels on paper, and we saw how that turned out.
2.) Miami has notoriously been a pain in Roy Williams’ side for years.
With that said, this Miami team has been dreadful in conference play so far. The only win that they have going into this matchup is against Wake Forest, who just now got their first win earlier in the week against NC State. The Hurricanes also took a couple of humbling L’s against the likes of Rutgers, Yale, and Penn in non-conference play.
The shimmering light in what has otherwise been a not-so-bright tunnel for Miami has been sophomore guard Chris Lykes. The 5’7 Maryland native has put together a good sophomore campaign so far, shooting 45.8% from the field compared to shooting just 40.2% last year. He is scoring 17.9 points per game, but his assist-to-turnover ratio has been less than appealing, as he is averaging 3.6 assists and 3.2 turnovers. He has been good at cleaning things up in conference play, as he has only averaged 2 turnovers per contest, but UNC’s guards could make it a long day for him if he has any lapses Saturday afternoon.
As far as the Tar Heels go, they are coming off of what was quite an ugly win against Notre Dame. Avoiding a 0-2 home record to start ACC play was largely thanks to the performances of Nassir Little, Seventh Woods, and Brandon Robinson. Little in particular showed that he can be a very dangerous player when he is driving to the basket and using his strength to impose his will on defenders. He finished the game shooting 62% from the field, and added 6 rebounds onto his box score.
For UNC to come out of Coral Gables with a victory, a few things must happen. First, Nassir Little needs to improve on the performance that he had against Notre Dame, and continue to attack in both shooting and rebounding. Truthfully, any kind of bench production will be key, but the Heels need Little to become the player that everyone expected him to be as we start getting into the more brutal parts of the ACC schedule.
The second thing that needs to happen is that the Heels need to find a way to get out of this shooting funk that they are in. More specifically, they need to find ways to get easier shots than the ones they have been taking. This is easily the most three-point heavy team that we’ve seen in the Roy Williams era, but they have to find a way to get Garrison Brooks and Luke Maye going in the paint. They also need to find a way to get some dribble penetration going without turning the ball over, which has been an issue so far this season.
Finally, free throws have to start going into the basket. UNC did a decent job at getting to the line Tuesday night, but only made 60% of their free throws. This is one of those little details that can have a big impact on an ACC road game, and so when they get to the line they will have to find a way to get their shots to fall.
To me, this game has “trap road game” written all over it. Miami is easily on the top-ten list of teams that find ways to keep things way too interesting when it comes to the Heels, and I’d be a fool to expect anything different. As I mentioned before, on paper this should be a nice win that will set up a tough matchup against Virginia Tech on Monday. However, if the Heels come out flat like they did against Notre Dame, it is going to be a really, really long afternoon.
Prediction: UNC 79, Miami 75