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UNC vs. Gardner-Webb: Three Things to Watch

The Tar Heels look for growth in a late Friday home game.

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at North Carolina Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

After a week hiatus, the North Carolina Tar Heels are back in action Friday night against Gardner-Webb in Chapel Hill. With the winless Bulldogs coming to the Smith Center, the Tar Heels will have a “traditional” early season opponent in which they can grow as a team. Of course, they must be mindful not to have a Kentucky-Evansville situation.

Keeping that in mind, this is a young team and there is a lot of work to do in several areas of Carolina’s game. Here are three things to look for Friday night.

Inside Scoring

The Tar Heels did not generate much offense inside against Notre Dame, and then were outscored in the paint by UNCW. UNC out-rebounded the Seahawks by just six compared to a margin of 20 versus the Fighting Irish.

Of course, the stumbling start and then loss of Armando Bacot less than three minutes into the game against UNCW did not help the inside effort. The good news is assistant coach Hubert Davis reported on Roy Williams Live that Bacot was good to go for Friday night.

The Tar Heels will have the size advantage against the Bulldogs, so inside scoring should not be a storyline unless there are continued struggles. The point of focus will be combo of Bacot and Garrison Brooks continuing to work together and find an offensive rhythm while on the floor at the same time.

No matter the opponent, live action is different and hopefully this will be a good opportunity for the bigs to find some confidence.

Guard Play

Cole Anthony, the Week 1 ACC Player and Freshman of the Week, has started the season with consecutive double-doubles. However, versus UNCW, Anthony returned to Earth (slightly). He was 7-24 from the floor in Wilmington, compared to 12-24 against Notre Dame. Still, he carried the load for UNC and was a presence on both ends of the floor.

Justin Pierce had a good night, going 7-12 from the floor, including 4-7 from three, to tally 18 points. Christian Keeling and Andrew Platek still have some work to do. Keeling struggled from the floor against UNCW, going 2-9 and missing all three three-point attempts. Platek went 2-6 from the field and missed all four three pointers.

With the scoring depth concerns at the guard, UNC will need more out of these two. And it may be early season transitions for these guards in new roles. Davis addressed this concern with Keeling directly on the radio Tuesday night. The graduate transfer is with a new team, coaches, and system, to go along with a higher level of play in the ACC. He feels as though he will continue to progress during the season.

As for Platek, he is averaging nearly 27 minutes per game so far this season. This is compared to around five minutes per game previously in his career. He is also making a transition of sorts with the jump in playing time.

Much like with the big men, the guards of Anthony, Pierce, Keeling, Platek, and Leaky Black are all facing new situations and this is the type of game in which there can be valuable game experience to work on their new roles.

Free Throws

C’mon now. They are free. UNC shot a pathetic 16-30 from the charity stripe versus UNCW. It was only a tick better against Notre Dame at 10-17.

The Tar Heels should be aggressive getting to the basket and should have plenty of opportunities to take some foul shots. Missed free throws will be killers in February and March. Let’s see if UNC can work out those issues before this becomes a major story line for the team.