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UNC Basketball at Gonzaga: Three Things to Watch

This is going to be interesting.

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

Seventy two hours after dropping a third consecutive game, North Carolina has to travel across the country to take on the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Mark Few’s squad now sits as the #2 ranked team in the country and hold an 11-1 record. Whether you’re an eternal optimist (like myself) or a depressed pessimist (like most people on Twitter), there are still a three things to watch at The Kennel.

(Note: Please remember that we do not call this “Three Ways UNC Can Win”. You’ve been warned).

Bacot Bounces Back

I’m not going to beat a dead horse. Everyone knows this UNC team has to generate points in the paint. That should probably require Garrison Brooks to touch the ball at least once in the post every single trip down the court. Cool. We got it.

However, Brooks isn’t the polished scorer that Bacot is. That didn’t help Bacot on Sunday, as he struggled to just eight points on 2-14 shooting. That was against a Wofford team that started just one player over 6-5. It doesn’t get any easier against the Zags.

Gonzaga boasts five players measuring 6-8 to 6-11. Four of those players are averaging 17+ minutes per game. Three of them are averaging 10+ points per game. Some of that is a bit exaggerated as freshman Anton Watson has seen his playing time decrease with the return of senior Killian Tillie, but the point remains the same. Gonzaga has size. Lots of size.

That kind of size has helped the Bulldogs shoot 244 free throw attempts — fourth most in the nation. That’s, uh, not optimal against a UNC team that has zero depth in the frontcourt and can’t afford foul trouble. For the Heels to have a chance, Bacot has to bounce back from a pitiful weekend performance.

Bench Scoring

I’m an optimist, not an idiot. North Carolina’s bench isn’t about to go off for 30 points and supplement a patchwork starting rotation with outsized production. Instead, I would settle for 16 points and some solid defense. If that seems oddly specific, well, it is.

UNC’s bench has not topped 14 points in the past seven games. Their opponents’ benches in that time have fewer than 14 points just twice. Take a minute and let that sink in. Just how bad has the Tar Heel bench been outscored? Glad you asked!

Elon: 12-14
Alabama: 7-10
Oregon: 17-12
Michigan: 31-14
Ohio State: 25-10
Virginia: 25-10
Wofford: 24-8

The Heels’ last five opponents have outscored UNC’s bench by a score of 122-54. Even Wofford tripled them up! Cole or no Cole. Leaky or no Leaky. That is absolutely atrocious.

It gets worse.

Gonzaga has two players on their bench that average double digit points. Senior guard Admon Gildner puts up 10.0 ppg and freshman big man Drew Timme keeps pace with 10.1 ppg. For North Carolina to have any prayer of keeping this game competitive, they have to flip the script from the past 3 weeks.

Defensive Efficiency

It became apparent early in the season that defense was going to have to carry North Carolina for long stretches. The first few games gave hope, but those good vibes faded when the competition increased.

After holding their first five opponents below 0.90 points per possession, the proverbial defensive wheels have fallen off. In the past five games, UNC has held opponents below 1.00 points per possession just once. Ironically, Virginia only mustered 0.89 PPP, but still walked away with the win.

Most of this damage is being done with comical second half runs. Here’s a refresher:

Michigan: 19-0 run over 5:55
Ohio State #1: 13-2 run over 4:03
Ohio State #2: 17-2 over final 7:15
Virginia: 16-3 run over 7:04

In that 24:17 of game time, North Carolina was outscored 65-7 and didn't make a single field goal. The same thing happened against Wofford when a 16-0 run took up 4:35 of game time.

Why does this matter?

Because KenPom lists Gonzaga with an adjusted offensive efficiency of 114.3 points per 100 possessions, That’s currently the third best AdjO in the nation.

Maybe we should all just start drinking now.