In a pivotal game for both teams, the No. 9 North Carolina Tar Heels travel to Kentucky for a top-25 matchup against No. 15 Louisville. This game will have big implications on the conference standings as the calendar flips to February. Both the Heels and the Cards have just one loss in league play, with Louisville holding the tie-breaker with their victory over UNC on January 12.
Prior to conference play, it was hard to get a handle on this Cardinals team. After an overtime loss to Pitt to start 1-1 in the ACC, it was possible this was a transition year under first year head coach Chris Mack.
That is certainly not the case now.
The perfect storm for Louisville occurred in the Smith Center on January 12 and the Cardinals have rattled off six straight wins since their dominating performance against Carolina.
During their six-game winning streak, Louisville is averaging 47.7 percent from the floor. The Cardinals are shooting the lights out, and the Tar Heels must find a way to slow them down.
In the first matchup, Louisville dominated in the front and back courts. Forwards Dwayne Sutton and Jordan Nwora and center Steven Enoch each had 17 points and combined for 20 rebounds. Carolina had no answer on the inside for these three.
Another one of the biggest differences in that game was three-point shooting. The Cardinals were 11-26 (42.3 percent) from three, while the Tar Heels were just 3-22 (13.6 percent).
The Louisville defense stifled Carolina, holding the UNC shooters to a season-low 34.5 field goal percentage and won on the glass 40-31.
The Cardinals have won in a variety of ways during their winning streak. All-around good games, grinds, and most recently, another blowout. Louisville dominated Wake Forest Wednesday night in Winston-Salem. At one point in the second half, the Cardinals stretched it out to a 35-point lead.
One of the hottest players during this winning streak is Nwora and he is likely of most concern for the Tar Heels. The 6-8 sophomore can crash the boards and hit threes. Against Boston College he scored 32, while versus Georgia Tech he dropped 25. On the season, he is averaging 18.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.
- F Dwayne Sutton
- F Jordan Nwora
- C Malik Williams
- G Khwan Fore
- G Christen Cunningham
The Tar Heels had a slow start to their game against Georgia Tech, but when the shots starting falling in the second half, it was not even close.
However, there is still some concern with this team in two areas: turnovers and inside presence.
UNC ranks 254th in the nation in turnovers, committing 14.2 per game.
Against Georgia Tech, the turnovers were not from an expected source, a freshman point guard, but rather the senior leaders.
Luke Maye committed five turnovers to go along with just one assist. Kenny Williams turned the ball over three times and had three assists. This was a down game for the two anyways, with Maye scoring just four points and Williams adding five. Undoubtedly, these two will need at least their average games to compete with Louisville.
The other area of concern, inside presence, may rear its ugly head again against Louisville and their big front court.
As my colleague Al Hood pointed out in his postgame analysis after Georgia Tech, the Tar Heels should have been a lot better inside against a team with Tech’s size:
The hot shooting was necessary from Carolina because inside, the Tar Heels had zero answers. Carolina was thoroughly beat in the paint 36-22. Yes, you read that right, a Carolina team scored 77 points and only 22 game in the paint.
The team outrebounded Georgia Tech by just five and managed only seven offensive rebounds. Garrison Brooks had just three points, but pulled down nine rebounds. With Sterling Manley still unavailable, the Tar Heels must find a way to make some noise in the paint.
The good news for UNC fans is that Coby White is coming into his own. In the four games since the Louisville loss, the has averaged 19.5 points, 5.8 assists, and just 2.5 turnovers per game.
Cameron Johnson continues to shoot at a high level for the Tar Heels. He leads the league in three-point field goal shooting at 46.9 percent and ranks fifth in the ACC in overall field goal shooting at 51.3 percent.
- F Luke Maye
- F Garrison Brooks
- G Cameron Johnson
- G Kenny Williams
- G Coby White
What can Carolina do differently this time against Louisville? Can they maintain their hot shooting? Will they slow down Louisville’s big men?
If the Tar Heels come out with defensive intensity and solid positioning in the front court, the offense should follow. If these things occur, it should be an exciting day in Louisville.