After a tough loss Monday, the North Carolina Tar Heels are back in action tomorrow at noon against Wake Forest in Winston-Salem. Carolina is tied for second place in the ACC and is seeking another road conference win to keep pace at the top of the league.
Can they make it out of LJVM healthy and with a win? Here are a few things to watch on Saturday.
As of publication, there was not an official word on the status of Nassir Little. He injured his ankle in the first half against Virginia and did not return that evening.
On one hand, it may be the safe call to sit Little against Wake Forest in the hope that he will be ready for next Wednesday’s game in Durham.
On the other hand, the freshman needs as much time on the court as possible. The value of this experience is amplified during a road ACC game.
In either case, the health of Little is the top priority. The good news is that he did not require a walking boot or crutches after the game, and has apparently been seen on campus with no visible ailment or health accessory.
Cameron Johnson had another moment in the Virginia game that had fans gasping for air. He went down after a missed shot and came back up hopping on one foot. Fortunately, he returned to play and said after the game that he was fine.
The status of UNC’s other injured players remain unchanged. Sterling Manley dressed against Virginia, but did not play. He could make his return for this game. Leaky Black is still presumed out with his own ankle injury.
With Carolina fighting for the top spot in the league, the Tar Heels cannot afford this many injuries down the stretch. Injuries happen and there are not many preventative measures that can be done about that during the heat of action. However, if UNC can stretch this game open, it will be a good opportunity to reduce the minutes of key contributors and allow depth players to get some action.
Dominate the Post
The Tar Heels took a ton of shots over the Virginia defense Monday. They had 30 three point attempts!
Of course, this was in large part because of the UVA defense. But think about what was happening when Carolina was in the lead Monday night. Remember that Garrison Brooks dunk that led to Tony Bennett calling a timeout?
When the Tar Heels were on a tear, they were working the post and driving the lane. UNC needs to keep working on that inside-out game.
Wake Forest was dominated on the boards in the last game against Florida State. And the Demon Deacons have been pretty good this season on the glass.
WF ranks fifth in the ACC with 38 rebounds per game and are 41st in the country in rebounding margin.
This will be a good test for Garrison Brooks and may allow him to keep his momentum going after a solid night against Virginia.
And although unlikely, how great of a surprise would it be if Manley returned to action tomorrow and was able to work back into action with the Demon Deacons providing a solid test?
Do Not Look Past This Game
This is seemingly obvious and was an extra point in last week’s article before the Miami game. Everyone saw what happened last Saturday and now, with the Virginia game in the rearview mirror, there is even more on the line this week.
If Carolina would have won Monday night, this would be a classic trap game. Wake Forest is in the cellar of the ACC and this game is sandwiched between matchups against Virginia and Duke.
On paper, this seems like as close certain victory for the Tar Heels as you can get. According to the Associated Press, besides Wake Forest’s win over NC State, the closest game the Demon Deacons have played against a ranked team was a 16-point loss.
The last thing Carolina needs to do is slip up and look ahead to next week’s game. UNC has won five straight against Wake Forest and are 18-4 in the Roy Williams era. The Deacs would love to play spoiler against their Big Four rival.