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UNC vs Florida State: Three Things to Watch

The Seminoles come to town seeking their 9th straight ACC win.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

As much as we would all like to marinate in the euphoria from Wednesday night’s win, it’s time to move on. Florida State comes to town tomorrow and, quite frankly, pose a legitimate threat to the Heels. After stumbling to a 1-4 record to open their ACC season, the ‘Noles have reeled off eight straight wins. Sitting at 9-4 and just two games out of first place, a Florida State win would put them in prime position for a double-bye in the ACC Tournament.

Currently in the top 25 in both offense and defensive efficiency, per KenPom, the Seminoles will bring their trademark athleticism and size into the Dean Dome. North Carolina will try to avoid a third home loss in conference play and take one more step to ensure they also receive a double-bye in the ACC Tournament. With a hot and bothered Florida State team looking to stay relevant, here are a few things to look for.

Size Disadvantage

After struggling with consistent post play for most of the season, North Carolina dominated Duke by controlling the paint. With 6’10 forward Mfiondu Kabengele and 7’4 center Christ Koumadje patrolling the middle, Florida State provides an opportunity to prove that success wasn’t a fluke. Is UNC up to the challenge?

Kabengele and Koumadje are FSU’s only players taller than 6’9 and rarely, if ever, share the court together. Carolina will likely only have to worry about one of them at a time. However, with Cam Johnson being the Heels’ tallest (active) player at 6’9, Garrison Brooks, Luke Maye, and Brandon Huffman are going to have their work cut out for them. Florida State is especially good at getting to the foul line, where they score 20.8% of their points in conference play. That’s third-best in the ACC, and Kabengele leads the team in ACC scoring (15 ppg) and in free throw attempts per game (4.6). Already missing Sterling Manley, the Heels can ill-afford foul trouble in the post and let Kabengele get rolling.

The easiest way to do that is to limit FSU’s second-chance opportunities where desperation fouls are often called. As we all know, UNC is among the best rebounding teams in the country, grabbing 34% of possible offensive rebounds in conference play. Florida State isn’t far behind with a 31.2% success rate. Kabengele also leads his team in rebounds with 6.6 in ACC games. Controlling the defensive glass and limiting free throws will go a long way to stymie Florida State’s offense.

Contain Terance Mann

Florida State only has two players who average double-digit points. Kabengele and 6’7 small forward Terance Mann. At 10.4 points per game, Mann barely makes the cut, but don’t be fooled by the low scoring output. The senior wing is arguably the heart and soul of the Seminoles. Second on the team in scoring, rebounding (6.3 rpg) and assists (2.5 apg), and first in three-point percentage (48.1%), there may not be a more important player.

Making him uncomfortable on the perimeter and preventing him from driving to the rim (and thus, drawing fouls) will help keep Florida State off-balance. His mix of athleticism and size provides a unique match-up problem for North Carolina, especially if they struggle with defending the paint as mentioned above. Last year he exploited those defensive mismatches, and finished the game with 17 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists.

If that happens on Saturday, North Carolina could easily walk off the court with their third home defeat of the season.

Bench Production

This may seem like a cop out or a broken record, but it’s no less important. North Carolina’s bench has been reduced to Seventh Woods, Nassir Little, Brandon Robinson, and the occasional Brandon Huffman sighting. That’s it. Without Leaky Black (ankle) and Sterling Manley (knee), that’s all of the help that is available. How long can a limited bench continue to produce and/or provide meaningful minutes down the stretch?

For their part, Florida State plays nine guys for 10+ minutes per night. Most of those players spend the majority of their time on the perimeter, allowing Leonard Hamilton to rotate fresh legs to stress the opponent’s guards and exploit gaps in the defense. Only two players average more than 30 minutes per game. The Seminole bench accounts for 38.5% of the overall minutes played in a game. That’s 31st best/most in the nation. For a team that relies on athleticism, that’s a lot of beneficial rest throughout a game.

North Carolina’s bench? Good for 216th best/most in the nation with just 29% of their overall minutes coming from the reserves. Roy always shortens his rotation as March approaches, but with games against Florida State, Syracuse, and Duke over the next 15 days, some rest and recovery wouldn’t be a bad thing for the starting five. Coming off the emotional mid-week classic, Saturday would be a good time for major production from UNC’s backups.