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#5 UNC at Boston College: Three Things to Watch

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Will UNC cement a 9-0 conference road record for the first time ever?

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t pretty, but UNC managed to stay unbeaten on the road in the ACC when they hung on in Littlejohn Coliseum and scraped out a 2-point win while head coach Roy Williams recovered from a vertigo attack (All indications are that he’s fine now, thank goodness). At 8-0 when traveling in-conference, the Tar Heels have already tied a program record for most road wins in the ACC, which they did back in the 2007-08 season (with fewer ACC members than there are more than a decade later, that team finished 8-0 on the road). And, ahead of Senior Night against the Duke Blue Devils, Carolina will take the road for the last time this regular season to Boston, Massachusetts, where they’ll face Ky Bowman and the Boston College Eagles in their bid to finish the conference season perfect on the road, keep pace atop the ACC, and maintain their push for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But for now, let’s focus on the game in front of us. Here are a few things to look out for.

1. Can Sterling Manley get back into game shape?

Poor Sterling. In his first game back from an injured knee that took him out for 12 games across over a month, he had to play against Clemson, who rank 15th in the country in opponents’ two-point field goal percentage, which could not have been an easy task to mentally prepare for. Then, he didn’t even get the chance to test himself out, as he took an elbow to the face, sank one of two free throws for the flagrant foul, then sat for the remainder of the game. Boston College, with a less fierce interior defense (119th in the country in opponent’s 2P FG%, and 12th in the ACC), could be a much more forgiving test run for the 6’10 sophomore. He put up 9 points and 5 rebounds on 4/8 shooting in 11 minutes against the Eagles last year, so he’s had some success against them before, and hopefully he’ll be able to more easily get himself back into the swing of high-level basketball just ahead of the Duke game, followed by the postseason. Even though Manley had been struggling even before the injury that kept him out, UNC could definitely use his finishing ability inside and presence as a rim protector for the final stretch of the season.

2. Can UNC get hot again?

UNC is shooting 47% on the season, which is pretty good. However, they’ve been in a bit of a slump lately. Since the Wake Forest game, when seemingly everything came easy for the Heels and they shot a blistering 62.3% from the field, in four games they’ve been 50.7% (Duke), 42.6% (FSU), 40.3% (Syracuse), and 41.3% (Clemson). Only that first one is above UNC’s average, and that was with a bunch of wide open paint attempts that you don’t often see. There is value to being able to win without shooting your best, of course. But personally, I think this team has proven plenty that it can win ugly. I’m ready for them to put on the kind of offensive clinic we all know they’re capable of and that we’ve seen throughout the season against teams like N.C. State, Miami, Virginia Tech, and Gonzaga all the way back in December. Now that UNC has proven it can win ugly, it’s now time to come back into form so that they hopefully don’t have to. Boston College, the nation’s 119th-ranked defense, should be an opportunity to get that train started, and if this team’s scorers not named Cam, Coby, or Garrison can get their whole game going instead of just parts, this team’s already sky-high ceiling becomes exponentially higher.

3. Will Ky Bowman’s North Carolina Revenge Tour continue?

I get the feeling that UNC fans have heard a little too much about Ky Bowman the past almost-3 years. The Havelock, NC product was committed to UNC to play football before deciding basketball was more his speed, and UNC, while still keeping an eye on him, ultimately prioritized recruiting Seventh Woods. Since starting his career at Boston College, Bowman has seemingly taken particular delight in terrorizing the North Carolina schools that spurned him:

Ky Bowman against North Carolina teams in the ACC

Opponent Games FG FGA FG% 3FG 3FGA 3FG% PPG RPG APG SPG
Opponent Games FG FGA FG% 3FG 3FGA 3FG% PPG RPG APG SPG
Duke 3 25 56 0.446 4 16 25 20 6.33 6.33 1.33
UNC 2 21 37 0.568 11 21 52.4 27 3.5 4.5 1
NC State 4 29 67 0.433 10 24 41.7 20 5.25 3 2.75
Wake Forest 5 22 53 0.415 8 22 36.4 12.8 5.4 3.4 1.2
Total 14 97 213 0.4655 33 83 38.875 18.42 5.28 4.07 1.64

That’s compared to career averages of 17/6/4/1.3 on 44% 2-point shooting and 39% three-point shooting, for the record. The rebounding and assist numbers are about the same, but upping a 17-point average a full point is not nothing at all (and that’s including weirdly bad scoring numbers against Wake Forest). Against UNC, a team with which he has an even more personal relationship than the rest, the scoring numbers are just staggering. And a 50+% rate from three-point range is absolutely bonkers (Skeptics will note UNC’s sometimes lacking three-point defense, but 50% is not normal even for UNC). He was a major reason that a 9-23 Boston College team finished within 8 points of the eventual National Champions in the Smith Center in 2017, and while last year’s game wasn’t close, he was still pretty unguardable.

This year, Bowman’s been asked to be a bit of a one-man show for Boston College after his partner-in-crime Jerome Robinson left to go be an NBA lottery pick. He’s got some solid teammates, with 3 other BC players averaging better than 13 points per game, but the Eagles clearly revolve around Bowman this year. He’s answered the call, playing an astounding 39 minutes per game (leading the NCAA) and has scaled his production accordingly, averaging career highs in points and rebounds per game and leading his team in points, rebounds, assists, and steals, ranking 3rd in blocks to boot as a 6’1 guard. His playmaking has suffered a little bit, but he remains an incredibly dynamic player and still averages 4 dishes per game. His games against Duke, Wake Forest, and N.C. State this year, though, have been pretty pedestrian by his standards. Will he find his North Carolina magic at home on his fourth attempt against a home state team? Or will UNC finally solve the Bowman problem?