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UNC at NC State: Three Things to Watch

Carolina looks to make it seven straight wins at PNC Arena.

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

On Saturday, the Tar Heels put together their best performance of the season, downing Miami, 94-71. Offensively, it was like watching a completely different team than the one we’ve grown accustomed to seeing. The 94 points are easily the highest total on the season (previous high of 83) and the Heels also managed to eclipse 50% shooting for the first time this year (58.0%). Moreover, the team tied for the most assists recorded during the Roy Williams era with 32.

Now granted, the Hurricanes were without two of their most important players in Chris Lykes and Kameron McGusty, but the display was impressive nonetheless. With a quick turnaround and trip to Raleigh tonight, here are some things to look for as the Heels try to build on this momentum.

Will the confidence carry over?

The offensive outpouring against Miami started with Brandon Robinson, who notched another career-high with 29 points on 6-10 from three, but it trickled down to the rest of the team. It’s easily the most decisive we’ve seen this team play collectively. The grad transfers Justin Pierce and Christian Keeling contributed nine points apiece, with Keeling knocking down his first three-pointer since November 29th against Oregon. Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot combined for 33 points on 15-22 shooting.

This team’s confidence is as high as it’s been all season but the question must be asked: can they build on it? After getting just one day off in between games, the Heels will play in front of what’s sure to be a hostile Wolfpack crowd. If Robinson isn’t knocking down triples like he was against Miami, someone else needs to provide that spark. More importantly, guys have got to be tough enough to make open shots.

Beating up on a depleted Hurricanes team at home is one thing, but if the Heels can follow that up with a road victory over an NC State team that hasn’t beaten them at home since 2013, it would add some major validity to this team’s newfound moxie.

Armando Bacot

Roughly a couple weeks ago, I wrote about how the Tar Heels needed Bacot to be more consistent. In the five games prior to the first matchup with Pittsburgh, he had been shooting just 24% from the field while averaging 6.2 points per contest. Well, during this most recent five-game stretch, Bacot is averaging 15.2 points and 8.2 rebounds on 57% shooting.

Although the talent is clearly there, the freshman big man has struggled for much of the season to bring the same energy every single night. However, he seems to have really found his footing as of late. With Brooks already having proven himself to be a consistent source of production, the Heels’ frontcourt will only become more imposing as Bacot continues to figure things out.

Bacot hasn’t always fared well on the road, though, so tonight could be another good indicator of how far he’s progressed. If Bacot can put together another solid performance and help the Heels leave Raleigh with a victory, it would bode very well for both him and this team moving forward.

Getting back to .500

Carolina basketball entered unfamiliar territory when its second loss to Pitt gave the program a losing record for the first time since 2004. That’s an indicator of how fortunate Tar Heel fans are more than anything, but you can be sure these players do not want to be responsible for Roy Williams’ first losing record as a head coach. The first step in preventing that is getting back to .500.

Seemingly everything has been working against the Heels this season. The majority of this roster has dealt with an injury at one point or another. Projected lottery pick Cole Anthony has missed the last six weeks due to a torn meniscus. Although he’s not expected to make his return tonight, the assumption that he’ll be back soon along with Carolina’s recent elevation in play are reason enough to have optimism for the remainder of the season.

Roy Williams made it clear after the Miami game that he was more concerned about getting win number nine for his team rather than win number 880 for himself. Given the disdain he’s expressed towards the Wolfpack in the past, I’m willing to bet he’s even more desperate to get win number ten for this team.