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UNC vs. Florida State: Three Things to Watch

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The Tar Heels travel to Tallahassee in search of a fourth straight victory.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The North Carolina Tar Heels will face stiff competition tomorrow when they travel to the Donald L. Tucker Center to take on Florida State.

There was a lot to like in UNC’s victory over Syracuse, but there remains plenty of room for improvement. Meanwhile, the highly touted Seminoles stumbled a couple times in December against UCF and Clemson, but their rout of NC State this past week showed why FSU had big expectations in the preseason.

Carolina must put together a complete game to capture their second road conference victory of the season, and to add to their three-game winning streak.

Below are three things to look for in tomorrow’s matinee matchup.

Taking the Ball to the Rim

Everyone from Murphy to Manteo has talked about the strength of Carolina’s frontcourt. Against Syracuse, a pair of double-doubles from Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot helped power UNC to victory.

Throughout the season, there are inconsistencies in how the big guys have performed. In the win against Syracuse, more than any game so far in the season, it was evident how much a difference taking the ball to the rim made for the success of the team.

There were fewer turnaround jumpers, mid-range catch-and-shoots, and any other type of heave-ho from somewhere outside of the paint.

Take a look at this play from Day’Ron Sharpe, courtesy of @dadgumboxscores:

Sharpe took a moment to gather himself, rather than just going for the turnaround jumper.

That was not a situation where a big needed to keep the ball high. He was off the block, and the one dribble and spin to the basket created a higher percentage shot.

In my favorite sequence of the entire game, Bacot had a similar play where he was further from the paint, but he used his body to get to the rim for the much easier bucket at the rim.

Carolina’s passing improved as the game progressed. Here is an example of great awareness by Leakly Black, who dishes to Bacot for a high percentage shot that set up an and-one opportunity:

The Seminoles can rotate four players at the four and five, so Brooks, Bacot, Sharpe, and Walker Kessler must be ready to play with the consideration that one will undoubtedly be in a foul trouble.

The UNC big guys needs to continue with this simple inside attack, especially against a formidable Florida State frontcourt. Nothing fancy — just take it to the hoop.

Shutdown Defense

With 4:21 left in the first half, Carolina led Syracuse 36-26 and were doing a lot of good things to create a 10-point lead.

A Tar Heel turnover and a Buddy Boeheim steal sparked a 14-4 Orange run to end the half.

Boeheim scored 18 first half points to lead all scorers, and his four three-pointers were a key factor in eroding the UNC lead. In possibly UNC’s best individual defensive performance of the season, Leaky Black was tasked with shutting down the coach’s kid in the second half.

He did just that: Boeheim did not score a single point after intermission.

Black did not just have a career-high three blocked shots, he had a season-high seven assists. This is even more impressive when coupled with just one turnover.

The two-way performance from Black is an essential ingredient for the success of this team. And his defense, particularly, will be needed against a team that shot over 70 percent from the floor in its last game.

The Seminoles set an ACC record for shooting percentage in a conference game against NC State. Florida State finished 41 of 58 from the floor, including 12 of 18 from 3-point range. Rayquan Evans and M.J. Walker led the way for FSU. These two guards will be the focal points for Carolina’s defensive game plan.

If these two find the hot hand again tomorrow, look for Black and Andrew Platek to try and shut these players down.

Beyond the Arc

Florida State leads the ACC in three-point shooting percentage at 37.2 percent. Carolina is second to last at 29.3 percent.

In what may be surprising to some Tar Heel fans, Carolina is not last in the ACC three-point shooting percentage defense. In fact, UNC is ahead of Florida State in this statistical category. Carolina ranks ninth at 34.7 percent, and FSU is 10th at 35.3 percent.

Kerwin Walton has been UNC’s best outside shooter. In the three games before Syracuse, Walton was 3-7, 4-8, and 3-4 from beyond the arc. Versus Syracuse, Walton was just 1-5 from three. Despite his down game from outside, he was 3-4 from two-point range, including several long jumpers off the dribble. It was great to see his mid- and long-range shooting ability in more than just catch-and-shoot situations from deep.

R.J. Davis was 2-6 from three-point range off the bench. Additional contributions from Davis, Caleb Love, and Puff Johnson will obviously be a help for a Carolina offense that can and has struggled outside of the paint.

The risk is that Florida State attempts more and makes more threes. As evidenced during the final minutes of the Syracuse game, those threes can make a lead evaporate in a hurry.

The determining factor in a Carolina victory may be three-point defense, but it will certainly help to knock down a few throughout the game, particularly if the Heels can find an early lead.