Carolina will look to build momentum in ACC play, and nothing has been as kind to their record as a visit from NC State in the recent past. The Wolfpack last won in the Dean E. Smith Center on January 27, 2018 in a fluky overtime win over Joel Berry and Luke Maye. NCSU was unable to beat Carolina on either of their two meetings last season, despite UNC’s historically catastrophic form and record.
Roy Williams still holds an incredible 32-5 record over that school in red. If lessons from the loss in Raleigh were learned, there’s every reason to believe that he’ll go to bed on Saturday night 33-5. Here are three things to watch on Saturday against NC State.
Will there be a game?
NC State is currently stuck in Covid quicksand. Five members of the program are currently in quarantine, and last Monday, coach Kevin Keatts confirmed that two members of the program tested positive after the Florida State loss on January 13th. To pile on more misery, key players Braxton Beverly and Manny Bates are dealing with injuries and are questionable. Those two were starters in the win against UNC and combined for 22 points. Their absence would be noted.
Anyone who has read my articles about NC State in football will know that I heap abuse on the Wolfpack whenever possible, but I must give credit where it is due. Despite postponing their games against Georgia Tech and Virginia this week, Kevin Keatts said that his undermanned team is moving forward under the assumption that they will play Carolina on Saturday, saying, “We have full intentions on trying to be ready to go on Saturday but a lot of that is going to come down to whatever happens with the contact tracing and the virus.” A lesser man would have used his very understandable circumstances as an excuse not to play. Tip of the cap to you, Coach Keatts.
Remember that awful first half in Raleigh? The one where NCSU made 11 of their first 16 shots? The one where freshman Shakeel Moore hit three 3-pointers and had a monster breakaway dunk on an awful turnover? The one where they were up 17 with four minutes left in the first half?
I do. I’m sure Roy does. And if Carolina wants to win, they can’t have that anymore.
The Tar Heels have been playing competent defense lately, particularly in the second half against Wake Forest. They’ve held six out of seven ACC opponents under 80 points. And since inserting Kerwin Walton into the starting lineup, they haven’t seen a calamitous rise in opponent scoring as many feared. In fact, Kerwin looks better each game, and his offensive firepower far outweighs any liability he has on team defense.
He’ll need to stay on his toes to track NC State’s shooters. They hit 47% of their threes against Carolina, while the Heels shot 16.7%. Based on Kerwin’s shooting alone, that number should rise, particularly if he shoots at volume. Kerwin is probably UNC’s best bet as a hot shooter to throw back at NC State, though he’ll be in close competition with a suddenly resurgent Caleb Love.
Just as Garrison Brooks seemed to get in gear, we suddenly saw Day’Ron Sharpe stumble into a midseason slump. After scoring a career-high 25 points in a scintillating performance against Notre Dame, Sharpe’s scoring output has dropped in each game. 12 against Miami. 8 against Syracuse. 6 against Florida State. And only 4 against Wake Forest.
Some of this can be attributed to Garrison Brooks’s resurgence and return to the starting line-up. Some of this can be blamed on Armando Bacot and the terrific run of form he’s in. But there are two things that Day’Ron can do to help himself and his team.
First, he needs to catch the ball cleanly before going into his post moves (a task made unenviably difficult by some of the circus entry passes he’s been fed). Second, he’s got to convert near the rim. Carolina in general, and Day’Ron in particular, have missed too many bunnies this season.
If Day’Ron can start converting at a rate similar to Bacot, and if ACC refs will absolve themselves of whatever obligation they have to let smaller players hack and slap at him in the post, the freshman star should see his scoring improve by leaps and bounds. Maybe just leaps, as his free throw percentage is a cool 61% right now. Baby steps.
If Day’Ron gets his mojo back, and Brooks and Bacot keep eating, all Carolina needs is for Walker Kessler to find his legs and Carolina can get back to the business of sending waves of bigs against opponents like Higgins boats on the shores of Normandy. An NC State team without Manny Bates would be a great place to start.