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UNC vs. Purdue: Three Things to Watch

Carolina faces a tough test Saturday afternoon.

Brown v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The North Carolina Tar Heels take on no. 6 Purdue in the first game of the 2021 Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.

Purdue is the highest ranked team UNC has faced since third-ranked Iowa last December. The Boilermakers have a potent offense and are not too shabby on the defensive end of the floor. In the toughest test of the Hubert Davis era so far, what must the Tar Heels do to stay undefeated on the season?

Defensive Effort

All eyes will be on 7-4 sophomore Zach Edey. Purdue’s big man is the leading scorer on a Boilermakers team that is tied for 11th in the nation in scoring and second in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency rating. But when Edey takes a breather, 6-10 senior Trevion Williams comes in with a physical game in which he is averaging double-figures for the third consecutive season.

In the back court, sophomore guard Jaden Ivey is Purdue’s second-leading scorer, but is stuffing the statsheet with over six rebounds and three assists per game.

And the Boilermakers have more offensive weapons, both in the starting lineup and off the bench.

The UNC defense has been underwhelming through three games, especially with the renewed focus on defensive efforts. Needless to say, Carolina needs to find a new level Saturday afternoon, or it will be a long day. Saturday will be Leaky Black’s moment. The Tar Heels need him to be a lockdown defender, and Davis thinks he is up for the challenge. From Davis’s Thursday press conference:

The way that he has defended the other team’s best player has just been off the chart. Not only in terms of lowering their points per game, it’s just his effort on the defensive end making them work hard. He’s gotten steals and deflections. He’s stayed out of foul trouble. He’s just made it hard for whoever he’s guarding- to catch the ball; to score; to get good looks. He’s been relentless on the defensive end.

Davis also praised Kerwin Walton’s defense against College of Charleston. UNC will need Walton in a big way on both ends of the floor.

On the inside, Armando Bacot and Brady Manek must stay out of foul trouble, and Dawson Garcia must step on the defensive end. If not, Justin McKoy are going to have his hands full.

Bigs Stretch the Purdue Defense

In the matchup between UNC’s Bacot, Manek, and Garcia versus Purdue’s Edey, Williams, and 6-10 freshman Caleb Furst, the Tar Heels may have an opportunity to stretch the floor a bit more on the offensive end of the court.

Bacot and Edey will essentially stay home, with Bacot having the advantage on mobility. But when it comes to Manek and Garcia, they will be able to draw out Williams and Furst more effectively than the other way around.

If Carolina can make the floor bigger while on offense, Caleb Love will find some lanes to get to the basket.

In two of three games this season, Love has reached the free throw line more than 10 times. He never reached the charity stripe more than eight times in a single game last year. That highwater mark was in the season opener last November.

A spread floor will allow team assist leader R.J. Davis to create some offense as well if he is able to effectively penetrate the Purdue defense.

The Armando Bacot Show

Bacot is on a tear in the past two games, averaging a 23 points and 11 rebounds in those contests. And do not discount his six blocks and three assists in the last game against College of Charleston. On the season, Bacot has missed only five shots, going 23-28 from the field. His shooting percentage of 82.1 is good for fourth in the country.

To bring him back to Earth, Bacot is just eight of 17 from the free throw line. If the aggression levels escalates in the paint Saturday, Bacot must take advantage of any chances he gets to sink some free throws. With Purdue’s impressive front court, the Tar Heels need the Armando Bacot show to continue to roll.