After a bit of light week during exams, this is a bit of a big one for North Carolina. On Saturday, they’re set to face off against UCLA in the CBS Sports Classic, in their first chance against a #5 team since the Purdue game.
However before they get to that, they have another game Tuesday night against Furman. While a lot of fan’s attention will understandably go towards the UCLA game, the Paladins could provide an interesting challenge before that.
Ahead of tomorrow night’s game, here are three things to keep in mind as the Heels take on Furman.
Shaking off the Elon game
After two nice wins over Michigan and Georgia Tech, the Tar Heels took a bit of step back Saturday against Elon.
The final 17-point margin makes it look like a fairly easy win, and the game was never truly in doubt after halftime. However, it wasn’t the prettiest performance. They shot just 39% as a team, mostly due to a first half where they were 10-34. They committed 16 turnovers, and traded the lead back and forth well into the first half. Armando Bacot was held for pretty much the first time all season, going for just nine points (3-7 shooting) and seven rebounds.
Hopefully, this was mainly all due to the fact that it was exam week. Carolina wouldn’t be the first team to sleepwalk through an exam week game against lower level competition. It’s not ideal, but if they come out ready tomorrow night, it’ll be fairly easy to write off this game.
No time to mess around
Tuesday sees the Heels play another lower conference team in Furman, but the Paladins are not a team they can afford to sleepwalk through. Furman comes in at 7-3, which includes a win at Louisville back in November. Their offense is ranked 58th in the country at KenPom, and overall, they’re 120th. Meanwhile, the Elon team UNC just messed around with was 220th in offense and 271st overall.
One potentially challenging component of that offense is that Furman will not be afraid about firing it from three. They average 29.7 three-point attempts per game, which is the 10th most in the country. They make them at a 39.4% rate, which is also one of the best figures in the sport this season.
UNC won the Elon game easily in part because the Phoenix are just not a very good team. The Heels were pretty bad in the first half and still ended it up eight. If they do that again Tuesday night, this game could very much end up like the Brown and College of Charleston ones where they have to battle for 40 minutes. It’s a lookahead spot with UCLA come up this weekend, but it’s not an opponent that UNC should look past.
Focus on the frontcourt?
One area on paper where UNC has a noticeable advantage is size in the frontcourt. Furman features just two players over 6-7 who average more than 10 minutes per game.
Now, so far this season, teams haven’t really made the Paladins pay that much. They’ve held opponents to just a 51.7% field goal percentage from two, which is 288th in the country. However, they haven’t been tested by high major opponents too often.
As mentioned, they beat Louisville, but that’s still the only “power conference” opponent they’ve faced. Now, they did a very good job that day against the Cardinals’ frontcourt, holding players listed as forwards to just 23 points on 9-31 shooting. Malik Williams is UL’s second leading scorer on the season, but that day, he scored just three points and went 1-8 from the field.
You’d hope Armando Bacot and company have a deeper and more varied attack down low to take advantage of what is an obvious mismatch on paper.