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UNC vs. Northeastern: Three Things to Watch

Out with the Hokies, in with the Huskies.

NCAA Basketball: N.C. State at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

After a lot of scheduling uncertainty following UNC’s 48-60 loss to Virginia, Roy Williams managed to get a game scheduled against Northeastern tomorrow night in the Dean Smith Center. The Heels have only played six home games so far this season due to a few postponements, so getting this game scheduled is beneficial for a team that has had to travel a lot this season. Sure, we could get into why the game against Virginia Tech was postponed and blow that story up the same way the UNC situation was blown up, but perhaps we should just stick with basketball for now.

Today’s game against the Huskies will hopefully serve as a good bounce back game after this past weekend’s loss, but as we all know wins aren’t guaranteed in college basketball. Here are a few things to keep an eye on during today’s game.

Getting Caleb Love going again

It’s always difficult to be too harsh on freshmen when it comes to how they performed against Virginia’s pack line defense, but it’s even harder when said freshman is a point guard. In the case of Caleb Love, there wasn’t anything surprising when it comes to what he wasn’t able to do against the Hoos. We’ve learned over the course of the season that he is at his best when he can get to the rim, and that is an extremely difficult task against what he faced last weekend. With that said, you’ll take four points, five rebounds, and three assists, and move on to the next game.

The big positive in his game against Virginia, however, was the fact that Love only committed one turnover. If we’re being perfectly honest, I’m still trying to process how this is even possible considering the way that the Cavaliers were pressuring the ball every chance they got, and it’s even more perplexing when you consider the fact that against Duke Love committed five turnovers, which is tied for his second-highest amount this season. Hopefully this means he’s figured out how to take care of the basketball, but it is just one of a couple things to keep an eye on against Northeastern.

It will also be interesting to see if Caleb Love can have a rebound game in the scoring department against the Huskies. After scoring a career-best 25 points on the road in Cameron, we’ve now seen what the freshman is capable of. I don’t expect him to shoot 80% from the three point line again in this game, or maybe not even the rest of the season for that matter, but if he is able to return to his basket-attacking ways from a couple of weeks ago, it will go a long way in sealing a victory for the Tar Heels tonight.

Will Walker Kessler see more court time?

The biggest surprise in the game against Virginia was the performance of freshman center Walker Kessler. It’s been well-documented that he has struggled mightily since his arrival on campus, as he is shooting 48.6% from the field so far this season and has averaged 2.2 rebounds per game. One could make the argument that he actually isn’t struggling as much as it seems considering the fact that last Saturday’s game was just one of three games in which he played 10+ minutes, but that may be a debate for another time. However, his nine points and five rebounds against Virginia were crucial for a frontcourt that struggled to get anything done in the paint. Now we have to ask the big question: can he do it again?

Referring back to the amount of minutes played, a lot of whether or not Kessler will be able to replicate his performance will depend on how often Roy Williams uses him. I would like to see him start to get more burn in this final stretch of this season, especially because we don’t really know what is going to happen after the season is over. Armando Bacot and Day’Ron Sharpe may start licking their chops when it comes to going to the pros (though right now the NBA draft board Gods aren’t very kind to Tar Heels), and Garrison Brooks will be graduating. Tonight feels like a good time to see if Kessler can become a bigger part of the rotation, but don’t be surprised if Roy Williams pulls the plug quickly if he starts seeing things he doesn’t like.

Three-point shooting

What’s really tough about going from one of Carolina’s best games of the season to playing Virginia is that what looked really good in the former will look abysmal in the latter. When it comes to the Duke game, perhaps one of the most jaw-dropping developments of that game was the perimeter shooting. Kerwin Walton and Caleb Love made eight of their nine attempts combined, with Andrew Platek adding in a made three to sweeten the pot. It was the “He don’t miss!” Spongebob meme come to life, and quite frankly the Heels need more of that against Northeastern.

As I stated earlier, I don’t expect Caleb Love to ever shoot 80% from deep again, but with Kerwin Walton it’s not the most unreasonable expectation. The goal here is just to get Walton going somehow and to have Love, Platek, or Davis give him some help to further spread out the floor. If they can at least shoot 40% from the the perimeter it will help the bigs tremendously, which is what we saw against Duke — no post player in that game not named Walker Kessler shot below 50% in the game.

Overall, tonight’s game against Northeastern will be about recapturing some of the amazing play that we saw against the Blue Devils, and maybe repeating some of the better things we saw against Virginia. As I stated in the recap of the Cavaliers game, the Heels really didn’t perform poorly, but three-point shooting is what ultimately killed their chances of leaving Charlottesville with a massive win. Let’s hope tonight isn’t the same story.