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UNC vs. James Madison: Three Things to Watch

Fair warning: this isn’t going to be an easy game for the Tar Heels.

NCAA Basketball: Gardner-Webb at North Carolina James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

This probably goes without saying, but the Tar Heels could be in a much better position than they are currently in. Sure, on paper the Heels are still the number one team in the country, have a 3-0 record, and have a good chance of improving said record to 4-0 against James Madison tomorrow. However, let’s be honest: it’s been a pretty ugly journey to 3-0 so far. How ugly, you ask? They have beaten UNCW, Charleston, and Gardner-Webb by a total of 35 points. To put that number into perspective, Arizona State beat #20 Michigan by 25 points Thursday night. Needless to say, there’s a lot of room for improvement.

The Tar Heels will face their toughest test so far tomorrow afternoon when they take on James Madison. The Dukes will be going into this one with a 4-0 record thanks to some really good shooting, particularly on the perimeter. Let’s discuss this as well as three other keys to tomorrow’s game.

Making the Dukes work for their shots

When the casual basketball fan thinks of James Madison, I’m sure the first thing to come to mind isn’t “the elite shooting basketball team from Harrisburg, VA.” However, they are currently shooting 58.6% from the field for the season, and an insane 54.1% from the three-point line. For those who are wondering if that number is skewed due to the lack of three-point attempts, it is worth pointing out that the Dukes have attempted 85 three-pointers, which is 30 more than the Heels have attempted in their three games.

The worst part for the Tar Heels is that there aren’t two or three guys that they can focus on in order to limit the Dukes’ ability to hit shots from deep: 12 players on their roster are shooting 40% or better so far this season. UNC’s best move is likely to have Leaky Black cover either Vado Morse or Noah Freidel, but Hubert Davis will need a complete team effort on the defensive side of the ball if they want to come away with a win. I hope they’re ready for it, because this James Madison team isn’t one to take lightly.

40 minutes of Bacot

One of the more perplexing storylines of the season so far has been Armando Bacot’s play in the first 20 minutes of each of the three games. He has only scored 11 points total in those three first halves, with eight of said points coming from the win over UNCW. When it comes to second half success, Bacot found a way to score 43 points, which is a pretty sizable increase in production.

If we’re being honest, this is likely a symptom of the Heels’ struggles overall. For example: Caleb Love has also been notably better in the second half of games so far, which was especially noticeable in his 20-point game against Gardner-Webb. When it comes to Bacot, however, I feel like this team will go as he goes. Hubert Davis stated that he felt like RJ Davis was the heart of this team, but the Heels play so much better when Bacot is scoring effectively and being aggressive on the boards. If we can get 40 minutes of Preseason All-American Armando Bacot, then I think they have a great chance of avoiding an upset.

Will we get another strong performance from Pete Nance?

After two lackluster performances, Pete Nance finally caught fire against Gardner-Webb to the tune of 18 points, five rebounds, and an assist. He scored 16 of the team’s 26 points in the first half, and nine of those points were scored from deep. Nance looked a lot more comfortable finding his shots than he did in the previous games, which is a great sign for how things could go moving forward. That is, of course, if he is able to repeat his performance.

One thing that I think I’ve learned about Nance is that he is at his best from the three-point line when he can catch and shoot. He scored all three of his made three-pointers in that manner, but of course it’s too small of a sample size to know for sure. He also displayed a solid variety of shots inside the arc, which makes him even more difficult to guard when he is playing his best game. Overall I think this team will be extremely hard to stop as long as he plays like he did Thursday night, and hopefully he plans to get back into his bag tomorrow afternoon.