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UNC vs. Pittsburgh: Three Things to Watch

Can the Tar Heels extend their winning streak in Pittsburgh?

NCAA Basketball: Jumpman Invitational-Michigan at North Carolina Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The Tar Heels are on a bit of a roll as of late, winning their last four contests after dropping four straight. A commitment to playing inside out as well as a heightened sense of urgency on the defensive end are the big keys to their recent success. The product isn’t perfect, but it’s a vast improvement on what we saw earlier this season. Here are three things to watch as the Heels go on the road to take on Pittsburgh this Friday.

Will D’Marco Dunn suit up?

After breaking a bone in his left hand during an early December practice, D’Marco Dunn has been sidelined for roughly three weeks. However, Hubert Davis has expressed that there’s at least a chance Dunn suits up against the Panthers. He’s been practicing in a limited capacity and appears to be trending in the right direction.

Before the injury, Dunn was averaging 2.8 points in 10.3 minutes of action. Despite limited playing time, he’s been solid off the bench, bringing intensity on the defensive side and intelligence offensively. Shooting 37.5% from downtown, Dunn is tied with Leaky Black for the team’s best three-point percentage. He does a great job of playing within the offense but has shown he can be aggressive when called upon.

Despite some exceptional moments from guys like Seth Trimble, Tyler Nickel, Puff Johnson, and Dunn himself, the Carolina bench has been largely inconsistent this season. Coach Davis tends to tighten the rotation in bigger games but has stressed the need for this team to be deep. Dunn returning to the lineup could be a step in the right direction.

Feed Mando

This one is super obvious, yet I feel it still needs to be said. After a slow start to the year (compared to his standards), over the past four games, Armando Bacot has looked like the national player of the year contender everyone expected. His ability to dominate the paint is nothing new, but it’s been his teammates’ concerted effort to get him the ball that has Bacot blossoming.

As evidenced in the above tweet, Carolina has been much more deliberate in their effort to get the ball inside during their current winning streak. As a result, Bacot is averaging 22.3 points and 11 rebounds over that four-game stretch. Simply put, good things happen when Bacot touches the ball.

The Tar Heels will look to build on this offensive approach on Friday. With the 6’11 Federiko Federiko, Pittsburgh has the size, at least on paper, to match up with Bacot. However, there are few players in the country that can hold their own against Bacot in the post. If Pittsburgh elects to leave Federiko on an island, it could be another busy day for the Carolina big man.

Can this team get a road win?

After dropping four straight, all of which were either neutral site or road games, it appeared these Heels might have a problem winning away from home. Those concerns have been eased a little since they managed to defeat a pair of formidable big ten foes, Ohio State and Michigan, on neutral courts. Still, Carolina is yet to win a true road game this season with losses at Indiana and Virginia Tech.

Although they were dealing with injuries and lack of practice time during that stretch, those were the only two instances this season it felt like the Heels were taken out of the game. With a long conference slate ahead of them, this team will have to gut out some road victories if they want to re-enter the discussion as a national contender.

Given the manner in which Pitt embarrassed the Heels on their home floor last season, these guys should be chomping at the bit for a little revenge. Look for Carolina to try and set the tone early with their advantage on the interior. If they stick to the game plan and execute as they have been, I like this team’s chances of picking up its first road win of the year.