Saturday sure felt good didn’t it? It was a great palate cleanser after a pair of uninspiring wins earlier in the week, and it capped of a 3-0 week in emphatic fashion. Plus, let’s be honest, it’s always fun to send the Wolfpack back to Raleigh with a loss.
Another rival is set to come to the Smith Center on a Saturday, but before that happens the Tar Heels have to head to the Bluegrass state and face off against a Louisville team that is trying to salvage something of its season. Let’s check out what we should be looking for tonight as the Heels face the Cardinals.
Win on the Road
Carolina is undefeated in the Smith Center this year and has only lost once (Marquette) in the past two years, but away from Roy Williams Court the Tar Heels have looked like a totally different team. Specifically, they’ve only won three games when the location wasn’t Chapel Hill, and several of those losses were of a blowout variety. Carolina’s last two road games, in fact, were those drubbings by Wake Forest and Miami, and the last time they looked good on the road was January 2nd against Boston College.
That Boston College team was playing their first game in about a month.
The only chance Carolina has left to get a Q1 win at home happens this weekend, so if the Tar Heels want to be able to build their resume they have to start accumulating some road wins. The remaining schedule gives them three more chances for a Q1 (Duke, Virginia Tech, and Clemson), and to even think there’s a shot, they have to not lose to a team ranked 121 in the NET (Q2 for those keeping track).
Continue Momentum on Defense
While the games prior to State would make you want to wash your eyes with bleach, the defense has actually bounced back from its abhorrent showing against the Hurricanes and Demon Deacons. You’d think with NC State scoring 80 that they had the best shooting of the three, but in fact, that honor goes to the Hokies who managed to pull in a 46.6% for the game. After that, the Heels had some ridiculous numbers on defense, including holding BC to 21.4% in the second half, and NC State to 30% in the first.
A lot of this has to do with Leaky Black showing the ability on defense that most of us thought he could. Inside Carolina’s Adrian Atkinson has the numbers behind the paywall on his work, and it’s worth checking out to see just how much Leaky has done in terms of locking down defense both individually and how much he contributes to the team. Really all you need to see is Dereon Seabron’s line on Saturday to understand the work done.
Louisville doesn’t have anyone nearly as potent as Seabron on the surface. In fact, the one person who could give them trouble down low, Malik Williams, is suspended for at least this game, so it would seem on paper that the good defense can continue. If so it should resemble the first Boston College game.
The Interim Coach Factor
Mike Pegues has taken over for the Cardinals after the school dumped Chris Mack last week. The change behind the bench seemed to charge Louisville as they faced Duke on Saturday, and the Cardinals hung tough with Duke before they ultimately pulled away and won 74-65. You'd expect a squad to rally in the first game after a move like this, and now they have a second chance to “reset their season” with a win over another ACC blue blood in the Tar Heels.
Pegues is clearly trying to put his own mark with the team by suspending Williams and sending a message that, at least for now, he’s in charge. Will the rest of the team follow, or did they spend all the energy they had left for this season in trying to upset the Devils? The Tar Heels have long passed the point where they can take any opponent lightly, but there’s every reason to think they might here. If Louisville is in it early, it may be tough to shake them.