The North Carolina Tar Heels (17-7, 9-4) will take on Florida State (13-10, 6-7) tomorrow afternoon in the Dean Smith Center. Duke game aside, the Heels have been spotless at home, and look to sweep as much of the remaining schedule as possible in order to avoid relying on an ACC Tournament championship to get into the NCAA Tournament. For Florida State, this game is a must-win mostly because they haven’t seen a win since January 22nd when they beat Miami 61-60. Since then, they have been on a five-game losing streak, and it doesn’t get easier taking on the Heels in a road game. Does that make this a trap game for UNC? Well, they beat Duke in overtime last month, so you tell me.
Trap or no trap, one thing is for certain: both teams need a win, and they need it badly. Let’s take a look how UNC can come out on top.
Now that Dawson Garcia is officially not returning to the team this season, Hubert Davis has some tough choices to make. Brady Manek has been playing an outrageous amount of minutes in Garcia’s absence, with his most recent marathon taking place against Clemson. He played 37 minutes against the Tigers, and this is coming off of the 35 minutes he played against Duke. Think that’s bad? That’s nothing compared to the 41 minutes he played in the overtime win against Louisville. While it’s true that he’s not the only starter being stretched thin, the fact of the matter is this: it doesn’t have to be this way.
Now is as good of a time as ever to start playing Dontrez Styles in order to spell Manek. While Styles is smaller at 6’6, the Heels could get away with having Styles at the wing, Leaky Black at the four, and Armando Bacot at the five. Truly Davis has to do something to prevent burning out the starting lineup, and if we’re being honest, Styles has done nothing but earned playing time. While he is averaging 1.6 points per game, he has made 46.2% of his 26 shots from the floor, and has held his own on both sides of the floor. Both Styles and D’Marco Dunn need to get some burn at this point of the season, or we just may start to see guys burn out.
While Florida State has some games on their résumé that suggests there are issues with their defense, there’s one thing that makes them tough to deal with, and it is steals. As of right now, the Seminoles are averaging 9.3 steals per game, with sophomore guard Caleb Mills being the most disruptive player on the roster. To shed some light on that number, Duke is one of the better defensive teams in the conference, and they’re averaging 7.2 steals per game. The good news? UNC took care of the ball for the most part against the Blue Devils, only coughing the ball up eight times. The bad news? Caleb Love was the worst offender with four turnovers.
Strangely enough, the Heels had a much harder time taking care of the ball against Clemson. They gave the ball away 13 times, with Love once again leading the team with five turnovers. If anything makes me especially nervous going against Florida State, it’s that they will find a way to rack up enough points off of turnovers to win the game. Their field goal efficiency isn’t anything to write home about (43.8%), so the Heels number one goal should be to take care of the ball and not give the Seminoles easy chances to score. If they do, it’ll be a long, depressing afternoon in Chapel Hill.
Can Caleb Love finally get out of his shooting funk?
Before I begin, I think it’s important to say that I am in no way trying to pick on Caleb Love. He has had some really good games this season, and truly the Heels wouldn’t have pulled off the win against Clemson without the big-time three-pointer he hit with 36 seconds left in the game, and also his assist to Brady Manek to drive the nail into the coffin. Sure, he’s not shooting well, and his turnover issues have been painful, but there are still some games that the Heels wouldn’t have won without him.
Now that I got that out of the way, UNC desperately needs Love to get out of his shooting funk. The last time he shot 40% or above from the field was January 15th against Georgia Tech, and since then he has shot at a 27% clip in his last eight games. Even his three-point shooting has taken a dive over the last few games, only making four of his last 18 attempts from deep. Nobody seems to know what the fix is, if one even exists, but what we do know is this: UNC cannot finish out the season on a high note with Love shooting this poorly. Maybe they could slide by Florida State like they did against Clemson, but it would be better for all of us if we never had to find out.