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UNC vs. NC State: Three Things to Watch

This should be a good one on Saturday night.

NCAA Basketball: Boston College at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The North Carolina Tar Heels will have the biggest challenge to their perfect home record this Saturday against the streaking NC State Wolfpack.

NCSU has won four straight which includes two victories over ranked opponents. With both sitting at 5-3 in the conference and the Wolfpack 25th in the NET rankings, tomorrow’s game may have postseason implications, whether in the league or the NCAA Tournament.

This is the fourth straight matchup in which neither team is ranked. The oddsmakers may give UNC a slight advantage for the home court, but this has the makings of a very competitive game.

Here are a few things to watch during tomorrow’s 5:00 PM tip at the Smith Center.

Own the Frontcourt

Four guards lead the Wolfpack in minutes, and three of those four are the top scorers for the team.

DJ Burns, Jr., a 6’ 9” senior, has the most minutes in the frontcourt for State, averaging just over 20 minutes per game. He is also the leading scorer among the Wolfpack big men with almost 10 points per game.

The difference for Burns is foul trouble. In the past two games, he logged over 34 minutes in each of those games. He finished with three fouls in each of those games.

In the three games before that, Burns was only on the court for an average of almost 17 minutes per game. He fouled out in one game and ended the other two games with four fouls.

Sophomore Ernest Ross had a breakout game in State’s overtime win over ranked Miami. He had a career-high 17 points and followed it up with an eight-point performance in their last game over Georgia Tech. He has appeared in all 19 games for NCSU.

Carolina has the talent and size advantage in the frontcourt, and the offense needs to run through the big men. There has been a noticeable difference in UNC’s offensive performance when they work the ball inside-out and drive into the paint.

Armando Bacot had a great battle with Boston College’s seven-footer Quinten Post. Despite Post’s 17 points, he fouled out and did not stop Bacot from registering a program record-typing 60th career double-double.

If Jalen Washington is able to return tomorrow, there is simply no excuse for inside dominance over NC State.

Slowing Down Terquavion Smith

The ACC’s leading scorer, sophomore guard Terquavion Smith, has scored more than 20 points in five straight games.

In fact, Smith has not scored less than 10 points in any of the Wolfpack’s 19 games this season.

The critical factor in Smith’s game is volume, rather than efficiency.

Smith ranks fourth in the nation in total field goal attempts and 50th in field goals made.

However, Smith ranks 327th out of 339 eligible players in Division 1 in field goal percentage.

The Tar Heel defender assigned to Smith, whether that is Leaky Black or Seth Trimble, must work to limit the number of shots as well as shot quality.

If Carolina can slow down one of the leading candidates for ACC Player of the Year, it will be a good day for the Tar Heels.

Big Moment Love

Here’s another high-volume, low-percentage shooter. Caleb Love has struggled with efficiency and consistency issues this season but still makes those clutch shots.

When Boston College pulled within one in the second half on Tuesday night, Love scored five straight points and drew a charge. Nine of his 16 points came with just over five minutes left in that game.

NC State has its best chance to take down UNC in Chapel Hill since their upset victory in 2018 and will undoubtedly be licking its chops for this win.

Everyone has seen how Love steps up in these situations. Let’s see if Big Moment Love makes an appearance Saturday night.