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UNC vs. Tennessee: Three Things to Watch

It’s a battle of two top-20 teams in the inaugural ACC/SEC Challenge.

NCAA Basketball: Battle 4 Atlantis Third Place-Arkansas at North Carolina Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Bye bye Big East and Big Ten. Hello SEC! Coming off of a comeback win against NIU, a hard-fought loss to Villanova, and a bounce-back victory vs. Arkansas, UNC returns to Chapel Hill having finished 2-1 in the tournament and sitting at 5-1 overall. Next, in possibly their toughest test to date, the #17 Tar Heels will take on the #10 Volunteers as part of the ACC/SEC Challenge. Let’s take a look at three things to watch going into this highly-anticipated contest.

Who will Coach Davis roll out as the starting five?

After Paxson Wojcik started the first three games of the season, it appears Hubert Davis is experimenting with some alternative starting lineups. While RJ Davis, Armando Bacot, Harrison Ingram, and Cormac Ryan (pre-injury) seem to be set in stone, Seth Trimble, Jae’Lyn Withers, and Elliot Cadeau all got the nod in the Bahamas and saw the floor at the opening tip in games.

Cadeau has looked polished facilitating the offense (until Jimmy Dykes’ finally jinxed him in the Arkansas game by continuously saying that he had not committed a turnover all tournament) which has allowed RJ Davis to move to the 2-guard spot and opened him up for finding more shots off the ball, much like Joel Berry did for Marcus Paige in 2016. Trimble adds an excellent on-ball defender to the mix as well as a dual-threat to shoot or drive the lane. Withers lends a great combination of size and range if Hubert wants to go with a bigger lineup.

It will be interesting to see who takes the floor at the beginning of this high-caliber ACC/SEC Challenge matchup.

Will we see Cormac Ryan and what is the status of his ankle injury?

Cormac Ryan had been an utter disappointment from a shooting standpoint until he erupted in the second half of the Northern Iowa game, finishing with 15 points, then continued his hot streak in the Villanova matchup with 18 points. So of course he would injure his ankle on the final play of that game and had to sit out the following game against Arkansas.

If Ryan cannot go vs. Tennessee, who will step up as a sharpshooter from the outside? Thankfully, this situation doesn’t seem nearly as dire as it would have last year. Harrison Ingram has certainly proven that he can hit from three. Jae’Lyn Withers and Elliot Cadeau have both shown they can knock it down from deep and even Seth Trimble got in on the action, making the most of some open-look opportunities. And of course, RJ Davis can catch fire at any time and light it up from downtown.

The other thing that will need to be accounted for if Ryan is unable to go is his fiery passion. In his short time as a Tar Heel, the Notre Dame transfer has brought a competitive spirit and intensity that was severely lacking on last year’s squad. Again, Harrison Ingram also looks to have that dog in him and has been an emotional spark on the court.

Was the Battle 4 Atlantis just a hurdle or the beginning of a slump for Armando Bacot?

The stalwart of the UNC offense, Armando Bacot has been the most reliable, most consistent player on the court for the Heels. However, he struggled mightily in the Battle 4 Atlantis tallying just 10 points, 8 points, and 9 points in the three respective games.

Was it a case of bad matchups (Villanova’s Eric Dixon went full-on Harold Arceneaux in the interior) or just the odd ballroom setting in the Atlantis hotel? Obviously teams are game-planning against and keying on Bacot in the halfcourt but the big man missed entirely too many one-footers and putbacks in the Bahamas.

One thing’s for sure, Carolina needs Bacot to return to his early season form so that the Tar Heels can confidently play the inside-out offense that Hubert would prefer and keep other teams off the glass while providing second and third chances on the offensive end for the good guys.

After the NC State football game Tar Heel Nation could use some good vibes. Let’s hope the shots are falling, the team keeps gelling, and please everyone stay out of foul trouble!