Carolina enters conference play on a high, having beaten two quality SEC opponents in a row. Tennessee has played the seventh hardest schedule in college basketball so far this season, and showed great character narrowing UNC’s margin in the second half. Arkansas, conquerors of Duke despite missing their best player, are an equally impressive scalp for the Tar Heels.
Next up is Florida State who, unlike Carolina, have lost all of their games to SEC schools. A bare-bottomed spanking from Florida followed by a near buzzer-beater from Georgia are FSU’s only losses. Can the Seminoles rebound in Chapel Hill? Here are three things to watch.
Tennessee’s defense put to the test
Earlier this season, Tennessee led the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency (86.5), points allowed per 100 possessions. After helping hungry UNC students scoop up two sausage biscuits for $1, they have dropped to third place (90.2).
Tennessee has “grit” and “toughness” but in Chapel Hill, those code-word qualities turned into 38 free throw attempts. The Tar Heels converted 32 of those shots, with Armando Bacot hitting 10 of 13. RJ Davis, Cormac Ryan, and Harrison Ingram were all perfect from the charity stripe.
If Carolina can keep attacking the paint and force the Seminoles to foul, they could salt away the game much like they did against the Volunteers. If the Heels hit 43% of their 3-pointers in volume, then it could be another pleasant viewing experience, like the first half donkey-stomping against Tennessee.
Oh Leaky, Where art thou?
Speaking of defense, where’s Leaky Black when you need him?
So far this season, the Tar Heels have had an unwelcome habit of turning one of their opponents into a scoring hero of the day. To wit:
· Dalton Knecht (Tennessee) 37 points
· Tramon Mark (Arkansas) 34 points
· Eric Dixon (Villanova) 34 points
Three games in a row have seen someone go off, whereas last season, these guys would’ve had the worst night of their lives. Whether by design or destiny, UNC could find itself in hot water if it lets the wrong player get hot. Despite getting torched from one particular pressure point, Carolina won two of these three games, and lost to Villanova by two in overtime. “Paulo Banchero Rules” seem to apply; the top player can get theirs, but the rest can’t.
Who is a likely candidate for Florida State? Jamir Watkins seems a good shout. He’s FSU’s leading scorer, averaging 14.2 ppg and 4.4 apg, and both of those statistics were harmed by his most recent performance against Georgia, when he fouled out having only played 25 minutes (7 pts, 1 assist).
Armando back to dominant form?
The Battle 4 Atlantis was a bit of a mixed bag for Armando Bacot, but the super-senior brushed off concerns over his supposed demise with a stellar 22 points and 11 rebounds against Tennessee. He had some rough and tumble moments with Jonas Aidoo, but eventually got him to foul out. Aidoo’s understudy Cade Phillips was ineffectual, scoring zero points and accumulating three fouls.
Aidoo was the only proper big body Tennessee could throw at Armando. Florida State has more size, though some on the thinner side. As usual, Leonard Hamilton deploys a looooong bench, with nine players averaging at least 13 mpg. He also has 11 players 6’7” or taller, so he has plenty of fouls to expend on Bacot. If Armando can continue his improved shooting from the free throw line (where he’s shooting 85.7%!!!), it could make this tactic moot.