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UNC vs. Oklahoma: Three Things to Watch

Despite horrible news, the season rolls on Wednesday against the Sooners.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 16 CBS Sports Classic - North Carolina vs Kentucky Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

You’d be forgiven if you haven’t gotten over the shock over the news of Eric Montross’ passing yesterday. It’s clear folks inside the program have been rattled with the news as Hubert Davis cancelled his radio show yesterday, and the Carolina Insider Pod hosted by Montross’ former radio partners Jones Angell and Adam Lucas was also skipped today. It’s cast a real pall over everything, for multiple reasons.

But the basketball season still rolls on.

The Tar Heels are coming off two straight losses and are looking to get one more good non-conference resume builder against Oklahoma tomorrow in the Jumpman Invitational. While not technically the last non-conference game of the season — the Tar Heels host Charleston Southern next Friday — it really is the last non-conference test for the squad before they enter the ever important ACC schedule. Another loss puts pressure on the squad to finish near the top of the league, while a win gives them another quality boost that will allow for some error during the conference slate.

With that, let’s take a peek at three things to watch for tomorrow:

Rebounding

The Tar Heels have been eaten alive on the boards by their last two opponents. Both UConn and Kentucky out rebounded Carolina by ten, which when you lose both games by single digits pretty much equates to the reason why you lost both games. It’s really odd to see a UNC team consistently get out-rebounded, and that it’s happened twice in a row is concerning.

The task grows larger against a Sooner team that is also averaging ten more rebounds than their opponents per game. It’s notable, though, that Oklahoma arguably hasn’t played as tough a schedule as the Tar Heels. However, they still they do have a common opponent, which is Arkansas. In their 79-70 win over the Razorbacks, the Sooners cleaned up on offensive rebounds — getting 25 while Arkansas just got six defensive boards — so the potential is there for Carolina to once again get hammered on missed shots.

We’ll see if the Tar Heels have learned that a rebound isn’t their right, as winning the boards will likely win them this game.

Elliot Cadeau

It was bound to happen for the reclassified first year player but Elliot Cadeau had a sub-par outing against Kentucky Saturday night. After playing in over 26 minutes for the previous four games, Cadeau only saw 18 minutes of action. This was primarily the result of the guy he was defending being able to score easily while he was busy racking up four fouls. He also turned the ball over three times and only had four assists. Then, of course, there’s the last play where he and Cormac Ryan were clearly confused on what was supposed to happen. Cadeau not only threw the ball away to effectively end the game, he also didn’t follow the ball instead throwing his arms up when the mistake happened. Had he followed the ball, there’s a chance he could have helped RJ Davis save the play before going over the time line.

In truth it wouldn’t be surprising if Seth Tremble ended up on the court instead of Cadeau in the starter’s spot, as Hubert Davis hasn’t been shy about playing the guys who are performing instead of sticking to the same players. It’s the first real humbling moment for Cadeau in a UNC uniform, and how he recovers against another top non-conference foe will be huge in whether Carolina can get one more good win before the ACC season really starts.

Support for RJ

RJ Davis has been on a tear, scoring at least 26 points in five straight games, and raising his profile so rapidly that he could be in a legitimate player of the year discussion. He was also the leading rebounder for the team on Saturday with seven.

The problem is that the offense is very quickly becoming RJ-centric, and for him to have clean looks someone else has to step up and shoulder a load as well. Armando Bacot hasn’t provided the punch down low that the team had hoped he would, Harrison Ingram has been up and down — alternating scoring 20 and then close to 10 for the last six games — and it’s taken until now for Cormac Ryan’s shot to finally start falling.

There’s little doubt where the ball was going to go on Saturday — while the actual play is unknown everyone in the building knew the move was to get the ball to RJ and try to tie the game. That means the Wildcats and every other opponent from here on out will know that as well, and they are going to defend RJ like it. Who will step up with the extra attention given to Davis? If no one can, things could go south pretty quick.

See ya later, Big Grits.