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UNC vs. Charleston Southern: Three Things to Watch

The Heels are back from break with one more test before ACC play kicks off in earnest .

NCAA Basketball: Jumpman Invitational-North Carolina at Oklahoma Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

After getting some much needed time home for the holidays, the Tar Heels will be back in action tomorrow night. Carolina closes out the non-conference schedule against Charleston Southern on a Friday night. Students are still out for the semester break, so it’s a great opportunity for fans to try and grab seats that’ll be much harder to come by in ACC play.

Here are three things to watch against Charleston Southern.

Time for Mando to eat!

It hasn’t been an All-American type season for Armando Bacot so far. The fifth-year player has struggled against size during Carolina’s brutal non-conference stretch. He has scored in single-digits against Villanova, Arkansas, and Kentucky. Compare that to the first three games of the season when he beat up on smaller front lines, averaging 22.7 ppg.

Some good news heading into the new year? Charleston Southern doesn’t have Eric Dixon or Donovan Clingan.

Armando will have an opportunity to attack the block against the Buccaneers. He’ll likely be defended by Taje’ Kelly (6’7”, 253 lbs) or Reginald Duhart (6’9”, 210 lbs). Kelly is the more able scorer, averaging 15.3 ppg, but Bacot should be able to swallow him up close to the rim, as he showed he could do against Oklahoma.

Without a 7-footer at the rim to bother his shot, hopefully Mando will see more of his baby hooks and layups go in. It’ll be nice to start to see those shots hit their mark before ACC starts.

Hometown Hero

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. North Carolina kid comes to the Dean Dome and shoots out of his mind.

It’s a tale as old as time. So who on Charleston Southern fits the bill as hero villain?

Look no further than leading scorer RJ Johnson. The Matthews, NC native has exploded into his sophomore year, increasing his scoring from 7.4ppg to 17.3ppg! He’s also shooting 47.6% from three, so expect about a dozen of those to go down.

He’s a small guard at 6’1”, 185 lbs, so RJ Davis and Elliot Cadeau should be able to cover him. How much success they have will determine how comfortable this game is. If there’s any mitigation, Johnson seems to be something of a flat track bully, piling up his points against lesser teams. This season, he scored just 12 points against NC State, 7 against Wake Forest, and 13 against South Carolina.

But North Carolina kids don’t dream about shining in the PNC Arena. The Dean Dome in all its splendor awaits.

Which bigs come off the bench?

In the Oklahoma game, Zayden High was in for 12 minutes—more time than his previous five games combined—and grabbed three rebounds. Jalen Washington played just five minutes, but had 4 points on 2-2 shooting, along with two rebounds.

Washington has more polish, but High brings more chaos. What is Hubert Davis looking for behind Bacot going into ACC play?

UNC should have enough margin to get these two into the game for extended periods. Is energy enough for High to win more minutes, or will Washington’s shooting give him the nod?

Look to see if West Virginia transfer James Okonkwo, who arrived to Chapel Hill late, has enough familiarity with the team and system to start digging a toehold into the rotation. He has defensive chops and could help protect the rim, a handy trait when the perimeter is undersized.