The North Carolina Tar Heels (7-1) are in New York City preparing to take on UConn (7-1) for the seventh time since 1949. At the time of writing, the Huskies are ranked as the fourth-best team in the country, but that likely won’t be true thanks to their loss against Kansas last week. Meanwhile, the Heels could very well end up ranked in the top ten thanks to a lot of chaos in the AP Top 25, but at this point who knows? We thought Florida State would’ve been in the College Football Playoffs, so clearly we can’t expect things to make too much sense. Amirite?
I digress, tomorrow’s game could be the game that solidifies UNC’s place in the top tier of college basketball, but to pull it off won’t be easy. Let’s discuss three things to watch in this Jimmy V Classic matchup.
Can Harrison Ingram rebound from his performance against FSU?
Stanford transfer Harrison Ingram has been one of the most reliable players for the Tar Heels this season, but Florida State made his life a living hell Saturday afternoon. He finished the game with 11 points, but he only made three of his 11 field goal tries and didn’t make any of his four three-point attempts. This was only his second game shooting less than 40% from the field, so it’s hard to imagine that he will have another sub-optimal performance against UConn.
However, the problem is that the Huskies are one of the better defensive teams in the country. Right now they are allowing an average of 61.6 points per game, and are ranked 14th in adjusted defense efficiency per KenPom.com. The good news is that the Heels already played the second-toughest defense in the country in Tennessee, but of course this doesn’t mean that it will be a cakewalk for the Tar Heels by any stretch of the imagination. I think Ingram is too good and too tough to have back-to-back poor performances, but he will have his work cut out for him regardless.
Cam Spencer could end up being “that guy” that goes off on the Heels
I know, I can hear your sighs and expletives already, but there’s a very good chance that UNC will allow another 25+ point performance in Madison Square Garden. Senior guard Cam Spencer has been on fire this season for the Huskies, currently averaging 14.2 points a game and is shooting 40.8% from three-point territory. His perimeter shooting percentage has been very up and down all season, but UNC will have to take him seriously and run him off of the three-point line every chance that they get.
What concerns me about this matchup is that Spencer (6’4) is a bigger guard than both RJ Davis (6’0) and Elliot Cadeau (6’1), and it wouldn’t shock me if he was able to take advantage. Hubert Davis could deploy Seth Trimble as often as he can, but of course the issue is that the Heels would either lose their best facilitator or one of their best shooters during that span. There will probably need to be some creativity when dealing with Spencer all while trying to limit Tristen Newton at the same time, who currently leads the team in points. This just might be the Heels toughest test in the backcourt so far this season, so we will have to wait and see if they are up for the challenge.
Who will win the battle on the boards?
Going into this game, UConn is averaging 41.8 rebounds per game, which is higher than UNC’s average of 39.6. The most bizarre thing about this is that Tristen Newton leads the team in rebounding with 7.6 per game, followed by fellow guard Stephon Castle with 6.5. Finally, the weirdest part of all of this is that their center, Donovan Clingan, is the third-best rebounder despite being 7’2.
Armando Bacot will not have the size advantage in this game, but something tells me that he will still be able to rebound at a high level. Kansas center Hunter Dickinson was able to pull down nine boards in their win over the Huskies, and overall Kansas only had one less rebound in the game. This game feels like one that will be won or lost on the boards, and I wouldn’t doubt it if that is exactly what Hubert Davis is telling his team. The Tar Heels could actually have the advantage in this department, and if so, there’s a very real chance that they will leave Madison Square Garden with a win.