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UNC vs. Wake Forest: Three Things to Watch

Fresh off of victories on Saturday, the Tar Heels and the Deacons will face off in their second game in three days.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Boston College Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

The Tar Heels are in the process of hitting the reset button after yesterday’s win against Boston College, because tomorrow night they return to the Dean Smith Center to take on Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons are now tied for second place in the conference with NC State and Florida State thanks to Duke losing to Pitt in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Had the Blue Devils put the Panthers away, they would be right behind the Tar Heels in the standings, but Jeff Capel and his team had other ideas.

Did I mention that Duke suffered a quad 3 loss against Pitt? I just want to make sure we all understand what happened. I’m in no way being a petty sports writer. Not even a little bit.

I digress, Wake is having another solid season under Steve Forbes, and the Heels will need to be ready if they don’t want to suffer the same fate as the Blue Devils did at home against the Panthers. Alright, I’m seriously done this time. Here are three things to watch when the Heels face off against Wake.

Shaking out the cobwebs

UNC’s road trip to Boston to face off against the Eagles was a complete train wreck that just to happened to end with a win. The referees were in rare form, and not only did they call a lot of ticky-tack fouls all afternoon, but they slowed the game down quite a bit with some brutal reviews. Bad officiating aside, the Heels managed to only shoot 39.4% from the field in the second half, which was very different than the 52.2% outing that they had in the first half.

Needless to say, Hubert Davis will have to find a way to make them forget about what happened and to move forward on a very short turnaround. Being a good sports team requires players to have short-term memories, and that can’t be anymore true than it is going into tomorrow’s game. Hopefully it really isn’t a big deal and that the Heels will easily forget about ***checks notes*** their 26 fouls in the game. If it is, maybe Coby White can fly back to campus and hold a group meditation session with the squad to clear their minds before facing off against the Deacons.

Kevin Miller and Hunter Sallis are a problem

After the 2022-23 season concluded, Steve Forbes went into the transfer portal on a mission and came out of it with two really good guards. Central Michigan transfer Kevin Miller is leading Wake in scoring, averaging 17.8 points per game and is shooting 37% from three. Right next to him is Gonzaga transfer Hunter Sallis, who is second in scoring with 17.6 points per game and is shooting 38.1% from deep. Sallis had an impressive outing against Louisville yesterday — he led the team with 19 points and shot 62.5% from three-point range.

The good news is that UNC’s defense was a lot better against Boston College, but they desperately need to repeat their success against these two talented guards. RJ Davis should be a good matchup for one of these two Deacon players, and Elliot Cadeau has been looking a lot better on defense himself. If this were November, I would have been terrified of this matchup, but it does feel like the Heels are in a place where they can handle talented backcourts perhaps the best that they’ve handled them in years. Let’s just hope they can do enough to slow down Miller and Sallis and prevent a huge upset.

Will we finally get a Cormac Ryan Renaissance?

Notre Dame transfer Cormac Ryan has been really impressive on the defensive side of the ball for the Tar Heels. He is super aggressive, stays in defenders’ faces, and knows how to blow up plays when given the opportunity. What’s been a sore spot to this point in the season is that he has been very uneven offensively, currently averaging 39.2% from the field and a career-low 30.2% from three. It’s been an unfortunate situation, but also one could attribute some of it to adjusting to the transfer to UNC. A lot of it, however, is that the basket just flat-out isn’t going into the basket. He’s had numerous wide open opportunities that he just hasn’t been able to knock down, and I’m sure nobody is more frustrated about it than he is.

One thing that used to come up during the Roy Williams era is playing inside out so that when you start seeing the ball go in the basket your confidence builds. I would like to see Ryan try to do that against Wake Forest, because at this point I think he just needs to see the ball go in the basket more. He did make four baskets against Boston College, but he also was 0-4 from three. At some point his shot has to start going in — one would think, anyway — but I really hope that we get to see more from him tomorrow night against Wake Forest.