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UNC at Syracuse: Three Things to Watch

The last long road trip of the regular season takes the Tar Heels to a second matchup against the new-look Orange

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Miami (FL) Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

When tipoff occurs tomorrow night, it’ll have been exactly one month since the Tar Heels and Orange met in Chapel Hill. That game, a 103-67 blowout, was the first home game after a long ACC road stretch. It was also arguably the last “easy” game the Tar Heels have had this season. No one for the Tar Heels played over 30 minutes, RJ Davis led the Tar Heels with 22 points, and Carolina never really broke a sweat as biscuits were earned.

The Orange have muddled along since that loss, going 4-4 and currently in a tie for 9th in the ACC. No one expected it to be easy for them as they transition away from longtime coach Jim Boeheim and moved on from being a primary 2-3 zone team. There’s no reason to think that this game will be much different than the first matchup — except an inconsistent team can throw their best punch when you least expect it.

Here are three things to look for when the Tar Heels and Orange face off in upstate New York tomorrow night.

Shot Selection

Let’s wrap up the lack of looks for Armando Bacot and the ridiculous number of threes shot on Saturday into one post here. Carolina took way too many three pointers on Saturday, as the shots fell early and they just fell in love with the shot behind the arc. They attempted a staggering 31 shots from three-point range, only making 11. Players not named RJ Davis were 6-20 shooting the three, and when you attempt 59 shots overall and over half are from three, your balance is completely out of whack.

Make no mistake, modern basketball is very three-reliant, and so going heavy behind the arc isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The problem is that a lot of the shots weren’t of the variety that come from transition or from good passes; rather they came from settling and giving up on the fact that they had the best big man on the floor in Armando Bacot. Miami would send three people at Bacot whenever he got the ball and while he was working all afternoon, there just seemed to be a decision made by the players on the floor to take what the defense gave them.

Tomorrow, Carolina needs to work the same game plan they did against the Orange that saw Davis go 4-6 from behind the arc and Bacot go for 16 and 11 with 6-8 shooting and 4-4 from the line — to get back into the flow of offense that involved everyone rather than just a couple of players settling for attempts from deep. Hopefully their experience from last month will help them return to some of the offense we’ve gotten used to over recent games.

Bench Production

The Carolina bench has not helped them out at all the last couple of games. Zayden High had the only bench point for the Tar Heels on Saturday, and the bench only had 12 points against the Tigers last week. We know that coach Hubert Davis has used the bench more this season than his previous two, but if this lack of production continues we also know he won’t hesitate to Iron Five the starters — something nobody wants to see.

A big part of the problem, of course, is the missing Seth Trimble. Trimble suffered an upper body injury in practice last Monday and has missed the last two games. He at least made the trip to Coral Gables on Saturday, a sign that he’s not far from coming back, but he never suited up. The missing guard has thrown Carolina’s bench rotations completely out of whack, as RJ Davis and Elliot Cadeau have to play more in the guard spots without anyone really able to slide over. It has seemingly messed up how the bench slides into the two and three spots, and it’s really showing on both sides of the ball.

Trimble played 21 minutes, scoring nine points and making a three in the first matchup against Syracuse, and there’s no doubt he’s an important contributor who has been missed. If he’s missing for one more game, the Tar Heels need to get more off the bench so the starters don’t feel like they have to carry in inordinate load.

Road Weary

Basketball games are not played in a vacuum. When you look at UNC’s schedule, some of the inconsistency in game play could simply be explained by the fact that their travel schedule has been — in a word — ridiculous over the first fourteen games of the season. Think I’m kidding?

Carolina opened 2024 on a three-game road trip that took them to Pittsburgh, Clemson, and Raleigh. After just two home games, they had to go up to Chestnut Hill. They’ve followed that up by having to go to Tallahassee, back to Chapel Hill, then back to Coral Gables before heading up to Syracuse. In short, with six games left in the ACC regular season they have traveled to all corners of the league except Notre Dame, have yet to have their scheduled ‘off’ date, and won’t get a really long home stretch until the end of the regular season.

If you don’t think stuff like that matters, you’re fooling yourself. This matters in that this Tar Heel team can see one last long road trip against a team they waxed a month ago, knowing they get home, off, Charlottesville, home, home, home, and Durham to end the season. Will they come out sluggish or with fire, knowing that this is the last time for a while they have to deal with this level of travel?