The Tar Heels have looked like one of the best teams in the country in the early goings of non-conference play, with Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson, in particular, shining in the first two games. Now UNC hosts Long Beach State in Chapel Hill before making the long trip to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational.
Long Beach State is 1-1 on the season and, while anything can happen, this matchup should give coach Roy Williams and the staff another valuable opportunity to work on lineups, rotations and the like. Make sure to tune in tonight at 8:00 p.m. ET.
Long Beach State
The 49ers have two lopsided games on their resume to start the season: one blowout win against Cal State-Los Angeles and one blowout loss to Wichita State. They’ve scored over 90, and they’ve also given up over 90. So it’s a little hard to get a read on this team and exactly what kind of trouble they could give the Tar Heels.
Last season, Long Beach State finished 20-15 and lost in the first round of the NIT to Washington. They lost their leading scorer, Nick Faust with 17.4 points per game, and it appears as though they’re already having difficulties finding a suitable replacement. Only one 49er is currently scoring in double figures—Gabe Levin with 12 points per game on 36.4 percent shooting—and they’ll need a lot more scoring to keep up with UNC.
As far as team categories, LBSU again will have an uphill battle gaining any ground on the Heels. The 49ers only shoot 40 percent as a team and are absolutely dreadful from three (just 20 percent). Unless some of their guys finally find a rhythm in the Dome, it’s hard to see this team having enough offensive firepower to keep pace—especially when the Carolina defense has looked formidable so far.
The Tar Heels have two strong wins to start the season, scoring over 90 both times and limiting Chattanooga to under 60 points. Berry looks to be every bit the unbelievable point guard everyone expected him to be. He’s averaging 20.5 points per game, five rebounds, 4.5 assists but his shooting numbers are even more spectacular: 57.9 percent from the field, 86.7 from the foul line and 54.5 from deep. His name has to be one of the first mentioned for best guards in the country.
Elsewhere, Justin Jackson seems to have made a crucial leap in his play, particularly with his shooting. He scored a career-high 27 against Tulane and is currently shooting 60 percent from three (6 of 10); he’s also tied for the team lead in assists with Berry II and Kenny Williams. Early on, there’s evidence that Jackson will be a much more dynamic player this season.
Kennedy Meeks has been hitting the boards hard (13.5 per game), while freshman Tony Bradley has been impressive on the offensive end (11.5 points per game). Williams has great assists numbers despite his poor shooting (20 percent from three), and Isaiah Hicks is still adjusting to his starting role but scoring well (14.5 per game).
Clearly, this team is talented and should be too much for the 49ers to keep up with over 40 minutes. The focus here will be looking at lineups and best possible rotational units. Williams has started one game and Nate Britt has started another. If Williams can pick up his shooting, he might have the inside track there, and it’ll be important to continue to see who Bradley—ineffective on defense thus far—pairs with in the paint.
Two specific aspects stand out after two games and leading into the matchup against LBSU: passing and defense. The Heels are averaging 25 assists a game and have four guys with at least four assists per game (Berry II, Jackson, Williams, Britt). That’s fantastic ball movement and, if the shooting from the outside improves, this team can completely overwhelm the 49ers.
And although it’s only been against Tulane and Chattanooga, the defense has looked strong. Hicks and Brice Johnson, despite all their offensive prowess, were never a great defensive pair, but Meeks and Hicks have the makings of a solid one. The perimeter defense with Berry II and Jackson leading the way is long and athletic and sure to produce quick points following live-ball turnovers. If UNC does more of the same while tinkering here and there, they should have little problem with Long Beach State.
LBSU will win if they
- Score from the perimeter
- Limit turnovers
- Have at least one guy step up in scoring
UNC will win if they
- Play fast, team-oriented offense
- Cause havoc and turnovers on defense