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UNC vs Western Carolina basketball: Game preview

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It’s the last game before exams, as the Heels look to go 9-1

NCAA Basketball: Tulane at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight, a remarkable stretch for Carolina ends. Since November 20th, or a span of 17 days, the Tar Heels have played eight games, basically averaging a game every other day. Half of the games were played in the Pacific Time Zone, and only three have been true home games. Remarkably, Carolina is looking to have a 7-1 record over that stretch. Their final opponent? The Catamounts of Western Carolina. What should we expect tonight on the court?

Western Carolina

The Catamounts are led by Larry Hunter, one of the longest-tenured coaches in basketball. Hunter has been a head coach for 37 seasons and has gone to the NCAA Tournament 11 times. He spent most of his career in the state of Ohio before he was an assistant coach at NC State under Herb Sendek. Now he’s at WCU and has yet to crack the Tournament with the Catamounts.

Western Carolina comes into Chapel Hill at 3-6, with victories over Hiwassee, Alabama A&M, and Appalachian State. Their losses include the usual Division I suspects, UMass, Clemson, and Minnesota. Their leading scorer is Matt Halvorsen, followed by Deriece Parks. Both are barely cracking the 10 points/game ceiling, and as a whole the Catamounts are only averaging 67 points per game. Both grab their points behind the arc, as they shoot around 40% from three, and the team averages 8 made threes per game, shooting at a 38% clip.

The three ball is very much what Hunter is using to try to win games, mostly helped by the fact that there isn’t much size on the court. They play no one over six-foot-nine, but none of the guys with any height get more than 10 minutes a game. The Catamounts are going to go small, and try to shoot their way into staying in this game. That lack of height has cause WCU to be out rebounded by five per game, which is saying something when you look at who they have played so far. They are also sporting a whopping 0.8 assist/turnover margin.

WCU does come into Chapel Hill off a thrilling last second win over Appalachian State. Trailing late, WCU got a dunk from Mike Amius with seven seconds left, and App State couldn’t convert on their chance. The win may give the Catamounts a little jump in their step as they come in, but in all reality this team is one that is clearly outclassed by the Tar Heels.

North Carolina

With the news that Seventh Woods may be out longer than first thought, tonight is going to be a chance for Jalek Felton to continue to build on his great showing at the end of Sunday’s game. If you haven’t read Adam Lucas’ piece on the words Roy gave Felton at the end, check it out. It’s a great reminder that every point guard has their troubles when they first get here, and the remarks by Felton show great promise in his ability to learn and improve. With Woods being on the shelf for a while, Felton should see more minutes which will help his development.

Overall, Carolina has been clicking along well, enough to where even the players seem a little surprised.

It’s hard to believe there are only four non-conference games left this year, but with the exam break, Carolina only gets these four tune ups before the grind of the ACC season starts. It’s time to start figuring out who you have, and with a dangerous team in Tennessee coming up after the break, it’ll be interesting to see the break down of the minutes.

The trend of the last couple of games should continue as Carolina has dominated teams on the glass even without their usual strength in the front court. With WCU’s lack of size, tonight should be no different.

Prediction

This game has all the hallmarks of not being a close one. The Catamounts have already lost by 51 to Cincinnati, 22 to Clemson, and 28 to Minnesota. WCU will likely try to hang early with shots from deep, but unlike previous opponents, the Heels can key in on a couple of guys and will be able to defend the middle. The Heels will hopefully put this one out of reach early, the starters will get only about 25-30 minutes, and the bench players will get extended playing time to show fans how much they’ve developed in the first six weeks.

Carolina wins, 90-65