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UNC vs. NC State: Three Things to Watch

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Fifty. One. Points. Can UNC do it again?

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Duke Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

Last time the Heels and Wolfpack faced off, the Dean Dome witnessed a 51-point drubbing of UNC’s hated rivals overmatched opponents. Since then, both teams have continued to go in opposite directions. UNC sits atop the ACC standings, whereas NC State is mired in a 5 game losing streak as their season quickly becomes a laughing stock. Just kidding. Their program is already a tragic comedy, playing out in real time right before our eyes.

Yet, with reports circulating that NC State has already decided to fire Mark Gottfried at the end of the season, UNC fans should remain poised and calm. In this year’s wacky ACC season, no result is too surprising. Even if that result is an upset at the hands of the Wolfpack. So, without further adieu here are three things to look for when the Heels visit PNC arena.

Isaiah Hicks’ Hammy

Maybe this one was too easy to choose, but it doesn’t make it any less important. For what it’s worth, this UNC team still has not come close to reaching it’s full potential, and with good reason. Untimely injuries have been an wholly unnecessary burden on the men’s basketball program.

Sure, many teams have had health issues. Injuries are part of the game. But this isn’t about other teams. It’s about UNC’s potential. Joel Berry and Luke Maye (ankles), Tony Bradley (concussion), Theo Pinson (foot), and now Isaiah Hicks (hamstring) have all missed crucial games during the first 26 games.

In fact, UNC has played exactly one game with all of it’s significant contributors active.

The opponent? NC State.

A healthy Isaiah Hicks on Wednesday, without any other surprise injuries, would be only the second game all season that Roy Williams had his full roster at his disposal. That’s not something Duke, Indiana, or Kentucky had to deal with.

Mark Gottfried, Dennis Smith Jr, and whoever else plays for NC State might get to experience it twice.

Seventh Woods Emerges

Over the weekend, Akil wrote about Nate Britt’s importance and improvement as UNC’s back-up point guard. I agree with much of that sentiment, and think UNC is in fantastic position to have Nate as the back-up PG. But, what if Nate isn’t really the back-up PG?

According to KenPom.com, it’s actually Seventh Woods who has spent the most time as the back-up point guard over the previous five games, clocking in at 17% of the available playing time at the position. According to KenPom’s algorithm, Nate actually spends the vast majority of his playing time at shooting guard- which is a topic for another day.

To be fair, those numbers are a little misleading, and do not tell the entire story of different roster line-ups. Plus, the overall contribution is skewed when you consider that Woods played as many as 11 minutes against Miami, and as few as two minutes against Pittsburgh.

However, coming off arguably his best all-around performance in a hostile Duke environment, Woods has steadily improved his play during the ACC season. Strictly from a facilitating standpoint, in a small sample size, his assist to turnover ratio is roughly 2.5:1.

Compared to a 1:1 ratio for all competitions throughout the year, that’s an impressive improvement in such inconsistent (and reduced) playing time from earlier in the year. If Wednesday comes close to resembling last month’s contest, Woods may get more opportunities to showcase his development.

Quest for 100.....again

UNC’s adjusted offensive efficiency in conference play is 116.1. This means per 100 possessions the Heels score 116.1 points. That’s the best in the conference. NC State clocks in at 102.9, good for 13th in the league.

On the other end of the spectrum, their adjusted defensive efficiency is 118.7. This means, per 100 possessions, their defense allows their opponents to score 118.7 points. That’s the worst AdjD rating in the conference. UNC currently sits 5th in the conference with a rating of 105.7.

In other words, UNC has had the best offense in conference play, and the 5th best defense. NC State has had the worst defense in ACC play, and the 3rd worst offense. North Carolina fans should enjoy watching the Heels do everything they can to increase the gap between the two programs, if that’s even possible.

The last time UNC hung 100 on the Wolfpack twice in one season, Chris Webber called a timeout his team did not have. Dean Smith cut down nets. UNC fans rejoiced.

That was a fun year. Let’s do it again.

P.S. If anyone has seen NC State’s heart, please contact the Wolfpack administration. Authorities have put out an APB. It was last seen in Winston-Salem being passed around by Wake Forest athletes. Wolfpack benchwarmer, BeeJay Anya, may have eaten it. It’s unclear at this time.