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UNC vs. Miami: Game Preview

The Hurricanes are struggling but gave the Tar Heels a good fight in the first matchup.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Miami-Florida Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Two teams in very different positions will be squaring off when the Hurricanes come to Chapel Hill on Saturday. Jim Larranaga’s team has fallen on tough times so far in ACC play, one of their losses coming at home to the Heels, but an upset win in Chapel Hill (much like it did last year) could put a silver lining on what has been a very frustrating season for the Canes.

Here is our preview of Heels vs. Canes Part 2:

Miami Hurricanes 10-12 (2-8 ACC)

Projected Starters:

G: Chris Lykes (SO) 16.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 3.3 apg

G: Zach Johnson (R-SR) 13.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.3 apg

G: Anthony Lawrence (SR) 11.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.6 apg

G: Dejan Vasiljevic (JR) 11.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.3 apg

C: Ebuka Izundu (SR) 11.1 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 1.3 bpg

Coming into the first matchup in Coral Gables, the Hurricanes were at the bottom of the ACC but had just snapped an in-conference losing streak against an inferior opponent (Wake Forest). Coming into the return game in Chapel Hill...the Hurricanes are at the bottom of the ACC and have just snapped an in-conference losing streak against an inferior opponent (Notre Dame). Jim Larranaga’s club defeated the Irish 62-47 on Wednesday night, ending their five-game losing streak and putting them at 2-8 in conference play.

The roots of Miami’s struggles have been the same all season: A lack of size and depth and the inability of anyone outside of Chris Lykes to generate consistent offense. In the first matchup against UNC, the Canes were outrebounded 38-23, and the Heels got strong inside play from Luke Maye and Nassir Little, who combined for 26 points on 10-17 shooting. But the real star of the show was Cam Johnson, who finished with 22 points and 7 rebounds on 8-14 shooting (5-7 from three). Lykes led Miami with 20 points and 6 assists.

The Hurricanes played well but, as they have done all season long, ran out of gas down the stretch. The reason for that is obvious: The Canes go 7 deep and one of their subs, Anthony Mack, isn’t capable of staying on the floor for extended minutes. Four Hurricanes average over 30 minutes a game (by contrast, no one on UNC cracks 30). That bulk of minutes, combined with the fact that they’re a small team with only one true big man (Izundu) makes for serious fatigue in crunch time.

The small, speedy Lykes runs the show in their 1-4 set, but the Canes have leaned on seniors Anthony Lawrence and Zach Johnson at times this year as well. Lawrence in particular has been called on to assume de-facto power forward duties and take on larger frontcourt opponents. He saw most of his minutes on Maye in the first matchup.

#8 North Carolina Tar Heels 18-4 (8-1 ACC)

Projected Starters:

Cameron Johnson (R-SR) 16.0 ppg, 5.5, rpg, 2.2 apg

Coby White (FR) 15.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 4.2 apg

Luke Maye (SR) 14.9 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 2.1 apg

Kenny Williams (SR) 9.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.7 apg

Garrison Brooks (SO) 8.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.4 apg

Carolina comes into Saturday in peak form. Several times in Carolina’s history, a shattering loss in conference play has galvanized the team into putting together a strong run going forward (the Wake Forest loss in 1993, the Georgia Tech loss in 2017, the Austin Rivers Game in 2012 come to mind). The embarrassing home loss to Louisville is looking more and more like another of those games. Since that record-setting loss, the Tar Heels have been been on a tear, winning six straight, two of their wins coming over top-15 teams. They are now tied with Duke and Virginia at the top of the ACC at the halfway point of conference play.

The play of Coby White has been the key factor in Carolina’s improvement over the last few weeks. That Coby is a natural scorer comes as a surprise to no one, but his playmaking and facilitation has taken a leap in recent games. His assist numbers are up (he’s led the Heels in assists in four of their last five games, something he was yet to have done this season) and he looks far more comfortable running the offense (though his turnover rates leave something to be desired). His defense has also markedly improved. As my colleague Brandon Anderson wrote earlier this week, Coby’s draft stock has been climbing as a result.

There was a lot to love (and I mean LOVE) about Carolina’s offensive beatdown of NC State on Tuesday night, but the play of a rejuvenated Luke Maye was chief among them. Luke’s struggles this year have been well-documented (read, Beaten-To-Death), but Tuesday’s game was a reminder of just how dominant he can be when he has it all clicking for him. Facing off against an undersized Miami team on Saturday, don’t be surprised to see Luke go for another big game.

Cam Johnson has continued his torrid shooting throughout the season and he looks like he’s playing himself into All-ACC consideration. He leads UNC in points, steals and three point percentage. Also worth noting is Garrison Brooks: His numbers certainly won’t blow you away and he still has a long way to go before becoming a serious threat in the post, but he has cleaned up his foul trouble in the last month, making him available for the floor whenever Roy needs him. That was not the case back in December and early January.

As for Saturday, the Heels will surely favor an inside-out attack early, hoping to get Luke established and Izundu in foul trouble. Accomplishing that will force the smaller Canes to pack the lane, opening things up for the UNC shooters. Defensively, Coby White’s defense on the smaller, quicker Lykes will be key. If Lykes can’t get it going, it’ll likely be a long day in Chapel Hill for Larranaga and company.

The Pick: UNC 88, Miami 70