Miami (9-5, 0-1) at No. 3 North Carolina (14-2, 1-0), 9:00 PM, ACC Network/ESPN3
Carolina has looked a tad sleepy in its last six games (with the exception of Texas), winning handily in all of them. Carolina hasn’t been significantly challenged since December 21st, when Texas came to the Smith Center. But the Tar Heels are a mature group and they seem to understand that ACC teams are going to be gunning for them. The Boston College game getting down to nine points in the second half was a wake-up call. Both games last year with Miami were close and so Carolina should be ready. Still, Miami is perhaps the best matchup for Carolina on paper in the league: two guards that can penetrate and shoot and two post men who can score and play great defense.
Miami will be motivated, no doubt – they have lost their last two games to Carolina by a combined five points, and lost by just seven in Chapel Hill in 2010 when Carolina was terrible. The Hurricanes lost a tough one at Virginia, but their effort in that game (particularly on defense) shows the Hurricanes are for real and are a much different team since the return of Reggie Johnson and the emergence of Kenny Kadji. Miami will likely be favored to win its next five games after Carolina (Ken Pomeroy has them favored to win six of their next seven), which would theoretically put them at 6-2 in the league and in great position down the stretch. But they will want this one badly.
Stat to watch: Miami’s three-point shooting. If Miami starts raining three-pointers, look out. And the Hurricanes rained three’s against Carolina in two narrow losses last year, making 22-of-54 (40.7%). But in the final ten minutes of those games, Miami was a combined 1-of-12 from beyond the arc compared to 21-of-42 (50%) in the first 30 minutes of each game. Miami led by as many as 14 in the regular-season meeting and by 19 (with 9:55 to go) in the ACC Tournament loss. Last year, Carolina shot 33.3% from three (5-of-15) in the first half of the two meetings and 50% (11-of-22) in the second half. Miami shot 13-of-27 (48.1%) from three in the first half and 9-of-27 (48.1%) in the second half.
Most important players: John Henson, UNC; Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant, Miami. Grant and Scott are winless against the Tar Heels in their Miami careers, but not because of them: they have combined to average 31.7 points on 53% shooting (43% from three). Scott has averaged 16.7 points on 64% shooting (!) and 7-of-13 from three. Carolina has been fortunate that he has only gotten to the foul line six times in three games. Grant has averaged 15.0 points (16.5 in two meetings last year on 47% shooting from three). On the flip side, Henson has put up some subpar games against Miami, averaging 8.3 points on 48% shooting (9.0 points on 41% shooting last year in two games). He has averaged 10.7 rebounds against Miami, though, and 4.3 blocks. But Kenny Kadji gives Miami more size to defend Carolina’s bigs. Tyler Zeller has also struggled against Miami in the past, and so Henson will have to be more like the player he has been most of this season, averaging 14.9 points on 56% shooting.
Random Stat: The 19-point second-half deficit Carolina overcame in last year’s ACC Tournament game against Miami was the largest the Tar Heels have overcome to win since January 27, 1993. Carolina was down by 21 in the second half against FSU in that game and trailed by 19 with under nine minutes remaining, but came back to win.
Prediction: North Carolina 92, Miami 77
Last week: 6-3 (4-2)
Season: 65-21 (4-2)
(All you have to do is Google “On a Boat” and you’ll get the reference, if you don’t already. Warning: the video/audio is NSFW.)
A lot of hype leading up to Carolina’s season-opener against Michigan State has surrounded the odd circumstances of the game. (USA Today wrote a comprehensive guide to the game, available here.) It’s in San Diego on the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson, the aircraft carrier that buried Osama bin Laden at sea. It’s Veteran’s Day; soldiers and President Obama will be there in person. Supermodel and Carolina fan Brooklyn Decker will attend and play a game of H.O.R.S.E. at halftime.
Despite all that, Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall said yesterday that the only celebrity in attendance who could make him nervous is Anchorman star Will Ferrell. Tar Heel Fan posted the brilliant Top Gun Quote Guide to the Carrier Classic, and in that vein, let’s take a look at this weekend through the movie Anchorman, avoiding the easy go-to quote: “Stay classy, San Diego.”
Brian Fantana: They’ve done studies, you know. Sixty percent of the time, it works every time.
With wind potentially being an issue (Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo says it might blow some of his team’s errant shots in the basket), look for the bigs on each team to take the higher-percentage shots. After Kendall Marshall entered the lineup, John Henson took on a bigger role in the offense, and his scoring went up as a result (from 10.4 points to 12.8). His field goal percentage went down (from 53.5 to 47.7) and his free-throw percentage went up (from 36.2%!! to 58.9). But he was inconsistent on offense, at times getting the ball stripped and taking bad shots. Tyler Zeller was the mainstay, scoring 10 or more points in 32 of Carolina’s 37 games and shooting nearly 55 percent.
Michigan State forward Draymond Green averaged 12.6 points in 2011 and was one of 10 D-I players to lead his team in both rebounding (8.6 per game) and assists (4.1). The senior added a three-point shot to his game last year and made around 37 percent. But Green has seen his share of foul trouble and while Michigan State has some talented players behind him, there’s no one with his experience and savvy. Henson and Zeller made some very good post players into non-factors last year, but the they will need to score as well.
Frank Vitchard: [public news anchor cuts off Frank's arm] Ah! I did not see that one coming!
The Tar Heels might feel that way if guard Brandon Wood, a graduate student transfer from Valparaiso, goes off. Carolina should see it coming though as Wood dropped 30 points in Chapel Hill, three years ago nearly to the day. He made 12-of-19 shots (6-of-10 three-pointers) and drove to the basket at will. The Tar Heels beat Valpo by 11, but it was the first harbinger of the bad season to come in 2010. It’s unclear how Wood will fit into the Spartans’ offense, and Dexter Strickland is much more capable of defending a player like that now, but Wood is an x-factor for the Spartans offensively.
As for potential Tar Heel surprises, there aren’t many. It might be a tad shocking if a Carolina team that shot 32.8% from the 3-point line last year starts hitting a ton of 3’s in windy conditions. Michigan State will try to limit the Tar Heels to those kinds of shots and if they go in, so be it. Only John Henson raining 3’s could be a real shock to Michigan State, not to mention the rest of the college basketball world.
Ron Burgundy: Veronica and I are trying this new fad called uh, jogging. I believe it’s jogging or yogging. it might be a soft ‘j’. I’m not sure but apparently you just run for an extended period of time. It’s supposed to be wild.
Carolina is known for its running game, and Michigan State is not going to want to let the Tar Heels get going in transition. But lay-ups and dunks are higher-percentage shots (Captain Obvious here), so Carolina will try to force tempo. In 2011, Carolina was near the top of every defensive category (per Ken Pomeroy) except for steal percentage, and it’s hard to start fast breaks without steals or turnovers. The Tar Heels were 7th in the ACC last year in both steals per game and turnover margin. It’s going to be hard to score inside on Carolina, but the Tar Heels have to get more turnovers to make things easier on themselves offensively.
Ron Burgundy: I’m proud of you fellas. You all kept your head on a swivel, and that’s what you gotta do when you find yourself in a vicious cock fight.
Roy Williams touched on this during Tuesday’s press conference when he said that the Tar Heels will have to learn to face adversity and rise above it. And while the elements present some adversity on Friday, the real trouble comes when Carolina gets on a plane right after the game and flies overnight to Asheville for a 4:00 game on Sunday. UNC-Asheville is coming off of an NCAA Tournament season a year ago and returns four of five starters. The Bulldogs are already making contingency plans in the event of a win over the Tar Heels.
A quick turn-around after an emotional game on Friday makes Sunday’s game seem like a trap. But if the Tar Heels are elite, they have to win games like this. “I hope … some success will give them a little confidence in being able to handle the different scenarios, different situations, different arenas, not having your home crowd to make you play better or faster defensively,” Williams said. “But we have a pretty good team, and so I think we should challenge them. If it was like 2006 or 2010, I would have been scared stiff. We’ll see how we respond.”