Miami at North Carolina
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)