North Carolina at Florida State
North Carolina (15-2, 2-0) at Florida State (10-6, 1-1), 2:00 PM, ESPN/ESPN3
It’s always tough for North Carolina to travel to Florida State. The last four meetings between the two teams in Tallahassee have been decided by a total of 17 points. Taking out an 11-point Carolina win (which came in overtime), three of the last four games at FSU were decided by a total of six points (all Carolina wins). Roy Williams hasn’t lost at Florida State since a 90-81 overtime loss in his first trip there in 2004. ESPN College GameDay will be there on site and the game tips just two hours after that ends. Florida State announced today that the student tickets sold out in just under an hour. It will be a raucous environment and FSU’s upperclassmen know that they have yet to beat Carolina at home.
Stat to watch: Florida State’s shooting percentage. Yes, the Seminoles have been awful offensively this year and Florida State is known for its defense. But Carolina has proven that against mediocre to bad offensive teams, it can do enough defensively to win when it struggles offensively. In losses, Carolina’s defense has let it down: the Tar Heels are 2-2 when they allow a team to have an offensive efficiency of 100 or higher (per Ken Pomeroy). Carolina’s second-worst offensive performance this year was a 99.0 rating against Wisconsin – the Tar Heels won, and it was the third-best offensive rating Wisconsin has allowed. UNC’s worst offensive efficiency rating was 96.3 against Michigan State but the 79.1 defensive rating was the best by a Michigan State opponent this year.
Florida State’s defense let it down in some of its losses. But Michigan State, Princeton and Harvard all shot 41% or worse and still beat FSU because the Seminoles scored just 0.68 points per possession in those games (0.86 in all other games), and averaged 54.3 points on 39.4% shooting. FSU is last in the league in points per possession (0.826) and in loss of ball (21.5%), behind teams like Boston College. But the Seminoles have a history of turning it on: in home games against Carolina and Duke last year, FSU shot 46% from the floor and 44% from three. In all other ACC games, the Seminoles shot 43% from the floor but just 32.8% from three. In Carolina’s last two trips to Tallahassee (2009 and 2011), FSU shot 11-of-28 (39.3%) from three and 48% from the floor. That’s certainly above what FSU usually does. Maybe their offense will wake up yet again.
Most important players: Deividas Dulkys, Florida State and John Henson, North Carolina. This seems particularly appropriate as the last time these teams met, these two got involved in a trash-talking incident that earned each a technical foul. Dulkys seems destined to break out of a recent slump. The senior three-point specialist began the season shooting 13-of-27 from three (48.1%) in the first seven games. In nine games since, he has shot just 5-of-29 (17.2%). With his struggles, FSU went from shooting 34.7% from three in the first seven games to 27.7% in the last nine. In two career wins against the Tar Heels, Dulkys shot 9-of-20 from the floor and 8-of-17 from three, averaging 13.0 points in just 17.5 minutes. In three losses, Dulkys shot 5-of-19 (5-of-16 from three), averaging 4.7 points. FSU desperately needs three’s, particularly as it will be tough to score inside on UNC.
Considering FSU’s length, it would stand to reason that lanky John Henson might struggle. Instead, he’s averaging 15.7 points on 64.3% shooting against the Seminoles, adding 9.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks. History against FSU aside, Henson would seem like an early front-runner for ACC Player of the Year if not for Virginia’s Mike Scott. He’s averaging 14.7 points and 10.1 rebounds while shooting 55% and blocking 3.0 shots per game. In Carolina’s two losses this year (both on the road and against good defenses), Henson has shot just 8-of-23 (34.8%, and just 4-of-9 from the foul line). Carolina needs the Henson that has shot 100-of-174 (57%) in all other games.
Random Stat: Per @Strohsahl on Twitter: “Under Roy Williams, UNC is 3-5 in both the 3rd and 4th games of the ACC schedule. They have a winning record in all others.” From 2004-07, it was worse: Carolina was 1-3 in its third league game and 1-3 in its second league game. The only time Carolina has won games three and four was in 2009, when it started ACC play 0-2. Last year, Carolina lost by 20 at Georgia Tech in Game No. 3 before Kendall Marshall took over as the starting point guard against Clemson in Game 4 (which Carolina won by 10). …. Florida State is also 3-5 in its third ACC game in that same span and 4-4 in ACC home openers. Perhaps the oddest stat? FSU has started ACC play 1-1 seven times in the last eight season.
Prediction: North Carolina 80, Florida State 73
Last week: 6-3 (4-2)
Season: 68-24 (7-5)