N.C. State at North Carolina
NC State (15-5, 4-1) at North Carolina (16-3, 3-1) (16-3, 3-1), 7:00 PM, ESPN
Finally, this rivalry means something again – at least for now. But if new N.C. State head coach Mark Gottfried continues recruiting as well as he has, it will mean something for years to come. If North Carolina wins, they have a shot of going into their first matchup with Duke on February 8th with a 7-1 ACC record. If N.C. State wins, they could not only sweep the Tar Heels but also have a shot at finishing first in the league. They have the easiest ACC schedule of any of the contending teams. And N.C. State, should they win tonight, could go into a three-game stretch in mid-February of Duke, Florida State and North Carolina with a 9-1 ACC record.
Stat to watch: Rebounding. It’s been a bugaboo for both teams in their losses. North Carolina was out-rebounded in all three of its losses and the worst was by UNLV (48-39); the Rebels had 20 second-chance points while the Tar Heels managed a season-low six. N.C. State has been out-rebounded in three losses; it held Stanford to just 36.2% shooting but allowed the Cardinal to post the highest offensive rebounding percentage allowed by the Wolfpack this year.
After Florida State dominated Carolina on the glass in a way that went beyond statistics, the Tar Heels bounced back by out-rebounding Virginia Tech 51-28. Carolina has shown it is capable of rebounding efforts like that but like everything else with the Tar Heels, it comes down to their focus and concentration.
N.C. State was out-rebounded by Miami, a big reason the Hurricanes were able to erase a large second-half deficit on Sunday. But N.C. State is an excellent rebounding team and will try to be physical with Carolina’s bigs, since they lack the height advantage. It has worked for some teams but when John Henson and Tyler Zeller are attacking the boards as savagely as they have been (averaging 22 boards between them the last two games), they’re difficult to stop.
Carolina has allowed nine teams to post an offensive rebounding percentage of 30% or better and 6-3 in those games. N.C. State is 3-3 when it fails to crack 32% on the offensive glass. Something’s got to give, and if N.C. State lets the Tar Heels get a bunch of second looks, this game will be over very early. And if the Tar Heels let an already-good offensive team in N.C. State get second and third looks, they could be in trouble.
Most important players: Reggie Bullock, North Carolina and Scott Wood, N.C. State. The point guard battle will be the most closely watched, but this one will be interesting: not watching the two go one-on-one, but what the game means for each player. Wood has hit just 4-of-24 shots (16.7%) in four career games against the Tar Heels, adding just 3-of-18 three’s (16.7%) and 1.3 points per game. Last year, Wood shot 47% (45% from three ) in 14 ACC games against teams not named Carolina, averaging 10.1 points in 31.5 minutes. In two games against North Carolina, he shot 20% and 33.3% from three (1-of-3), averaging 2.5 points in 23.0 minutes and adding 4.0 fouls. The Wolfpack needs him way too much for him to do that again. Scott Wood has been in single digits scoring-wise or missed games due to injury six times this season. N.C. State is 3-3 in those games and one of the wins was a nail-biter at home against Princeton.
Reggie Bullock will be stepping into the starting lineup in place of Dexter Strickland, who tore his ACL against Virginia Tech and will miss the season. Strickland was Carolina’s best perimeter defender (though Bullock, who has won three defensive player of the game awards from the Carolina coaching staff, is no slouch). “You can teach someone the defensive principles to be a better team defender and I think Reggie’s done a better job of learning those. Now, we’re throwing him another curveball because he’s got to understand now that when you’re playing the two-spot full-time you’ve got to be able to get back and give us defensive balance sometimes as well,” North Carolina head coach Roy Williams said. “The one thing he’s really improved on is his offensive rebounding … Now, he can’t get (to the offensive boards) quite as much because he’s got to be able to get back.”
Bullock normally shoots three’s well but he’s gone cold from three and so have the Tar Heels. In the last six games, Bullock has shot just 8-of-27 from three (29.6%) and Carolina has shot 28%. In the first 13 games, he shot 26-of-61 (42.6%) and the team shot 39.1 percent. He’s just 1-of-10 shooting (0-of-4 from three) in two career games against N.C. State, although he has played a total of 28 minutes in the two games. Obviously, he’ll need to do more this time around.
Random stat(s): Lorenzo Brown is averaging 6.9 assists per game, making him the first N.C. State player to average more than 4.6 in a season since Chris Corchiani in 1991 (9.6). …. Kendall Marshall currently has the best career assist-turnover ratio in Carolina history (2.8). Ty Lawson, not surprisingly, is second (2.78). Third and fourth? King Rice (2.4) and Matt Doherty (2.3). Ed Cota and Raymond Felton aren’t in the top five. … N.C. State has shot a higher percentage in five losses (47.8%) than it has in five wins (47.7%). … Usually, more offensive rebounds means more missed shots, which is good for a defense. But Carolina is 3-3 when opponents have more offensive rebounds and 11-0 when they Carolina has more offensive rebounds.
Prediction: North Carolina 87, N.C. State 79
Last week: 7-5
Season: 82-31 (19-12 ACC)