North Carolina at Wake Forest
North Carolina (18-3, 5-1) at Wake Forest (11-10, 2-5), 9:00 PM, ESPNU
North Carolina hasn’t really had a good road performance from start to finish all year, and the closest to that was at Kentucky (which they lost). The Tar Heels could really use a dominant road win. Wake Forest started off ACC play well and have shown flashes of being a decent – or at least competitive – team. Then they’ve been terrible in other games. According to Ken Pomeroy, they’ve had their best defensive efficiency mark of the year (Boston College) and their worst (Duke) in a two-day span.
Stat to watch: Who controls the paint? Wake Forest has shot over 50% from two-point range in just two ACC games (both of which they lost: at Duke and at Maryland). But the most points in the paint they scored were at Boston College (40), when they attempted a 46 two-pointers, their second-most two-point attempts this year. Wake also has a tendency to get to the foul line: at Duke, they hit 54% of their two’s and got to the line 35 times (making just 24). And at BC, they attempted 20 foul shots, tied for second-most in a league game.
And it’s difficult to score on Wake inside the arc: only Duke (58%) and Florida State (51%) have shot above 50% against Wake inside the arc in league play. FSU had 40 points in the paint at Wake in a win but no other ACC team has scored more than 28. Wake has some effective shot-blockers in Carson Desrosiers and Ty Walker, so it may not be easy to get to the basket and score at will for the Tar Heels, who have averaged 40.3 points in the paint (the fewest they had were 32 against FSU) and shooting 51.4% from inside the arc in league play.
But it’s not easy to score on the Tar Heels in the paint, either: Georgia Tech and Miami had the most points in the paint (36 each) but those were games that Carolina controlled. Carolina’s first three ACC opponents – BC, Miami and FSU – combined to shoot 51% from two-point range. The Tar Heels have allowed just 46-of-122 (37.7%) in the three games since. They’ll need to do that again tonight.
Most important players: C.J. Harris, Wake Forest and Kendall Marshall, North Carolina. It’s interesting: in Wake’s 2010 win in Chapel Hill, Harris had 20 points on 6-of-11 shooting (4-of-7 from three) and was utterly dominant. But in the second meeting that year, he had zero points and played just 14 minutes. In the two games since his debut against the Tar Heels, Harris has shot just 1-of-15 (0-of-3 from three) and scored four points. He’s prone to drawing fouls, and the Tar Heels don’t have a ton of depth on the perimeter anymore. It will be yet another huge challenge for Reggie Bullock to defend Harris; it was the defensive guru Dexter Strickland who harassed Harris into a 1-of-12 performance last year in Chapel Hill.
Kendall Marshall has shown more of a willingness to attack the basket recently, increasing his non-conference average of 4.5 field goal attempts to 6.3 in league play. His two-point attempts have gone up from 2.2 to 4.2 in league play, and he’s gone from shooting 48% from inside the arc to 60%. He’s still not shooting well from three (just 28% on the year and 23% in ACC play) but he’s 2-of-5 in the last three games. He needs to show a willingness to take those shots so that opposing defenses will respect him as a shooter. And against Wake’s shot blockers, he needs to beat the Wake guards off the dribble, draw the help and find a teammate for an easy basket. He’s averaging 12.5 assists and 2.0 turnovers in the last two games after averaging 7.8 assists and 4.8 turnovers in Carolina’s first four league games.
Random stat: Every year the Tar Heels have won a national championship (excluding 1957, when they went undefeated), they have lost to Wake Forest. In three of the national title years (1993, 2005 and 2009) they lost at Wake but in 1982, they lost at home. However, all four losses were to teams that finished ranked from 5 to 18 in the final AP poll and all made the NCAA Tournament. This season would definitely be an exception to the rule that losing to Wake Forest seems to bring about national titles for the Tar Heels, though: the worst record of any Wake team Carolina lost to in a national title year was 21-9 (in 1982 and 1993). In 2005 and 2009, Carolina lost to Wake and those teams had a combined 13 losses. Wake already has 10 losses this year.
Prediction: North Carolina 88, Wake Forest 63
Last week: 12-0
Season: 90-31 (26-12 ACC)