North Carolina at Miami
North Carolina (21-4, 8-2) at Miami (15-8, 6-4), 8:00 PM, ESPN/ESPN3
This is a huge game for both teams. North Carolina can’t afford to drop another ACC game as the Tar Heels are tied for first with Florida State and Duke, both of which have a head-to-head edge. And since the Tar Heels have yet to have a really good road performance, now is as good a time as any. If Miami loses, the Hurricanes might have to win out to make the NCAA Tournament. The selection committee should take into account that they didn’t have Reggie Johnson for the first half of the season, but that’s not a given. And a loss would give Miami nine losses this year and 6-5 in the league with games at N.C. State and Maryland and a home rematch with Florida State remaining. That’s three more potential losses. Not to mention that these Miami upperclassmen have never beaten North Carolina, despite a number of close games in the past few years.
Stat to watch: The three-point line. Before ACC play, Miami’s opponents were shooting 35.9% from three. But in league play, the Hurricanes have allowed just 29.5% from three (31.5% at home and 28.2% on the road). Maybe it’s luck to a degree, or improved perimeter defense. But with the way Carolina’s been shooting lately it likely won’t matter. The Tar Heels have made just 2-of-16 three’s in the last two games and are shooting just 28.4% in ACC play (34.6% overall). At one point, they missed 11 in a row spanning those two games. After losing Dexter Strickland for the year to a knee injury, Carolina made 23-of-60 three’s in its next four games (38.3%). So it’s not as if they can’t make them, but with P.J. Hairston and Harrison Barnes nursing injuries and Reggie Bullock having to take on more responsibilities and playing time, their best three-point shooters have been neutralized. It’s had a very bad effect on Carolina’s offensive balance, and it’s going to come back and bite them repeatedly if they can’t get it fixed.
Miami hasn’t been nearly as good at shooting three-pointers this year as it has been in the past. The Hurricanes are shooting just 35.3% on the year (not bad) but just 30.4% in ACC play. Miami’s actually shooting worse at home from three (29.5%) than on the road (31%). It hasn’t stopped Miami from shooting them, though – they Hurricanes have averaged 23.3 attempts in the last four games despite shooting 29% in that span. But Miami has a history of heating up against the Tar Heels, particularly outside the Smith Center. In Chapel Hill, Miami has shot just 17-of-71 (23.9%) from three since 2009 (three games) but at home or a neutral site, Miami has hit 33-of-83 (39.8%) in three games against Carolina since ’09. At home in two games (2009 and 2011) Miami hit 24-of-57 three’s (42.1%). Obviously, there’s been some player turnover and Miami has traditionally shot better from three than they have this year, but anything can happen in a game like this.
Most important players: Kenny Kadji, Miami and The Bench, North Carolina. Yes, North Carolina’s entire bench – or what remains of it – will be huge for the Tar Heels tonight. James Michael McAdoo, Stilman White and Justin Watts are pretty much the only healthy bench players left for the Tar Heels, not counting the very seldom-used freshman Desmond Hubert. After Strickland’s injury, in two games (both at home) the bench contributed nicely: 33 points on 13-of-33 shooting (4-of-12 from three), adding 22 rebounds, six assists and six steals in 111 minutes. But in the three games after that (at Wake, at Maryland and home versus Duke) the bench shot just 6-of-26 from the floor (0-of-8 from three) and scored a total of 15 points. They also committed 17 fouls in just 102 minutes, two more fouls than points scored.
That’s not enough, and that’s why it’s fantastic for the Tar Heels that the bench had 11 points in 44 minutes on 4-of-11 shooting against Virginia, adding 10 rebounds, three assists, three steals and just two fouls. Carolina has to have some scoring from that unit, even if it’s as limited as it was against Virginia. Miami is much deeper than the Tar Heels right now and will likely play at least 8-9 players, all of which can give the Hurricanes something offensively.
Miami’s Kenny Kadji will have a tough matchup against North Carolina’s John Henson, but he did in the first meeting as well and still had a team-high 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting. But Henson didn’t record a block in that game, and it’s the only time in ACC play he’s been held without one. Duke’s Ryan Kelly was able to take Henson away from the basket last week and Henson had just one block in that game. Kadji’s perimeter game is very effective, and if Miami decides not to worry about offensive rebounding too much then the Hurricanes could really neutralize Henson’s impact defensively. And Kadji can play effectively from the perimeter, shooting 39% from three in ACC play (45% overall). Kadji’s production has “slipped” a bit the last few games – he missed the Maryland game with a head injury and has averaged 13.3 since his return – but he’s still very good, and he’s a matchup nightmare for the Tar Heels.
Random stat: A Miami player has led the ACC in three-point field goal percentage in four of the last five seasons, but in conference-only stats, no Hurricane is in the top six. In all games, the only Miami player in the top five overall is Malcolm Grant (30.8%). Scott Wood is first at 43.7% and it would take quite a tear for Grant to catch him. Kenny Kadji is 11-of-28 (39%) in league play but hasn’t made the minimum amount to qualify (if he did, he’d still be fifth in league-only stats).
Prediction: North Carolina 78, Miami 74
Last week: 7-4
Season: 107-38 (43-19 ACC)