As the Nov. 25 tipoff date draws near, the preseason No. 16 North Carolina men’s basketball team will have several new faces take the court in its pre-Thanksgiving contest with College of Charleston in Chapel Hill.
The series between the Tar Heels and Cougars has historically been a deadlock. In six total matchups, UNC is exactly .500 against Charleston, with the last head-to-head being a 74-69 home victory for the Tar Heels in 2010.
A lot is at stake for the Tar Heels this time around, as it will be their only chance to get their new lineup game action before heading to Asheville for the Maui Invitational Tournament on Nov. 30.
Here are three keys for UNC to find success in Wednesday's matchup:
Go Big or Go Home
One of the hallmarks of head coach Roy Williams’ offensive system is its ability to roll out multiple athletic big men who can run the floor, rebound, and score inside the paint. However, Williams hasn’t been able to truly play his style since he had Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks, and Tony Bradley during the Tar Heels’ National Championship run in 2017.
With veteran experience and a wave on incoming talent, that’s all supposed to change this year.
Senior forward Garrison Brooks — the preseason ACC Player of the Year — and sophomore center Armando Bacot are back for another year, and five-star recruits Day’Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler will make their debut on Wednesday. With this combination of experienced and young talent, UNC's depth down low is the best it's been in years.
Charleston, on the other hand, is replacing most of its interior production from last season. The Cougars' best returning player in the post is senior big Osinachi Smart, who finished last season with an average of 4.7 rebounds per game. The Cougars also added Lorenzo Edwards, a graduate transfer from St. Joseph's, who started 20 games last season for the Hawks.
All of the forwards on UNC’s roster should expect to get some playing time on Wednesday, and it will be important to watch who makes an early impression as the Tar Heels quickly move toward the heart of their schedule.
Test Out the New Guard Rotation
North Carolina’s biggest question mark heading into the season is the guard position. This position group had the most turnover from last year, though that might not necessarily be a bad thing. Cole Anthony, Brandon Robinson, Christian Keeling, and Jeremiah Francis — all of who started at some point last season — had their UNC careers come to a close in March.
With the exodus of perimeter players, UNC has essentially hit the reset button. First-years Caleb Love, RJ Davis, Puff Johnson and Kerwin Walton will likely all play minutes early on and make an impact in what should be a much more efficient offense for the Tar Heels. Add in sophomore Anthony Harris — who spent much of last year recovering from injury — and the Tar Heel backcourt will look completely different from last year’s lineup.
Charleston, on the other hand, boasts a very experienced backcourt rotation. Redshirt senior Brevin Galloway, the Cougar’s top returning scorer, was named to the preseason All-CAA second team. He will look to lead his squad from the perimeter alongside Payton Willis, a graduate transfer from Minnesota who earned a preseason All-CAA honorable mention.
One of the more intriguing matchups throughout the game should be how UNC’s younger guards, especially Love, deal with Charleston’s more experienced lineup.
Everything Looks Better When…
…the ball goes in the basket. It’s one of Williams' favorite sayings for a reason, and it helps explain a major part of why last season was such a struggle for the Tar Heels.
The Tar Heels shot an abysmal 42 percent from the field last year, slotting them 266th in the country. The picture gets even more bleak when looking at three-point percentage, as UNC hit just 30.4 percent of its shots from beyond the arc, putting them between Texas Southern and George Mason in last years ratings. The inability to hit shots was a key ingredient in the Tar Heels' sub-.500 campaign.
North Carolina's barrage of incoming talent won't make an impact if it can’t take — and make — more efficient shots. In order to pull away from Charleston and gain momentum before heading to Asheville, the Tar Heels will have to prove their offense is much more efficient than the one that struggled through ACC play last year.
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