After winning three consecutive ACC games, the North Carolina men’s basketball team (8-5, 3-3 ACC) put together one of its most complete performances of the season in a loss to Florida State on Saturday.
Now, with a 7 p.m. home game against Wake Forest (3-5, 0-5) looming on Wednesday, the Tar Heels will look to carry over some of their successes from Tallahassee and clean up some mistakes. Here are three keys for UNC to come away with the win and push above the .500 mark in ACC play.
Continue spacing the floor
It’s a lot easier to win when you’ve got guards who can knock down 3-point shots consistently. And for UNC, not being able to find a shooter has held the team back all year.
But on Saturday, for the first time this year, the Tar Heels knocked down double-digit shots from beyond the arch. First-year Kerwin Walton — by far UNC’s most consistent shooter this year — notched a career-high 14 points, 12 of which came from deep. First-year guard RJ Davis tied his career-high 16 points on an efficient clip, knocking down 6-9 from the field and 2-3 from beyond the arch.
Saturday’s game was a rare occurrence for a UNC team that has heavily relied on its bigs all year, with guards accounting for 48 of its 75 points against FSU. Wake Forest doesn’t have the same level of talent and size in the post as the Seminoles, so the Tar Heels should be able to get more production from their bigs on Wednesday.
If UNC continues to get plus play from its perimeter players, better spacing on the offensive end should serve the Tar Heels well against the Demon Deacons.
Cut down on turnovers
Saturday was the second straight game UNC had a positive assist-to-turnover ratio. That’s the only time that has happened all season.
While UNC still managed to distribute the ball at a higher level than previously, turnovers were still an issue, as the Seminoles scored 22 points off turnovers and 18 in fast breaks. Florida State managed to steal momentum from UNC and go on long runs partially due to these turnover issues.
Going into a game against a Wake Forest team that is overmatched on paper, the Tar Heels should be able to pull away for their first comfortable win in ACC play if they put together a clean offensive performance.
The Tar Heels are ranked 204th in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio overall. One sure way for the Demon Deacons to pull off an upset is for UNC to waste possessions with turnovers and allow easy transition buckets.
Dominate the paint
Even after a subpar rebounding performance against Florida State, the Tar Heels are still the top-ranked Power 5 team in total rebounds per game, coming in at third nationally with nearly 44 rebounds per game.
The UNC offense is at its best when its bigs are functioning at a high level, with the quartet of senior Garrison Brooks, sophomore Armando Bacot and first-years Day’Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler composing one of the most intimidating frontcourts in the country.
The Demon Deacons lack the size and athletic ability to keep up with UNC in the paint — their best player, Daivien Williamson, is a 6-foot-2 point guard, and their big rotation is thin — so the Tar Heels should get as many post touches as they can while maintaining a spaced floor.
If the Tar Heels’ guard play on Saturday was any indication of where the team could be moving forward, UNC is set to have a successful back end of its season, with elite post play all but guaranteed moving forward. Wednesday’s matchup will be the first look at whether Saturday’s performance was a mirage or a potential turning point in the season.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.