Updated 01/09/2021 at 1:07 p.m.: UNC's game against Clemson has been postponed after the Tigers confirmed a positive COVID-19 test on their team. Clemson also cancelled its following game against the Syracuse Orange.
Due to the cancellations, North Carolina and Syracuse will now play against each other in Chapel Hill on Tuesday, Jan. 12.
Coming off of four straight games decided by five points or less, the North Carolina men's basketball team will be looking for its third consecutive win on Saturday when the Tar Heels face No. 19 Clemson at home.
At 9-1 through their first 10 games, the Tigers are off to their best start since the 2008-09 season when they rattled off 16 straight victories to open the year. Led by preseason first-team All-ACC forward Aamir Simms, Fordham transfer guard Nick Honor and sophomore shooting guard Al-Amir Dawes, Clemson will be looking to defeat UNC in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the Tigers won in 2002-03 and 2003-04.
Here are the keys to this weekend's contest that could determine if the Tar Heels are able to rebound from last year's 79-76 overtime loss to Clemson.
Controlling the boards
As has been the case in most games this season, North Carolina towers over its upcoming opponent. And for a Tigers team that doesn't have a single player averaging six or more rebounds per game, that's a massive strength for UNC.
The Tar Heels, meanwhile, have four players — Garrison Brooks, Armando Bacot, Leaky Black and Day'Ron Sharpe — averaging six-plus boards per game, including an efficient 8.2 rebounds in less than 20 minutes a night for Sharpe.
Overall, UNC is a top-three team in the country in rebounds per game, while Clemson is tied for No. 237 in the nation, making this disparity in the post a huge factor for North Carolina.
Clemson's well-rounded group
One of Clemson's most impressive attributes of the last three weeks is that the Tigers don't necessarily have to rely on one star to carry them in their biggest games.
In their only loss of the season — a gritty 66-60 defeat on the road to Virginia Tech, the team tied with Clemson for No. 19 team in the latest AP poll, which saw the Hokies make 25 of 31 free throws — Dawes had a game-high 18 points on 5-11 shooting from behind the arc. Simms played nearly 31 minutes and finished the night with a plus-minus of plus-15 in a six-point loss.
Just two weeks later, Clemson took on Florida State, No. 25 in the most recent AP poll, at home and came away with a 77-67 victory — thanks to 15 points from senior guard Clyde Trapp, as well as at least eight points from five other Tigers.
And in its last game before facing UNC, Clemson pulled off a narrow 74-70 overtime win against the N.C. State team that received 16 votes in this week's AP poll. Honor came off the bench to drain five of his six 3-point attempts en route to 21 points against a Wolfpack team that was missing Braxton Beverly.
Case in point: the Tigers' rotation is solid from top to bottom, and the Tar Heels will have to respect their opponent to keep themselves from getting burned on Saturday.
The turnover battle
One of the things Clemson does best is force turnovers, which makes this game a nightmare matchup for North Carolina.
The Tigers are tied for No. 20 in the country in turnovers forced per game (17.9), while UNC is No. 284 in turnovers per game (15.9). First-year guards Caleb Love and RJ Davis have especially struggled with maintaining possession this season, with Love amassing 35 turnovers to 38 assists and Davis piling up 25 turnovers to 26 assists.
In Clemson's three big games from earlier, the Tigers averaged 11.3 turnovers and forced their opponents to lose the ball 15.7 times per game. For a UNC team that's coughed up the ball 16 times or more in seven of its 11 games this year, the Tar Heels could be in trouble if they don't treat every possession with care against Clemson.
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