Coming off of its fourth win in five games, the North Carolina men's basketball team will be looking to avenge last month's 79-76 loss to N.C. State when the Tar Heels face the Wolfpack in Chapel Hill on Saturday at 2 p.m.
Over the last week and a half, the Wolfpack has been dealing with coronavirus-related issues leading up to Saturday's game. Along with the players stuck in COVID-19 protocols, senior guard Braxton Beverly and redshirt sophomore Manny Bates have been dealing with injuries.
N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts said in a Zoom press conference Friday that although the team has been dealing with several positive cases throughout the program, he expects to have more players available against UNC than when he had nine players available against St. Louis earlier this season. Keatts also said Bates would be going through live action in practice on Friday to determine his availability for Saturday's game.
With so many elements of this game up in the air due to how COVID-19 is affecting the Wolfpack, here are three of the key aspects of the action on the court to keep an eye on for UNC.
Continue dominating the boards
In UNC's first matchup against N.C. State earlier this season, the Tar Heels had four players grab at least six boards each, while the Wolfpack only had two players do the same, one of whom was the now-injured Bates.
Bates is also leading N.C. State in rebounds per game this season, averaging 5.7 boards per contest. The Tar Heels have four players — Armando Bacot, Garrison Brooks, Day'Ron Sharpe and Leaky Black — averaging more rebounds than Bates this year.
North Carolina is one of the best rebounding teams in the country, and its 18 offensive boards were a huge reason why UNC was able to hang around with N.C. State last month despite playing poorly on the defensive end of the floor. Those 18 offensive rebounds helped lead to 17 second chance points for the Tar Heels in December.
Big Kerwin Walton game
One factor in this matchup that could see North Carolina blow the Wolfpack out on Saturday is the emergence of first-year guard Kerwin Walton.
Walton scored just three points in 12 minutes off the bench against N.C. State in December. Since that game, UNC head coach Roy Williams has called on Walton to be a regular in the starting lineup, and the young sharpshooter has responded well.
Since earning the starting role six games ago, Walton is averaging 10.7 points per game on 42.1 percent shooting from 3-point range. If Walton can add an extra level of scoring on Saturday to the same UNC offense that originally put up 76 points against the Wolfpack on only two made 3-pointers, the Tar Heels have a chance to really run up the score in Chapel Hill.
Leaky Black's defense
Black has spent the last few games reminding UNC fans why Williams believes he has the potential to be the best perimeter defender in the ACC.
And Black's three steals against the Wolfpack the last time these two teams faced each other helped jumpstart North Carolina's pacing. The Tar Heels thrived in the fast break, coming away with 19 points in last month's contest against N.C. State.
With Keatts having limited options on his bench to turn to this weekend, it's possible Black could have a field day on the defensive end of the floor against one of the Wolfpack's rotation players, and that could be enough for the junior wing to help push the tempo in transition and put some points on the board for UNC.
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