With the regular season almost finished, the North Carolina men's basketball team has yet to have a signature win against one of the top five teams in the ACC.
That opportunity may come on Saturday against the University of Louisville, barring any late postponements from the Cardinals, who have had five of their last six games postponed, including Wednesday's game against Syracuse.
Despite not having played since Feb. 1, Louisville sits fourth in the ACC at 6-3 in conference play. Toppling the Cardinals would be North Carolina's biggest win by far this season — here's how the Tar Heels can do it.
Rebound, rebound, rebound
Despite not regularly starting any player taller than 6-foot-8, the Cardinals are one of the best rebounding teams in the ACC. They come in second in rebounding margin at 6.1, average the most defensive rebounds of anyone in the conference at 28.1 a game and the third most total rebounds at 38.3.
Rebounding has been North Carolina's saving grace during a season in which almost every player not named Armando Bacot has struggled with efficiency. North Carolina is first in total and offensive rebounds in the conference at 42.7 and 15 a game, respectively.
They have four players averaging more than five rebounds a game, and Bacot, Garrison Brooks and Day'Ron Sharpe are all grabbing more than two offensive boards a game. Scoring off misses has been one of the only consistent ways for the Tar Heels to score this season, and they need to be able to create second chance opportunities against a team that's good at preventing them.
Early offense, early execution
North Carolina struggles on nearly any offensive play that isn't a putback dunk. This is not news to anyone who has watched multiple games this season, but it's important because Louisville allows the third fewest points per game in the ACC, at just 64.2.
Going up against Virginia and Clemson, first and second respectively in points allowed, the Tar Heels looked completely out of sorts, unable to effectively feed the post.
Only Sharpe scored double figures against Clemson, and no one in Carolina Blue managed to reach that mark against the Cavaliers. UNC just doesn't have the playmaking to run a strong half court offense right now, let alone against an elite defensive team. The Tar Heels need to get back to what has historically worked for the program — score as quickly as possible before the Cardinals' defense has time to set up.
Caleb Love registered a career-high nine assists last game against Northeastern, and bringing that improved playmaking into the game on Saturday will be vital.
Guards need to get on their man
The perimeter defense has been very hit or miss this year for North Carolina. Love has the tools to be a plus defender at this level, and there are games where his length and quickness are in clear focus as he hounds opposing ball handlers, but his technique and effort can vary game to game.
RJ Davis is just too small to be much of a deterrent, and Kerwin Walton still looks a step out of place and a second late on rotations. Andrew Platek is likely the best option right now for putting on smaller guards.
The Cardinals are led by their star graduate transfer, Carlik Jones, who comes into this game averaging over 17 points per outing, along with almost five assists. The 6-foot-1 guard is the focal point of nearly everything Louisville does on offense, and if the game grinds down to a defensive slugfest, stopping him needs to be the priority.
North Carolina has had success in the past placing Leaky Black on the opposing team's star scorer, but he's usually covering wings, not small guards. And if Black covers Jones, that leaves a small player to try and cover the 6-foot-5 David Johnson, who scored a career-high 24 points in Louisville's last game against Georgia Tech. Some combination of UNC's rotation guards needs to step up and make life difficult for Jones without needing to be covered for.