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Preview: Three keys to victory for UNC men's basketball matchup against Louisville

Graduate guard Cameron Johnson attempts a layup in the first half against Louisville in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte.

Graduate guard Cameron Johnson attempts a layup in the first half against Louisville in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte.

Saturday’s 100-80 flattening of N.C. State marks the best performance from the North Carolina men's basketball team in Hubert Davis’ inaugural season as head coach. 

It was a seemingly perfect night. There was a packed home crowd, an appearance from none other than Michael Jordan and a halftime ceremony honoring former head coach Roy Williams. Top that off with a 20-point win over an in-state foe, and you couldn't get a much better afternoon in the Dean E. Smith Center.

Now, with a looming matchup against the Louisville Cardinals, the Tar Heels have to hit the road, where things have been much less glamorous. While Saturday’s win propelled North Carolina to a 12-0 record at home this season, the team is just 3-6 outside of Chapel Hill.

Here are three things the Tar Heels should keep in mind if they hope to take down another team in red in the KFC Yum! Center on Tuesday.

Collaborative defense

A laser-focused team approach will be key to keeping the Cardinal offense at bay. Louisville’s Noah Locke and Malik Williams, both averaging roughly 10 points a game, lead the Cardinals' balanced offensive attack. 

However, Louisville’s also proven that on any given night, any one of their players can step up and deliver a big-time performance. Take El Ellis’ 18 points off the bench against No. 9 Duke on Saturday, for example.

The Tar Heels can’t just cover their eyes and hope to find senior wing and defensive specialist Leaky Black patching the holes on defense. For North Carolina to be effective against this Louisville offense, hedging and help defense need to be at the forefront of every player’s mind.

In Saturday’s win over the Wolfpack, the Tar Heels tied their season-high nine blocks, six of those coming from junior big man Armando Bacot. The Cardinals aren’t a great shooting team but are hard to beat when they are able to attack the paint. The Tar Heels need to utilize their size in Black, Bacot and graduate forward Brady Manek to combat the Louisville drive.

Protect the boards

While honing in on Louisville’s Locke and Williams should be a defensive priority, the Tar Heels also need to pay attention to the Cardinals’ magnets at the boards. Williams ranks third in the ACC in rebounds per game, and will surely be a threat on the glass on Tuesday night. 

North Carolina needs to locate and put a body on Williams with every shot, to limit his presence on the boards as much as possible. Essentially, the Tar Heels need to do just what they did with N.C. State’s Dereon Seabron on Saturday.

Seabron ranks second in the ACC in rebounds with an average of nine per game, but the Tar Heels held him to just three on Saturday.

UNC went on to outrebound the Wolfpack 29-20 on the defensive glass, preventing many much-needed second chance points for N.C. State. Taking this same approach to Louisville on Tuesday will be key to controlling the game.

Sharing the ball

In the words of Davis in Saturday’s postgame press conference, UNC has “got to get back to sharing the basketball.”

While this past week has put UNC’s shooting inconsistency on display, the Tar Heels have found consistent success when they make ball movement a priority. UNC is 7-0 when Caleb Love has five or more assists, and 8-0 when Leaky Black has three or more assists.

Saturday’s win was a prime example of that. Against N.C. State, four players on UNC’s squad were in double figures, and four players posted three or more assists. Coincidence? Probably not.

While Saturday night saw the Tar Heels put on a shooting clinic, going 55 percent from the field and 56 percent from behind the arc, UNC can’t just rely on getting hot. North Carolina needs to spread the floor, work its ball screens and find the “better shot” Davis has been emphasizing all season.


@dthsports |  

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Shelby Swanson

Shelby Swanson is the 2023-24 sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as an assistant sports editor and senior writer. Shelby is a junior pursuing a double major in media and journalism and Hispanic literatures and cultures.