On Monday, the North Carolina men's basketball team won its second matchup against Louisville this season. Now, the team must prepare to face another ACC opponent this week.
North Carolina will travel to Raleigh on Saturday for a matchup at N.C. State University, who the Tar Heels defeated 100-80 in the Dean E. Smith Center last month. The Wolfpack’s season has since been on a downward spiral, as the team has lost five out of its last six games since playing UNC. North Carolina is 4-2 during that stretch, with notable losses to Duke and Pittsburgh.
Here are several keys that could dictate which team emerges victorious in the rivalry matchup.
Armando Bacot taking advantage of his matchup
The Tar Heels have been anchored all season by junior forward Armando Bacot, who leads the team in scoring and rebounding. His expected matchup will be Ebenezer Dowuona, whose 6-foot-11 frame could pose some difficulties.
Dowuona — who averages two blocks per game — missed the Wolfpack’s matchup against Syracuse earlier this month with a lower leg injury that he obtained during the team's loss to UNC.
Saturday provides an opportunity for him to prove himself in another face-off against Bacot, but expect Bacot to stay aggressive in the marquee matchup and put himself in a position for North Carolina to get easy looks inside.
Guarding the 3-point shot
N.C. State has shown a tendency to let it fly from deep, as Wolfpack players have attempted 684 3-pointers thus far in the season. Notably, guard Terquavion Smith has shot from the 3-point range 222 times this season.
North Carolina has attempted 627 three-pointers, with graduate forward Brady Manek being the team leader with 164 attempts.
The Tar Heels are more successful at three-pointers than the Wolfpack — shooting 37.6 percent from the 3-point range compared to 33.8 percent for N.C. State. However, N.C. State's high volume of perimeter shooting is something UNC must recognize, especially because the Tar Heels have allowed opponents to make nearly 35 percent of their triples this season.
The Wolfpack’s injured big men
N.C. State has dealt with its fair share of injuries, especially in the form of forward Manny Bates, who has missed the entire season since suffering an injury in the season-opening game. The Wolfpack has definitely felt the effects of this loss, as Bates led the ACC in blocks and led his team in rebounds in the last season.
Bates is not the only Wolfpack big man who will miss Saturday’s matchup. Bates’ fellow junior forward Greg Gantt is out with an abdominal issue and is not expected to rejoin the lineup until early March. Gantt started in seven games last season and averaged 4.0 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. Though not as significant of a loss as Bates, Gantt serves as yet another big man that the Wolfpack can’t look to for assistance on Saturday.
First-year forward Ernest Ross suffered a fractured right ankle injury last month that will keep him out for the rest of the season. Before his injury, Ross appeared in 14 games for the Wolfpack, where he averaged 1.6 points per game. Ross served as an up-and-coming forward for N.C. State while two of their essential big men were out.
Now, the team is left with only half of their forwards to support them in the paint.
UNC will need to take advantage of Bacot’s matchup and N.C. State’s missing talent and guard the 3-point line to be successful in its second matchup against the Wolfpack on Saturday. The team will need to pick up another win to bolster its NCAA Tournament chances.
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