When the North Carolina men’s basketball team takes the hardwood at PNC Arena for its second matchup of the season with No. 23 N.C. State on Sunday, only a few weeks will have passed from the foes’ first meeting in Chapel Hill.
But the two teams are in two completely different stages of success.
The Wolfpack have won five of their last seven games and are almost guaranteed an NCAA Tournament bid. On the other hand, the Tar Heels have only won two of their last six matchups and are firmly on the bubble.
In order to get back on the right track, North Carolina must pick up a win in a hostile road environment. Here are three keys to a UNC victory in Raleigh:
Feed Bacot and contain Burns
Senior center Armando Bacot is undeniably the glue that holds the Tar Heels together, as he averages just over 17 points and 11 rebounds per game. In North Carolina’s past few matchups, opponents have been hounding the point, which creates little opportunities for the Tar Heels to feed the big man.
“His game allows us to score consistently down low on the post, it gets people in foul trouble, it opens up everything for everybody else," head coach Hubert Davis said at a press conference on Friday. "For us to be the best that we can be, Armando has to be great,”
N.C. State has a powerful big man of its own in graduate transfer D.J. Burns Jr.
Making the offense flow with a paint presence like Burns will be no easy task, but if the Tar Heels want to leave Raleigh with a Quad 1 win, they must navigate around him and find ways to score if Bacot is unable to convert.
Drown out the noise
Inevitably, any matchup against N.C. State is going to stir up drama and emotion. However, if the Tar Heels want to be able to run their game, they must quiet a tough environment.
“It’s a 1 p.m. game on a Sunday. I expect it to be loud,” junior guard Caleb Love said. “The best part for us is seeing them shut up.”
After becoming unranked in the shortest timespan of a preseason No. 1 team, it is evident the Tar Heels struggle with outside pressure. Sweeping the Wolfpack will require good shooting amongst other things, but it also will require focus on the floor.
“I wouldn’t even say it’s a rivalry, it’s just another game,” Love said.
Eliminate unnecessary 3-point attempts and use the bench
The Tar Heels shot just 16.1 percent from behind the arc in the loss to Miami on Monday, and the team currently ranks last among the ACC in 3-point field goal percentage. Meanwhile, N.C. State ranks third in the conference for 3-point defense.
North Carolina must find effective ways to score instead of throwing up ill-advised 3-point attempts.
The Tar Heels must also use the bench to their advantage and not solely rely on the starting five to put points on the board. Junior forward Puff Johnson and first-year forward Jalen Washington have proven that they can create and capitalize off of scoring opportunities.
If the guards are not playing to their full potential, Davis must bench players — who can create opportunities for the Tar Heels to keep the game close — more time on the court.
“I am continuing to look at having different combinations out there that might work better when teams are really packing the paint against us,” Davis said. “We’ll practice more of that today and tomorrow and we’ll see that Sunday.”
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