UNC advanced after defeating Maryland in their opening round game of the ACC Tournament. The top seeded North Carolina Tar Heels may be without the services of the ACC Defensive Player of the Year John Henson who is a game time decision after spraining his left wrist against the Terps. The Heels got a strong game from their supporting cast with Henson out and Tyler Zeller in foul trouble against MD. Freshman James Michael McAdoo had the best game of his young college career substituting for Henson and may be counted on to do the same against the Wolfpack if Henson can’t go or is limited. Roy Williams can downplay the conference tournaments importance all he wants, Carolina wants and needs to win this thing. After capturing the ACC regular season title, UNC crawled it’s way up to the #4 spot in the national rankings. They need to follow it up with a ACC Tourney win in order to secure a #1 seed on Selection Sunday.
NC State advanced after upsetting Virginia on Saturday. I predicted the Cavaliers to win that game but I have to admit I’m happy Carolina gets another opportunity to blow out State this season. Ever since little Scott Wood made his idiotic comments after UNC blew State out in Chapel Hill stating that the feeling of the loss was comparable to being cheated on by your spouse (Wood=never married or engaged by the way). He continued to embarrass himself by saying that the loss was 90% State playing bad and 10% UNC playing well. The rematch was my second favorite game of the regular season to the finale at Duke when UNC went into NC State and beat them at home, shutting Wood down in the process.
State finished with a 22-11 overall, 9-7 ACC record in the regular season, earning them the #5 seed in the conference tournament. I’ve said all season long that I think State is a better team than they get credit for. They shoot the ball well, play good team defense and have a pretty versatile lineup. An ugly, four game losing streak in February hurt them pretty bad but they did recover by closing out the regular season with four straight wins before upsetting Virginia. State does a nice job of making teams play at their tempo. Something that will be key against Carolina because they do not have the necessary depth or the athletes to run with UNC for long.
What to expect: I expect an inspired Tar Heel team to hit the court today. UNC fell into some bad habits in the first half against MD and allowed them to hang around for too long. The Heels learned a hard lesson in last years ACC Tourney after expending a ton of energy winning its first two games, it was obvious UNC had nothing left in the tank against Duke in the tourney’s championship game. UNC looked like a completely different team after halftime and that’s the team I expect to see all game long today. Maybe I’m an optimist, maybe I’ve convinced myself of this for my sanity, or maybe I just like to throw around unfounded speculation. But I think junior big man John Henson will play in this one and show everybody that he’s okay. The Heels didn’t need him against MD so there was no need to push it. Roy was vague after the game about Hensons condition and airing on the side of caution is the right way to go in this situation. I see a big game in store for all of Carolinas big men, look for Tyler Zeller to bounce back from a quiet game against MD. Henson should be itching at the prospect to make something happen after watching most of the opening round from the sideline. And freshman James Michael McAdoo came extremely close to that breakout game I’ve predicted for his against MD with 14 points and 8 rebounds. McAdoo has improved his play consistently over the last month or so and now that he’s got some confidence I expect his play to only get better and better.
Carolina will need to focus on their perimeter defense against State who shoot 46.3% from the field leading the conference. Shutting down Scott Wood again who is the teams biggest perimeter threat will be Reggie Bullock’s biggest task of the day again after doing a great job in their last match up. CJ Leslie leads the Wolfpack big men who suddenly may have a lot more room to operate in the paint if Henson does in fact miss the game.
Keys to the game: Tempo is huge in this one. Everybody knows the Tar Heels are going to try and beat you up by dominating the boards and getting into the fast break early and often. State is structured similar to Duke, they can shoot the rock and are a decent execution team, but they won’t beat anybody with their athletes. They will try to force Carolina into a slow tempo game and will have to do just that in order to have any semblance of an opportunity to win this game. Freshman James Michael McAdoo’s role will be huge regardless of whether or not John Henson plays. Even if Henson, who is listed as a game time decision does give it a go, expect Carolina to be careful with their star. Winning the ACC Tournament is important, vital to UNCs hopes for a #1 seed, but it’s not as important as the NCAA Tournament. If Henson isn’t 100%, McAdoo will see an increased role. The freshman big shined against Maryland with an increased role. If the worst case scenario regarding Henson ends up happening, McAdoo will have to continuing playing the way he did against the Terps.
Outside shooting has not been a strength of North Carolina this season. Lately however they have been shooting the rock better from downtown. PG Kendall Marshall has got into the act the last five games and if you didn’t know any better you’d think he was an offensive threat judging by those last five contests. Along with Marshall, Reggie Bullock has been shooting the ball better in his last few games. PJ Hairston FINALLY looked good for the first time in what seems like years against Maryland. If he can get his shot going, it would provide Carolina with a weapon it hasn’t had, but sorely needed all season long.
What the numbers say: The numbers validate my position that NC State is a better team than they are generally given credit for being. State is first in the conference in shooting at 46.3%. Second to only the Tar Heels in assists and rebounding, while ranking third in the conference in scoring at 73.6ppg. They also rank third in scoring defense in the conference, again, a pretty well balanced, efficient basketball team that can sneak up on you if they are taken lightly. Statistically speaking, though State is better against the conference in the rankings than most would think. They still don’t stack up to the Tar Heels and their only advantage is in the shooting department.
Final Score and Player of the game predictions: After a quiet opening game, it’s time for the ACC Player of the Year to show his stuff in this one. Tyler Zeller goes off and scores 27 points, grabs 13 rebounds for the player of the game honors. Tar Heels roll in this one 88-65.