Perhaps the most important game for North Carolina to this point in the season takes place today at 2 pm in Chapel Hill, NC. The Heels take on a super talented UNLV team in the Dean Dome in what’s sure to be an intense battle from start to finish. Carolina desperately need a quality win to add to their 9-3 record before heading into ACC play. I’ve gotten this feeling from Tar Heel nation that everyone is a little uneasy about this game. Carolina’s losses to Butler, Indiana and Texas do not help that cause, but if Roy Williams and company plan on heading into ACC play on a winning streak here’s what needs to happen.
Eliminate Careless Turnovers — This is a no brainer. Half of the reason (at least) that UNC has lost previous games this season has been because they haven’t taken care of the ball. This, of course, starts with point guard Marcus Paige. Paige has been less than stellar when it comes to ball control this season. He’s averaging 4.4 assists per game to 2.5 turnovers per game. Both totals could stand to trend in a more positive direction, but everything would be looked at in perspective if Paige were scoring and at just 7 ppg, he’s not doing enough to make up for it. We know that Paige is capable of distributing the ball effectively without turning it over as we witnessed against McNeese State a week ago. Paige had a Marshall-esque performance tallying up nine assists to zero turnovers. If Paige can duplicate that kind of game and his post players catch the ball cleanly when it’s given to them, then UNC has a great chance of winning.
Dictate the Tempo — UNLV will get out and run just like North Carolina which usually feeds into their game play. However, this isn’t a normal Tar Heel team. This team can’t simply outrun opponents without doing a little bit extra first. Carolina must be able to disrupt UNLV’s flow with high level pressure defense. The wing for Carolina will need to pressure the shooters constantly in order to prevent open looks from three. Anthony Marshall is shooting over 50% from three point range so far this season so guys like Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald will need to pay special attention to him. North Carolina’s bread and butter will be getting out into transition. If the Heels can prevent open jump shots and create loose ball situations, then Carolina will get a lot of opportunity to get easy layups the other way and get to the free throw line.
Stop Anthony Bennett — I mentioned earlier this week that UNLV’s star freshman Anthony Bennett, is averaging just under 20 points per game. That’s a lot of points spoken for that defense must contend with. In order for Carolina to beat UNLV, they MUST stop Bennett. Guys like Reggie Bullock and James Michael McAdoo must be able to limit his shot count and not give him and space to create off the dribble. It’s clear that the Runnin’ Rebels go as Bennett goes. He is scoring close to 25% of the teams total points (79.3) each game. That production must be stopped. Historically, North Carolina has done well against teams that have that one dynamic star and I hope that trend continues this afternoon. Of the shots that Bennett does get and subsequently misses, the forwards must be there to rebound the basketball. North Carolina still ranks third nationally in rebounds per game with 45.8 and that must continue. If Bennett is held anywhere between 10-15 points in the contest, North Carolina has a great opportunity for an upset.
These keys are simple in theory, but can be more difficult to execute in the actual game. I hope the holiday rest did the players well and North Carolina is ready to run and compete for 40 minutes against a very good team. Carolina has a great chance to prove themselves here today and I hope that they are up for the task. Tune into the game at 2:00 PM on ESPN2.