The North Carolina Tar Heels are one of the hottest teams in the country. They’re winners of 9 games in a row, playing great ball as they get ready to make their annual trip to Raleigh to do battle with the other enemy…N.C. State. The Wolfpack are a desperate team who are fighting for their tournament life, so UNC Basketball should expect State’s best effort. With that being said, here’s what the Heels have to do in order to come home victorious.
Contain T.J. Warren: This guy has been a man amongst boys. Warren leads the ACC in scoring (23.3 per game) and he has the ability to completely take over a game. I don’t expect UNC to shut down T.J. but they do need to slow him down, like they did in Chapel Hill. Although he 21 points in the first meeting, Warren got most of those when the game was out of reach. If Carolina can force the others to beat them they should be OK because State doesn’t have the firepower to win without T.J. being a monster.
Stop dribble penetration: During this 9 game winning streak UNC’s defense has been stellar. However, opposing teams have been able to get into the lane and create open looks for their teammates. This would be a great time to fix that little problem. N.C. State’s guard Anthony “Cat” Barber is a tremendous slasher and if he’s able to get into the paint at will, it will open up the floor for T.J. Warren and other Wolfpack shooters. I suspect Ol’ Roy will make State’s guards prove they can hit a jump shot and if they can’t consistently, it will be a long night for the home team.
Win the battle of the boards: Carolina dominated the backboards in the first meeting 52-36 and much of the same will be needed to get a “W” Wednesday night. We all know the problems this team can have shooting the ball (especially from the free throw line) so second chance points will be huge for the Tar Heels as they have been all season long. If they can keep the Wolfpack off the offensive glass, State’s shots in the paint will likely be at a minimal and they will be forced to score from the perimeter. Controlling the defensive boards will also allow UNC to get out and score in transition. If this game becomes an up and down affair, its advantage Carolina.
Leslie McDonald: This guy is the true X-factor for this team. Sure the Tar Heels have won several games during games during this streak with McDonald struggling. But when the 5th year senior plays well, this squad goes to a whole nother level. In the last couple of games, Leslie had found his stroke and the offense has looked so much better because of it. In this contest expect N.C. State to try to take away Marcus Paige as well as double the post, so that should leave plenty of open looks for McDonald. If Leslie can hit his fare share, the entire offense will open up and that makes UNC tough to beat.
Avoid the early knockout: The environment inside of PNC Arena will be big time, No doubt. Combine that with a home team that is fighting for their NCAA tournament lives and a rivalry game – that means Carolina must avoid losing this game in the first few minutes. I’m not as worried as I once was about UNC falling behind, considering they were down 17-2 at Florida State and still managed to win the game. However,no team wants to make a habit of digging out of double-digit holes. Even though N.C. State is no offensive juggernaut, they do have T.J. Warren who can get a bucket at any time. So spotting this team too many points at home is not wise. The Tar Heels are well aware of what this game means to the Wolfpack. I think Heels will match State’s intensity from the tip off and prevent them from landing an early knockout punch.