UNC Basketball Game Preview: ACC Tournament Championship Tar Heels vs. Florida State


The North Carolina Tar Heels got by the fifth seeded Wolfpack of NC State yesterday in a thrilling semifinal match up.  They will face the Florida State Seminoles in the ACC Tournament championship game.  I desperately wanted Duke to beat FSU, don’t freak out just yet, hear me out.  I wanted Duke so we could beat the crap out of Austin Rivers again.  I don’t want the few Dook fans I will allow in my presence to be able to say “We’re 1-1 against UNC this year whatever man” or “Duke’s got just as good of a chance to cut down the nets as Carolina so what”.  But maybe this is just as good.  Typically, nothing short of a national title is better than beating the Blue Devils.  But this year, after that 33 point massacre the Tar Heels suffered at the hands of the Seminoles, maybe evening this up at 1-1 against them on the season and beating them when the spotlight is large in March is just as good.  After all it’s never bad to go into the big dance riding your conferences outright regular season and tournament championships, especially with a little bloody revenge to top it off right?

FSU defeated Duke in the semi finals in a thrilling match up of #2 vs #3.  With a 23-9 overall, 12-4 ACC record coming in, FSU showed everybody this year they are for real, when nobody expected them to be.  A regular season win against Carolina.And two wins against the Blue Devils with one at Duke, proved FSU can beat anybody.  The Heels and Seminoles played just one game in the regular season (another reason why conference expansion is a bad idea in my opinion, but we’ll talk about that in the off-season).  The Seminoles destroyed UNC in an embarrassing 33 point blowout that started the wake-up process for Carolina.  Back in Chapel Hill in game 2 of the season series the Heels evened the score, well sort of with a

What to expect:  Expect this one to be a slug fest with a ton at stake for both teams.  Aside from being crown the ACC Tournament Champions being a prime motivating factor in this one.  Both teams have their immediate futures at stake today.  A North Carolina win almost guarantees them a #1 seed in the big dance and Selection Sunday merely becomes a confirmation rather than a question with a victory.  FSU stands to climb up everybody’s bracket and has a ton to gain on Selection Sunday if they can pull off another upset against UNC.  A win would be a huge validation for the Seminoles.  Two wins against the Tar Heels and two against Duke would be a great resume for FSU.  Then you have the revenge and pride factors.  UNC doesn’t get blown out by 33 points against anybody, especially Florida State, except they did and it was really embarrassing the entire game.  No matter what anybody, Roy Williams, the UNC players, whoever, the Heels do have revenge on their minds today against the Seminoles.

Both teams will have a lot to play for and everybody will be going at 110%.  Expect this one to be ugly offensively for both teams in the early going, favoring the Seminoles.  I see a low scoring first half with both teams tired from yesterday’s exhausting semi-finals games.  The Heels could be in a little better position with players like James Michael McAdoo, Reggie Bullock and perhaps PJ Hairston playing large roles, all players who haven’t played such roles all season long.

The game is so hard to imagine without the knowledge of John Henson’s status.  UNC is a completely different team without Henson than they are with him.  They are a vastly better rebounding and interior defending team with him to say the least.  Offensively he takes pressure off of Tyler Zeller, giving the Heels a second post up option and a player who can knock down the mid range jumper who thrives in transition.  The Heels will miss Henson to say the least if they don’t have him. The fact is your looking at two entirely different basketball games, so let’s look at both shall we.

Assuming Henson does play today: The Seminoles are a decent rebounding team, third in the ACC averaging 36.9 per game.  As long as Carolina can neutralize Bernard James the only Seminole averaging more than 4.5 rbs game, they should be able to control the glass.  With Henson in the lineup, that shouldn’t be too difficult of a task to manage.  What FSU lacks in terms of players who contribute a vast amount of rbs individually like Carolina has.  They make up for in team hustle and a unit wide commitment to crashing the boards as a team.   That task is theoretically much harder against the Tar Heels who are very big on the wings with the 6-7 Reggie Bullock, 6-6 Harrison Barnes and 6-5 (with girth) PJ Hairston.  Add in the twin towers inside of Tyler Zeller and John Henson, on paper, the nations leading rebounding team the Tar Heels should still crush the Seminoles.

I believe with Henson in the lineup, assuming he’s not severely limited (in which case Roy would probably sit him out hoping for a full recovery by the NCAA Tournament) the Heels will in fact do just that and dominate the glass.  When UNC dominates the glass, they get the tempo they want and that’s what it’s all about for Carolina offensively.  With or without Henson (still pretending he’s playing here) nobody can stop the Heels when they control the tempo and with Henson they will do both.

The defensive end is still Henson’s strength and it’s where UNC missed him the most against NC State.  As one of just two players to win the ACC Defensive Player of the Year Award twice, his impact on that end of the court cannot be overstated or underestimated.  With Henson the Heels will deny penetration from Michael Snaer and force him and the rest of the Seminole offense to stay out of the paint and take lower percentage shots.

Reversing course and assuming Henson doesn’t play today: Without Henson the dominate rebounding and high tempo offense I described above is no given.  Against NC State the Heels struggled to get their tempo the entire game.  If Zeller and McAdoo can stay out of foul trouble against FSU.  The Heels will still have the overall advantage on the boards, but that advantage has shrunk considerably without Henson.  If this game gets into a half court contest and UNC isn’t able to go on their usual spurts, pouring on a ton of points before the opponent realizes what just happened.  In that scenario, FSU has a real shot at pulling off the upset.

Defensively the pressure on McAdoo here to show he can stay out of foul trouble and defend the painted area without putting too much pressure on Zeller to help him.  The spacing of the defense relies on everyone defending their man and the front line crashing the boards and taking off when the other way when the rebound is secured.  None of this can happen if McAdoo plays like the overwhelmed freshman that struggled through most of the season.  The Heels need the McAdoo that showed up against Maryland in the opening round of the tournament.

The Heels will not control the boards or get the tempo for nearly as long as they want without Henson as they would with him in the lineup.  UNC will not force FSU into a jump shooting team as defense becomes a concern in the painted area.  Things open up for Snaer and he has a big game if Hensons not around to control things defensively.  The Heels grind out another win but a Seminole upset wouldn’t surprise me that much if John Henson doesn’t suit up.

Keys to the game: Everything becomes a whole lot easier if John Henson plays today obviously.  Either way the Heels need to figure out a way to do a better job defensively and avoid getting in foul trouble.

Tempo is the other biggest key against FSU.  UNC struggled to get the tempo up against NC State all game long.  They need big games on the glass from Tyler Zeller and James Michael McAdoo.  They must stay out of foul trouble and hit the glass hard if Henson sits.  To avoid a huge drop off in the rebounding department it’s going to take the entire team if they are in fact without Henson.  Harrison Barnes and Reggie Bullock specifically need to be active attacking the glass and use their size advantages to help out the bigs.  Kendall Marshall is rightfully given a ton of credit for igniting the Heels high octane offense.  But Marshall never gets the ball in the first place to start that offense without the Heels being their typical, dominate selves off the backboards.  If the Heels can control the boards and force their tempo for even half this game, Carolina will walk away the ACC Tournament Champions.

Final Score and Player of the game predictions: UNC wins a hard fought game in this one, again coming back in the second half after a seesaw, back and forth match up in the games first 30 minutes.  I’m putting all my chips in on this one, freshman James Michael McAdoo will play an expanded role whether John Henson ends up playing or not.  Roy Williams will be very careful with his ACC Defensive Player of the Year who will be so critical in the big dance no matter what.

That again puts the spotlight on McAdoo and I think he shines against FSU.  McAdoo has been playing much better basketball over the last 10 or so games and had his best game of the season against Maryland when Henson went down.  The freshman has show a lot of promise and his freakish athleticism has started to shine through and I think it bursts out in a big way today.  In his breakout performance, a game everyone will be able to point to as the game that James Michael McAdoo became a force he puts up 21 points and grabs 12 rebounds in a 74-68 Tar Heel victory for the ACC Tournament Championship.

Selection Sunday: After the game check back with us at Keeping It Heel for our reactions and game review.  And later tonight the seeds are handed out and we’ll have all our reactions on the tournament field.

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