UNC Basketball: Things to Watch For vs. NC State


On Wednesday, January 14th, at 7:00 PM ET the North Carolina Tar Heels will take on rival North Carolina State.  The Heels are 12-4 (2-1 ACC) and the Wolfpack are 12-5 (3-1 ACC).

The Heels have recently moved up in the AP poll, now ranked 15th after their upset over #5 Louisville in the Dean Dome January 10th.  The Wolfpack are unranked heading into this game with losses to Purdue (by 5), Wofford (by 1), #22 West Virginia (by 14), Cincinnati (by 16), and #3 Virginia (by 10).  And while they are arguably less talented than they were a year ago with the key departure of T.J. Warren, they have played good basketball recently.  January 11th, they upset the #2 Duke Blue Devils on their home court 87-75.

From a quality-wins and overall statistic standpoint, North Carolina as a team has the advantage.  The Heels are 3rd in rebounds per game and 17th in points per game, and have beaten 4 teams that were in the top 25 when they faced them.  North Carolina has the more talented frontcourt, and will have the best player on the court in Marcus Paige when they face off Wednesday.

The Heels should also feel confident as they have played well in Raleigh during Roy Williams’ tenure as head coach at North Carolina.  Williams is 22-2 as UNC head coach against NC State overall and both of his losses came in Raleigh.

In his weekly ACC teleconference, Roy Williams spoke on his recent success against the Wolfpack at N.C. State.

"I think we have been pretty lucky. Last year we were very lucky that we had another couple of seconds on the clock for Marcus’s layup. We felt like we had the game won and Leslie makes a silly foul with two seconds or whatever it was on the clock. Then Warren makes two big free throws to extend the game, but we were lucky at the end. You know, who knows? It changes a great deal. Every two or three years things change over, but we have been fortunate."

But while the Heels outmatch the Wolfpack on paper, the Heels should expect for NCSU to play up to their competition, as they are young and, as they showed against Duke, aren’t easily intimidated – especially on their home court.

N.C. State plays tough defense.  While they don’t cause many turnovers, they are very good defenders on the perimeter.  Against Duke, they held the Blue Devils to 36.9% from the field and 25.9% behind the arc.

Offensively, the team looks to Trevor Lacey for scoring who averages 16.9 points per game.  Point guard Anthony “Cat” Barber is considered the Wolfpack’s key playmaker, and as a sophomore, he can ignite his young team.  He averages 11.4 points and 3.6 assists per game.

With this in mind, here is what you should be on the lookout for during this game.

Jan 5, 2015; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard/forward Pat Connaughton (24) and North Carolina Tar Heels forward Brice Johnson (11) fight for the ball in the first half at Dean E. Smith Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

1) Will North Carolina be able to guard NC State on the perimeter?

The Heels will dominate inside.  If they don’t, its hard to see them beating this Wolfpack team.  NC State’s tallest man is 6’9″, and even though they double teamed Jahlil Okafor in the second half almost every time he got the ball down low in their most recent game against Duke, Okafor still finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds on the game.

On top of that, Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson, and Isaiah Hicks are all playing well inside, relieving pressure from Marcus Paige to do all the scoring.

Unfortunately for the Heels, the Wolfpack are similar to the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame in that most of their scoring comes from the outside.  NC State may go to a small lineup throughout the game to create matchup problems for North Carolina’s big men.  They have proven throughout the year that they can be very efficient from the three-point line, making 10 out of 16 3-pointers in their upset against Duke.

Jan 10, 2015; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Marcus Paige (5) hits the game winning shot as Louisville Cardinals forward/center Chinanu Onuaku (32) and guard Terry Rozier (0) defend in the second half. The Tar Heels defeated the Cardinals 72-71 at Dean E. Smith Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

2) Will the game come down to one possession?

NC State has been in two games decided by one possession all year.  They beat USF by 3 and lost to Wofford by 1.

North Carolina has also been in two games decided by one possession this season.  They have been the last two games played.  The Heels lost to #13 Notre Dame by 1 and defeated #5 Louisville by 1.

In both of these games for the Heels, Marcus Paige had the ball in the closing seconds.  And in both of these games, he had decent looks at the basket; it’s just that one went down, and the other didn’t.

So as for so far this season, both teams are pretty even.  But if NC State fears one man on this North Carolina team when the game comes down to the wire, it is Marcus Paige.  Last year in the PNC Arena, Paige finished with 35 including the game winning lay-up with .9 seconds left in overtime.

It is because of Paige that I feel like North Carolina has the advantage if the game happens to be close at the end of the game.

Jan 10, 2015; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Marcus Paige (5) leaves the court after the game. The Tar Heels defeated the Cardinals 72-71 at Dean E. Smith Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

3)  Is Marcus Paige back?

According to Paige, he is back; according to Coach Williams, he’s not quite there, especially due to his injury he incurred against Louisville.

"One play didn’t kill him on Monday night when we played Notre Dame. His layup that he missed at the end with probably five seconds left in that game was a lot easier than the one he made Saturday. I’m shocked that that’s what he said, so no, I don’t think he’s back. We’re still having to be concerned about his conditioning, be concerned about his plantar fasciitis, trying to hold him out of practices. As I said, one play didn’t destroy my confidence in him on Monday and one play, I don’t think, is going to turn me 180 degrees in the other direction right now. Again, I’m surprised that he supposedly said that."

More from UNC Basketball

In my opinion (which we all know is more important than Paige’s or Williams’), I don’t think he’s back.  And by back, I mean the Preseason All-American Marcus Paige that every Tar Heel fan somewhat unfairly expects.  One shot, make or miss, determines a player’s quality of play.  While Paige is starting to become more aggressive offensively, he is still not shooting particularly well from three (35.2%), and is only shooting 37% from the field in total.

However, if Paige can get off to an early start against the Wolfpack, the Heels should not have to force him to repeat his heroics from a year ago.

While North Carolina fans will be happy with simply a win over rival NC State, they reminisce on last year’s performance in Raleigh and remember that there was nothing better than seeing NC State fans struck with silent disbelief after Paige hit that game winner last year.

You better believe that they want nothing less this go around.