UNC Basketball: Things to Watch For vs. Florida State


“But that’s what makes this game so much fun,”  Roy Williams shared in his opening statement, still giddy off of the big win in the PNC Arena last week.  “We feel awfully lucky.”

In the Heels’ “weird” win over Wake Forest a few days ago, Coach Williams was satisfied with his team’s performance, even after taking into account the comment deprecating North Carolina’s guard-play.

"I said in the first press conference, I said the biggest thing was that a couple of guys had to step up and be big-time players. And I’ll still say that right now, because from the perimeter, we’re okay. Marcus hasn’t played the way I wanted him to play, or the way he wants to play, but if the big guys give us those kinds of numbers, that’s pretty doggone good."

Whether it has been a nail-biter in an important rivalry game, or an ugly winning effort against a lesser opponent, the Heels are playing some of the best basketball they have played all year – good enough that even Coach Williams isn’t afraid to divulge his positivity.

Saturday, January 24th, the North Carolina Tar Heels will face the struggling Florida State Seminoles in Chapel Hill.  The 15-4 (5-1 ACC) Heels look to extend their four game winning streak in the ACC as they are coming from solid performances in winning efforts against both Virginia Tech (68-53) and Wake Forest (87-71).

But North Carolina has proven this season that while they can compete with anybody, they can also lose to anybody.  Losing efforts to Butler and Iowa, as well as victories over #5 Louisville and #12 OSU attest to that notion.  Plus, injuries to Theo Pinson and Nate Britt along with a previously injured Joel Berry II could leave the Heels a little thin in the backcourt.

This was tweeted after the win over Wake Forest Wednesday.

And though the Seminoles are not as talented as they have been in earlier years (10-9, 2-4 ACC), they tend to be up for the challenge when they step on the same floor as North Carolina.

So with all of this in mind, in order for North Carolina to avoid a sluggish performance against a team they outmatch on paper, the Heels must execute the following keys.

Jan 21, 2015; Winston-Salem, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels forward Kennedy Meeks (3) knocks the ball away from Wake Forest Demon Deacons forward Devin Thomas (2) during the first half at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY

1)  The Heels should expect a fight from Florida State.

Florida State consistently has solid guards.  They are typically disciplined defensively, and are quick and athletic offensively.  The Seminoles’ leading scorers on the year are Aaron Thomas – who has only played in six games – (14.8 ppg) and Montay Brandon (13.2 ppg).  They are both considered guards.

Throwing it back to last season, the Heels needed a complete team effort to defeat the Seminoles.  Florida State took an early lead, UNC fought back led by a great performance by Kennedy Meeks, the ball bounced the Heels’ way on a few possessions, and then Marcus sealed the deal come crunch time.

The Tar Heels should look to take advantage of their superiority in the paint.  The Heels are currently 2nd in the nation in offensive rebounds per game and 10th in the nation in defensive rebounds per game.  North Carolina will have to rely on Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, and Brice Johnson to produce offensively in order to compensate for their potential lack of depth in the backcourt against Florida State.

Jan 18, 2015; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard/forward Justin Jackson (44) shoots as Virginia Tech Hokies guard Devin Wilson (11) and guard Will Johnston (25) defend in the second half. The Tar Heels defeated the Hokies 68-53 at Dean E. Smith Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

2)  Justin Jackson must continue to flourish.

Justin Jackson scored 17 points on 6 of 8 shooting from the floor against Wake Forest.  It was his second consecutive game scoring a personal ACC high (had 16 against Virginia Tech).  He contributed to the Heels’ highest shooting percentage on the season Wednesday (60.3%).

Jackson’s production recently can easily be connected to his increased comfort in the system and confidence on the court.  As the ACC regular season begins to kick into high gear for the Heels with consecutive matchups against Syracuse, #10 Louisville, and #2 Virginia following Florida State, Justin Jackson will need to continue his hot shooting from the perimeter and fearlessness attacking the basket.

But it’s not just the scoring category that Jackson has improved in as the season has gone on.  According to Andrew Carter, Justin Jackson’s increased production in the rebounding statistic could be credited to assistant coach Hubert Davis’ threat of forcing Jackson to babysit his kids.

From the article in the tweet above:

"“Coach Davis actually told me if I don’t get five or more rebounds, then I’ve got to babysit his kids,” Jackson, a 6-foot-8 freshman forward, said Sunday after he finished with seven rebounds in a victory against Virginia Tech."

Look for Justin Jackson to step up and be a primary scorer for the Heels against Florida State, especially since FSU’s defensive attention will most likely be focused on stopping North Carolina’s post players.

Jan 14, 2015; Raleigh, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels forward J.P. Tokoto (13) is congratulated by teammates Isaiah Hicks (22) Kennedy Meeks (3) and Justin Jackson (44) after a steal and basket during the second half against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at PNC Arena. The Tarheels won 81-79. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports


3)  Get the ship to shore.

The best advice I have ever received – and this pertains to life as well as basketball – is to (1) smell the roses and (2) get the ship to shore.  There will be adversity; there will be stretches where the Heels may not play at their best because they may not see this game as important.  But in the end, the team needs to enjoy their time playing – because it doesn’t last forever – and get the job done.

The Heels should be able to navigate past the Seminoles successfully, and Carolina fans expect more positivity from Coach Williams following this one.  But at the same time, Florida State is not afraid of the Tar Heel blue, and could very well capitalize on a game where the Heels come out flat.

“But that’s what makes this game so much fun.”