UNC Basketball: Things to Watch vs. Louisville


In Chapel Hill on January 10, the No. 18 North Carolina Tar Heels barely edged the No. 5 Louisville Cardinals 72-71. This was thanks in most part to a last second, desperation shot off the backboard by Marcus Paige to put the Heels on top. This Saturday, January 31, the now No. 10 Cardinals will get their chance at revenge against the streaking Tar Heels, and will get that chance back in their own building in front of their own crowd.

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Since that January 10 matchup, both teams have faced their fair share of adversity.

Jan 21, 2015; Winston-Salem, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Nate Britt (0) shoots the ball during the second half against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum. North Carolina defeated Wake Forest 87-71. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY

The Tar Heels (17-4  overall, 7-1 ACC), despite having won their last six games since facing Louisville, have stockpiled injuries, and heavily depleted their guard position. While Nate Britt may have had a breakout game in Monday’s win against Syracuse, there is no way of knowing if he can continue at that pace going forward. There is no word yet on the return of Joel Berry II from his groin injury, and Theo Pinson has been ruled out for the foreseeable future with a fracture in his foot.

The Cardinals (17-3, 5-2) have had to deal with a couple of hiccups as well since suffering their first ACC loss against the Tar Heels of Roy Williams. After getting throttled at home to No. 4 Duke, head coach, Rick Pitino stripped star forward, Montrezl Harrell of his team captain status. Pitino accused Harrell of pushing his teammates too hard, and thus setting a poor example of leadership for the younger players. While Pitino called it “absolutely no big deal,” it was clearly a message that needed to be sent after how the team struggled so mightily against Duke. In their win against Boston College, while the final score may not have shown it (81-72), Louisville shot the ball very well, and the players supporting Harrell played extraordinarily well. Louisville starting guards, Terry Rozier and Chris Jones combined for 51 points to add to Harrell’s 12 in the win.

It will be important for UNC’s remaining guards to continue to play well on the perimeter. Louisville’s Rozier and Jones combined to go 5-for-7 from 3-point range, and the Cardinals as a team shot 58 percent from the floor. While the Tar Heels will likely not shoot over 56 percent from beyond the arc like they did against Syracuse, it will still be necessary to take and make enough shots to keep up with the explosiveness of the Louisville backcourt.

Jan 28, 2015; Chestnut Hill, MA, USA; Louisville Cardinals forward Montrezl Harrell (24) talks with guard Terry Rozier (0) and guard forward Wayne Blackshear (25) during the second half against the Boston College Eagles at Silvio O. Conte Forum. Louisville Cardinals won 81-72. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Louisville also presents a much different problem on the other side of the court.

While the Tar Heels struggled against the Syracuse zone defense in their last game, committing 20 turnovers, Louisville will implement much more full-court, man-to-man pressure on Tar Heel ball-handlers. Therefore, defensive rebounding for the UNC big men will be extremely important early on, and throughout much of the game. This will also mean that every inbound pass could be subjected to Pitino’s active defenders challenging and face-guarding every open player in Carolina blue.

For a team that struggled so much shooting the ball to begin the season, the Tar Heels must hope their shooters can settle into this game early, and that Britt can have another strong game. UNC tends to have success when Marcus Paige shoots the ball well. If he can share the backcourt with Britt effectively like he did against Syracuse, Roy Williams should be able to extend his winning record against Louisville at UNC to 3-0.