UNC vs Portland: Preview, broadcast information and prediction

CHAPEL HILL, NC - NOVEMBER 10: (L-R) Cameron Johnson
CHAPEL HILL, NC - NOVEMBER 10: (L-R) Cameron Johnson /

North Carolina opens up PK80 play against Portland on Thanksgiving Day

North Carolina fans are still mourning the loss of Cameron Johnson, but are more than thankful for the return of senior point guard and preseason All-American Joel Berry II.

And on this Thanksgiving Day, Tar Heels faithful are grateful that the defending national champions are likely the best version of themselves in the Roy Williams era. Never before has a North Carolina team — certainly not one under Williams — been as talented and capable of repeating their tournament title as this year’s Tar Heels.

More from UNC Basketball

This afternoon, the Tar Heels will begin their trek through one of, if not the most, stacked early season non-conference tournaments in the history of college basketball.

Two eight-team brackets, which contain the likes of Butler, Duke, Florida, Gonzaga, Michigan State, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas, begin battle this afternoon in a tournament honoring Nike founder Phil Knight’s 80th birthday.

North Carolina faces off with Portland in the early game, before taking on the winner of the Arkansas and Oklahoma game tomorrow. And of course, almost every fan of the sport would enjoy seeing a championship matchup between the Tar Heels and Michigan State Spartans.

Neither team will be able to take their early competition lightly, though, if they want to make it to the title game. As we saw with Arizona yesterday, every team gives you its best shot night in and night out, and anyone can be beaten.

One Portland player to watch…

Josh McSwiggan is Portland’s best player and most potent offensive threat. The 6-foot-7, 200-pound sophomore guard is the Pilots’ leading scorer at 14.3 points per game. He’s second on the team in rebounds and minutes per game, and he shoots better than 42 percent from three-point range.

He’s hit no less than two three-pointers in his team’s first three games of the season, and that just sounds like a guy who’s destined to go off on a North Carolina team known for giving up far too many threes.

McSwiggan has good size and matches up well with the Tar Heels’ perimeter players. Look for senior jack-of-all-trades Theo Pinson to spend some time defending McSwiggan, as the Tar Heels will look to curb him from having a big game from the outside.

One UNC player to watch…

Kenny Williams is coming off his best game since joining the University of North Carolina in 2015. In fact, his nine-minute stretch to start the game against Stanford was one of the best in Tar Heels history.

Williams scored the majority of his 20 points before the midway point of the first half, and he did it on ultra-efficient shooting. He connected on 7-of-11 shots from the floor, including 6-of-8 from three-point range. He also recorded four rebounds, three assists, a steal and just one turnover in 31 minutes of play.

CHAPEL HILL, NC – NOVEMBER 10: Kenny Williams
CHAPEL HILL, NC – NOVEMBER 10: Kenny Williams /

His stroke from long distance looked fantastic, and his confidence was through the roof. He was calling for the ball and his teammates were finding him.

The one time that Theo Pinson failed to find a wide open Williams on the wing, Williams was visibly distraught. However, it’s that hunger and moxie that makes a knockdown three-point shooter so good.

Look for Williams’ efficiency from three-point range to be south of his performance against Stanford, but anticipate his attempts from long-range to remain constant. With Justin Jackson gone and Cameron Johnson injured, his shooting will be a hallmark of North Carolina’s offense throughout the 2017-18 season.

Difference maker…

Let’s not get too cute, here. North Carolina’s depth and overall talent will be the deciding factor in this one.

The Tar Heels trot out 10 players that each average at least 12.7 minutes per game. Portland has just seven such players. North Carolina regularly gets contributions from 14 players, and Portland has used just 11 different players through its first three games of the season.

And then there’s the fact that North Carolina is, and has long been, one of the best uptempo, fast-paced teams in the country. The Tar Heels love to get out and run, and have the skill and conditioning to do so. Most teams won’t try to get in a back-and-forth foot race with a Roy Williams-coached team, and would find themselves at a disadvantage if they tried to.

The disparity in skill level is going to be a factor in this game as well. The Tar Heels are fresh off of a 33-win season and third national title in 13 years, whereas the Pilots have won just 40 games in their past three seasons combined.

Even with the loss of sharpshooter Cameron Johnson, the Tar Heels still boast veteran leadership, the 2017 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, numerous five-star high school players and a Hall-of-Fame head coach.

Next: Harrison Barnes hits game-winner for Dallas

What you need to know

WHAT? North Carolina 3-0 (0-0 ACC) vs Portland 2-1 (0-0 WCC)
WHEN? Thursday, November 23, 2017 at 2:30 p.m. ET
WHERE? Moda Center – Portland, Oregon
RADIO? Tar Heel Sports Network
LINE? UNC -26.5
SERIES HISTORY: This is the first meeting between the two programs.
PREDICTION? UNC 89, Portland 68