UNC vs Florida State: Preview, game info, prediction and more

ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 16: Head coach Leonard Hamilton of the Florida State Seminoles looks on in the second half against the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles during the first round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Amway Center on March 16, 2017 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 16: Head coach Leonard Hamilton of the Florida State Seminoles looks on in the second half against the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles during the first round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Amway Center on March 16, 2017 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

No. 12 Tar Heels travel to Tallahassee for showdown with 24th-ranked Seminoles

After a close call against Wake Forest in its maiden voyage into ACC play, North Carolina now travels to Tallahassee to face one of the conference’s toughest opponents in Florida State.

The Tar Heels enter the game tied with seven other teams atop the ACC, while the Seminoles, after a narrow road loss to Duke, are one of five teams in the conference to begin the season at 0-1.

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It’s early in the season, and a win or loss here won’t make or break either team. However, it might shed some light as to what each team may be capable of by the time March rolls around.

The Donald L Tucker Center in Tallahassee isn’t an easy venue for visiting teams to play at. The crowd will no doubt be involved, supporting an 11-win Seminoles team that’s currently ranked No. 24 in the nation and has high hopes of finishing in the upper echelon of one of college basketball’s best conferences.

For the Tar Heels, a recent home loss and another near defeat has some fans wondering which North Carolina team will show up when it faces off with the upset-minded Seminoles.

The ACC is loaded with teams hoping to unseat Duke and North Carolina as the conference’s top team. Clemson, Miami and Virginia all sit at 12-1 to start the season, and look very capable of running off a lot of wins over the next two months.

One Florida State player to watch…

North Carolina has been known to struggle at guarding opposing teams’ three-point attempts, allowing far too many makes and helping teams claw their way back into games.

Phil Cofer is having an outstanding senior season for the Seminoles, logging nearly 28 minutes per game and hitting career-highs in points, rebounds, field goal percentage and three-point percentage.

ORLANDO, FL – MARCH 16: Phil Cofer
ORLANDO, FL – MARCH 16: Phil Cofer /

Through 13 games, the senior forward is scoring almost 15 points per game and hitting 57 percent of his shots from the floor, including an outstanding 51.4 percent from three-point range.

His 6-foot-8, 218-pound body, combined with his ability to move away from the post and hit shots from the perimeter, make him a dangerous player in the team’s matchup with North Carolina.

When he’s hitting shots from beyond the arc, it stretches the defense, creating space for open shooters and lanes for guards to drive to the bucket. Those things make him particularly deadly for a North Carolina team that has one of its youngest and most inexperienced interiors in the Roy Williams era.

The Tar Heels do have excellent guard play, though, highlighted by excellent defenders in Theo Pinson and Kenny Williams. If they can limit Cofer’s touches on the perimeter and keep him from getting open shots, the Tar Heels will stand a better chance of leaving Tallahassee with a win.

One UNC player to watch…

Luke Maye has been terrific for North Carolina this season. So good, in fact, that people have been shocked to watch the former walk-on turned scholarship player turned overnight sensation and now potential All-American put up Tyler Hansbrough-esque numbers through the season’s first two months.

He’s playing a team-high 31.5 minutes per game and leading the Tar Heels in scoring and rebounding. He’s averaging a double-double through the team’s first 14 games, something he’s done eight times this season already.

Maye’s ability to hit shots against Florida State, particularly from long-range, will be paramount to a North Carolina win. If he can, it will spread out the Seminoles’ defense, allowing Joel Berry II and Kenny Williams to look for open shots on the perimeter or drive the lane for layups.

Maye and the North Carolina front court will also need to rebound the ball effectively, giving the Tar Heels more opportunities to score against one of the best defensive teams in the ACC. The Seminoles are holding opponents to 37.9 percent shooting and second chance points will be important for North Carolina, especially in the midst of a hostile environment.

On the defensive side of the ball, rebounding will be just as important. Florida State is fourth in the conference in scoring at 85.7 points per game. If given opportunities at second chance points, they’ll likely capitalize and make it hard for the Tar Heels to walk away with a win.

The difference maker…

Joel Berry has struggled with his shot this season, but he’s still the team’s best player. A slashing, game-winning bucket against Wake Forest is really all the evidence one needs of that.

However, if he can begin to consistently hit his shot, particularly from long-range, it really opens up the North Carolina offense and allows the young bigs to work inside.

Back-to-back 20-plus point title games and a Most Outstanding Player award are no fluke, and Berry will almost definitely return to optimum form at some point.

Once he does, there may not be a better team in the ACC than the one in Carolina Blue.

Next: The latest on five-star prospect Matthew Hurt

What you need to know

WHAT? North Carolina (12-2, 1-0 in ACC) vs. Florida State (11-2, 0-1 in ACC)
WHEN? Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018 at 7:00 p.m. EST
WHERE? Donald L Tucker Center, Tallahassee, Florida
TV? ESPN2 (Karl Ravech and Dick Vitale)
RADIO? Tar Heel Sports Network
LINE? FSU -1.5
SERIES HISTORY: UNC leads the series 49-12
PREDICTION? UNC 86, Florida State 74