UNC Basketball vs UNLV: Game preview, info, prediction and more

Feb 29, 2020; Syracuse, New York, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams encourages his team against the Syracuse Orange in the second half at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 29, 2020; Syracuse, New York, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams encourages his team against the Syracuse Orange in the second half at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports /

UNC basketball program faces off with UNLV Rebels in 2020 Maui Invitational

The North Carolina Tar Heels begin their trek through the 2020 Maui Invitational on Monday night, looking to win their fifth title in tournament history. If they can, it’ll tie them with the Duke Blue Devils for the most titles in the tournament’s history.

Due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s tourney is taking place in Asheville, North Carolina. That’s where they’ll face off with the UNLV Rebels (0-1) in the quarterfinals, before a matchup with either Alabama or Stanford in the next round. Opposite the Tar Heels’ side of the bracket are Davidson, Indiana, Providence and Texas, one of which they’ll face on December 2.

While the Rebels of UNLV don’t figure to be a terrific team this season, they’re not an opponent that North Carolina should overlook. If nothing else, Monday night’s game should be used as a tune-up for potential marquee matchups with Stanford, Indiana or Texas. The Rebels lost their first game of the season to Montana State by 13 points. Outside of junior guard Bryce Hamiton, who scored 27 points on 10-of-19 shooting, UNLV simply didn’t play well — on either end of the court. They’ll definitely have to perform better against the Tar Heels on Monday night to keep the game close.

It will be interesting, however, to see how the new-look Tar Heels come out and play against UNLV and other top-tier competition this week after playing just one regular season game and no exhibition games. Their victory over College of Charleston wasn’t what you’d call impressive, but it also wasn’t bad for a team that welcomed in six freshmen this season, and just a few key players from a team that lost 19 games in 2019-20.

While the young Tar Heels continue to learn a new system, and the veterans continue to knock off some of the rest from an unprecedented offseason, they’ll need to maintain their intensity even when the ball isn’t going through the hoop. There’s a ton of talent on this team, and the ceiling is high. Roy Williams-coached teams tend to start season off rougher than they finish, and I expect this one to follow that trend. By the time postseason play rolls around, this team could be really, really good.

Key to victory for UNC

The Tar Heels need to continue feeding the ball to the low post, and letting their bigs do the dirty work in the painted area. Although preseason Player of the Year Garrison Brooks didn’t have his typical performance in the Tar Heels’ first game of the season, freshman reserve center Day’Ron Sharpe scored 13 points and pulled down 10 rebounds in 22 minutes off the UNC bench. Sophomore center Armando Bacot had a dozen points of his own to go along with eight rebounds and three blocks. And despite playing just five minutes in his first collegiate game, rookie big man Walker Kessler scored six points on 3-of-4 shooting, and pulled down four rebounds.

What makes the North Carolina offense so much more dangerous this season compared to last is that freshman back court tandem Caleb Love and R.J. Davis are a formidable pair that plays well off the UNC bigs. Both can slash and drive the lane, as well as knock down shots from the perimeter. That’s something that the Tar Heels were noticeably missing last season, but should very much enjoy in 2020-21.

Something to watch for

Garrison Brooks had a rough game against College of Charleston last week when he scored just six points on 3-of-10 shooting. I wouldn’t expect that to persist for long. Brooks will continue to see a lot of touches in the paint, despite the embarrassment of front court wealth that Roy Williams has at his disposal this season. Brooks is the team’s most proven and consistent scorer, and they’ll need his star-power to make a deep run in March.

Don’t be surprised if…

Don’t be surprised if Caleb Love leads the Tar Heels in scoring again. He notched 17 points in his first collegiate action last week, and it wasn’t even on a great shooting performance. He shot just 4-of-11 from the floor and 1-of-4 from three-point range, but did knock down all eight of his free throw attempts. Look for Love’s comfort level and confidence within Roy Williams’ system to continue to grow, and expect his scoring and consistency to improve in the process.

The most dangerous thing about Love and his offensive skill set is that it’s so vast. He can play effectively with or without the ball in his hands, create his own offense off the dribble or hit shots coming off of screens. He’s an excellent slasher and finisher around the rim, and can set up his teammates in position to score, too. Love’s got all the tools to be one of the best point guards that Roy Williams has had in his 18 seasons at North Carolina, and he’s only getting better.

UNC starting lineup

G – Caleb Love
G – R.J. Davis
G/F – Leaky Black
F – Garrison Brooks
F/C – Armando Bacot

What you need to know

WHAT? No. 16 North Carolina Tar Heels (1-0) vs. UNLV (0-1) – Maui Invitational
WHEN? Monday, November 30 at 7:00 p.m. EST
WHERE? Harrah’s Cherokee Center – Asheville, North Carolina
RADIO? Tar Heels Sports Network
LINE? UNC -12.5
LAST MEETING? UNC won 79-73 in Chapel Hill on December 29, 2012.

Next. Tar Heels storm back from 21 down to win. dark

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