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

Mar 10, 2020; Greensboro, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams coaches during the first half against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Greensboro Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 10, 2020; Greensboro, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams coaches during the first half against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Greensboro Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports /

Roy Williams, UNC basketball program looking to build on last week’s grind-it-out victory over Notre Dame

North Carolina broke a two-game losing streak with a narrow victory over Notre Dame on Saturday, but it’s going to take better performances all-around to continue winning games in one of the nation’s best basketball conferences this season.

The Tar Heels’ young front court is a bright spot, with Armando Bacot making a tremendous leap from his freshman to sophomore season. And Day’Ron Sharpe is progressing quickly, evidenced by his 25-point, nine-rebound performance against the Irish. Those two, along with senior forward Garrison Brooks, are a big reason why North Carolina is averaging the fourth-most rebounds of any team in the nation. Given their deficiencies from a shot-making perspective, those offensive rebounds and second-chance points are going to be vital this season.

Another thing that Roy Williams and his staff are enjoying is the three-point shooting of young Kerwin Walton, a freshman shooting guard that is quickly earning his stripes with the Tar Heels. He’s become a starter far sooner than most anticipated, and much of that is because he seems to be the only player on the roster capable of consistently knocking down shots beyond the arc.

The team’s starting lineup has been a carousel this season, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see that continue in the coming weeks. Until the Tar Heels can find a group that is cohesive enough and capable of scoring the basketball at a high rate, the UNC coaching staff is likely to keep tinkering with the lineup and rotation.

Key to Victory for UNC

The most important thing for North Carolina is being able to hit shots. Closely behind that is playing the game with the kind of energy and effort that we’re accustomed to seeing from a Roy Williams-coached team. Neither of those things have been on par this season, and they’re the main reasons that the team has lost four games, and struggled through each of their six wins.

The latter was much better in the Tar Heels’ last game, a one-point grind-it-out victory over the Fighting Irish in Chapel Hill. The game probably wouldn’t have been that close had the Tar Heels been able to knock down some shots. But like most of their other games to begin the 2020-21 season, they weren’t able to hit shots early, late or in-between. They shot less than 35 percent for the game, something that’s becoming all too familiar for this year’s Tar Heels.

If and when the Tar Heels can find a way to consistently score, they might be able to put a pretty good product out on the floor. They’re already one of the top rebounding teams in the nation, and have a three-time national title winning coach on the bench.

Something to watch for

It’ll be interesting to see how that Tar Heels come out and play against the Hurricanes over the game’s first 10 minutes. They showed the most enthusiasm and tenacity that we’ve seen them play with at the beginning of a game all season against the Fighting Irish, and it showed. Given that they don’t appear to be one of Roy Williams’ better teams, they’ll need that kind of energy and effort every time out on the court if they’re going to win many games this season.

Don’t be surprised if…

Don’t be surprised if the Tar Heels come out and play well against Jim Larranaga’s Hurricanes. North Carolina is 25-8 all-time against Miami, including a 19-7 mark under Roy Williams and undefeated in the past four matchups. Even the less talented Tar Heels of 2019-20 beat the Hurricanes by 23 points, and that’s really saying something.

Starting lineup

At this point, currently guessing the Tar Heels’ starting lineup from one game to the next is about as easy as picking the winning lottery numbers. Not a lot has worked for North Carolina so far, and the myriad of starting lineups that Roy Williams and company have used is indicative of that.

It’s safe to assume that Day’Ron Sharpe and Armando Bacot will get the start for UNC, as they’ve easily been the Tar Heels’ most productive big men. Kerwin Walton is becoming a key piece of the UNC offense with his ability to knock down shots from beyond the perimeter, so we’re going to keep penciling him in there for the time being. It’s the final two positions that are far more tricky to predict.

In their most recent contest, the Tar Heels went with Caleb Love at the starting point guard position, but it was fellow freshman R.J. Davis that got more playing time over the course of the game. Both have started games for the Tar Heels this season, and both have come off of the bench — and they’ve done so with varying levels of success. The same can be said for junior jack-of-all-trades Leaky Black, who began the Tar Heels’ game against Georgia Tech on the bench, but had a really solid game that led to his reinsertion into the starting five against Notre Dame.

With all of that in mind, here’s our best guess as to which five players will get the start in North Carolina’s game against Miami on Tuesday night:

G – R.J. Davis – 8.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg
G – Kerwin Walton – 4.3 ppg, 1.2 rpg
G/F – Leaky Black – 6.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg
F/C – Armando Bacot – 11.4 ppg, 8.2 rpg
F/C – Day’Ron Sharpe – 9.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg

What you need to know

WHAT? North Carolina Tar Heels (6-4, 1-2 ACC) at Miami Hurricanes (4-4, 0-3 ACC)
WHEN? Tuesday, January 5 @ 8:00 p.m. EST
WHERE? Watsco Center – Coral Gables, Florida
RADIO? Tar Heels Sports Network
LINE? UNC -3.5
LAST MEETING? UNC won 94-71 on 1/25/2020 in Chapel Hill. Brandon Robinson scored a career-high 29 points for the Tar Heels.
PREDICTION? UNC 75, Miami 68

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