UNC Basketball vs UNC Asheville Game Preview

The UNC basketball program will look to rebound from back-to-back losses in the Cheez-It Hall of Fame Tip-Off with a home game against the UNC Asheville Bulldogs.

The North Carolina Tar Heels and their fans had high hopes that last weekend’s Cheez-It Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament would yield at least one victory for the guys in blue, but it ended up being a completely fruitless trip to Uncasville, Connecticut. That is if winning is your primary goal. If teaching points and constructive criticism are your thing, then there’s plenty to unpack from what we saw at the Mohegan Sun Arena on Saturday and Sunday.

A game against Purdue that almost nobody expected the Tar Heels to win showcased the kind of grit and effort that we saw none of the following day in a bloodbath of a loss to the Tennessee Volunteers. The Tar Heels’ post play against the Boilermakers — or lack thereof —  on both ends of the court was incredibly troubling, though. Against Tennessee, it wasn’t so much the opposing big men that gave them fits in the post, but rather just about anyone who wanted a layup. They also managed to get outrebounded and dished out just nine assists to 13 turnovers and countless other mental mistakes.

Consistency is also proving to be a problem for the Tar Heels, perhaps none more than with the team’s sophomore guards. Caleb Love and R.J. Davis may look like all-world guards one night, and then appear to have never stepped foot onto a basketball court the next. It’s been no different for the Tar Heels’ top two transfer players, as Brady Manek and Dawson Garcia can have career games one night, and then follow them up with performances that make you wonder if the same person put on the uniform both nights.

There’s no question, though, that these Tar Heels have talent. They show it, but just not often enough. They’ll have to find a way to become more consistent on both ends of the floor if this season is to end up the way they want it to.

They’ve got one tune-up before a game against the 20th-ranked Michigan Wolverines in the ACC/Big10 Challenge, and that’s Tuesday night’s game against UNC Asheville. Although it’s a game on paper that they should absolutely win, maybe it’s an opportunity for them to get back to some of the basics as well as build some confidence after a couple of deflating weekend losses.

Key to Victory

The Tar Heels should win this game, even if they give the kind of sloppy, lackadaisical effort we saw from them against Tennessee over the weekend. And that’s not meant as a slight to UNC Asheville; the Tar Heels are simply bigger, stronger, faster and more athletic. Or at least, they should be.

We’ve seen a lot of inconsistency across the board from this UNC team to begin the season, though, from the guards to the bigs to the few reserves that have seen time on the floor. Nobody has been great from game one to game five, and it’s difficult to predict what we’ll see on a given night. Even the effort from the team was in question against the Volunteers when we saw, yet again, the Tar Heels get out-hustled and out-muscled by a Rick Barnes-coached team.

I suppose an upset loss to the Bulldogs isn’t out of the question, but I wouldn’t bet on it. I expect Davis to have his players more prepared for their first game of the week following a somewhat embarrassing weekend that dropped them out of the Associated Press Top 25 just two weeks into the season. A little effort will go a long way against the Bulldogs, but UNC fans are hoping to see a lot of effort, and soon. Hopefully, Tuesday night is a jumping-off point for that to happen for the remainder of the season.

Something to Watch

Can the Tar Heels show some semblance of a defensive effort on Tuesday night against the Bulldogs? We haven’t really seen one yet from Hubert Davis’ squad through the season’s first five games, but the first-year head coach says it’s coming.

“From a defensive standpoint, it’s not where I want to be,” Davis said in Sunday night’s postgame interview following a loss to Tennessee. “I’m very disappointed, but I’m not discouraged. It gives us an opportunity to really reflect and see what we’re doing and the things that we need to change. And I guarantee things will change. I’m convinced that not only can we be a good defensive team, I’m convinced that we can be a great defensive team, and it will change.”

So far, North Carolina hasn’t really shown much of a propensity for playing defense. The Volunteers basically ran layup drills against the Tar Heels for 40 minutes on Sunday, so much so that I doubt head coach Rick Barnes forced them to work on any in practice on Monday. No really, it was that bad.

The Tar Heels continually missed defensive assignments, gave up open shots on the perimeter and in the paint and basically looked lost on the defensive end of the court during the 17-point drubbing. If that doesn’t change in a game that they are heavily favored in against UNC Asheville of the Big South, sound the alarm. This is a game that the Tar Heels should come out and attempt to prove to themselves and everyone else that they have both the inclination and tenacity to play tough, hard-nosed basketball on both ends of the court.

Last Meeting

The Tar Heels beat UNC Asheville 91-75 on November 13, 2011 in the inaugural game at the Kimmel Arena in Asheville. The Tar Heels were led by Tyler Zeller’s 27 points, as the eventual ACC Player of the Year hit 8-of-13 shots from the floor and 11-of-13 at the free throw line. John Henson added 20 points and 12 rebounds for the Tar Heels and Harrison Barnes scored 17.

Projected Starters

No. 4 R.J. Davis (So., 6-0, 175) – 14.0 ppg, 4.6 apg
No. 2 Caleb Love (So., 6-4, 195) – 17.4 ppg, 4.0 apg
No. 1 Leaky Black (Sr., 6-8 200) – 3.8 ppg, 3.5 RPG
No. 13 Dawson Garcia (So. 6-11, 235) – 11.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg
No. 5 Armando Bacot (Jr., 6-10, 240) – 14.4 ppg, 9.0 rpg

What You Need To Know

WHAT? UNC Asheville Bulldogs (2-2, 0-2 away) vs North Carolina Tar Heels (3-2, 2-0 home)
WHEN? Tuesday, November 23 – 7:00 p.m. EST
WHERE? Dean E. Smith Center, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
TV? ACCNX
RADIO? Tar Heels Sports Network
LINE? UNC -21.5
LAST MEETING? UNC won 91-75 on November  13, 2011
ALL-TIME SERIES? UNC leads 5-0.
PREDICTION? UNC 81, UNC Asheville 66

For complete coverage of the game, and everything else on the UNC basketball program, check back with Keeping It Heel.