UNC Basketball vs Furman Paladins Game Preview

Nov 23, 2021; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Caleb Love (2) and guard Kerwin Walton (24) and forward Armando Bacot (5) react in the second half at Dean E. Smith Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 23, 2021; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Caleb Love (2) and guard Kerwin Walton (24) and forward Armando Bacot (5) react in the second half at Dean E. Smith Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports /

The UNC basketball program prepares for another non-conference matchup with an upstart squad looking for a resume-building victory.

The next opponent for the North Carolina Tar Heels will be a tough matchup. The Furman Paladins will face off with the perennial ACC powerhouse at the Dean Smith Center on Tuesday night. If you don’t know anything about the Paladins, just know that they are not a “cupcake” team. This game will not be a walk in the park for either team.

Furman hails from the Southern Conference, home to a pair of famous underdogs, the Mercer Bears and Wofford Terriers. Although the Tar Heels are on a four-game winning streak, they might fight themselves in a dog fight, or perhaps a jousting match since they are facing paladins — better known as knights.

This is the Tar Heels’ third-to-last non-conference game of the 2021-22 season, and just four days ahead of their marquee matchup with the UCLA Bruins. They’ll look to continue building momentum ahead of that game, as well as an upcoming Atlantic Coast Conference schedule that will undoubtedly challenge them throughout.

Keys to Victory

Furman’s Alex Hunter is fun to watch. He is their best player as well as their floor general. They go as he goes. Although Hunter may be small in stature at 5-feet-11-inches and 180 pounds, he plays much bigger. He has the potential to be the best player on the court when Furman faces North Carolina.

Although he was a two-star player coming out of high school, he played like a four or five-star. Hunter is difficult to guard. He has an array of moves. In addition to that, he is a two-way player. He can control a game with his offense and/or defense. He averages 17.6 points and shoots 48 percent from three-point range. He also averages four rebounds and three assists per game.

Jalen Slawson and Mike Bothwell are great complements to Hunter. Slawson is the low-post presence. He averages 16.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, two steals and two blocks per game. Bothwell averages 16.4 points per game to go along with 4.1 rebounds. Furman’s “big three” averages 50 points per game combined. Bothwell, Hunter and Slawson are capable of scoring 20 or 30 points any given night. This trio has a great deal of experience playing together, which could pose a huge threat for the Tar Heels. All three players can score, yet they have diverse skills sets. Furman beat Louisville 80-72 in overtime earlier this season

Furman matches up with North Carolina very well. Both teams average slightly over 80 points per game (Furman 83.9 to UNC’s 81.1). Furman averages 36.3 rebounds per game whereas UNC averages 40.2 rebounds a game. Both Furman and UNC have tight rotations featuring seven to eight players. These teams are almost identical when it comes to stats. However, they differ in their makeup. UNC has a more traditional lineup with two bigs in the low post while Furman does not have a lot of size. Slawson, their main low post player, is listed at 6-foot-7.

North Carolina will have to limit Furman’s “big three” from controlling the flow of the game. Likewise, rebounding will be a huge factor in determining the winner of this game.

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Something to Watch

Furman’s ability to score could potentially give UNC problems. The key matchup in this game will be the guard play from both teams. Expect UNC’s R.J. Davis and Caleb Love to take turns guarding Hunter. Do not be surprised if UNC’s versatile wing player, Leaky Black, spends a little time guarding Hunter. Disrupting Hunter’s flow and rhythm is key to the Tar Heels slowing down Furman’s ability to score.

Both Furman and North Carolina are great rebounding teams. Furman’s Slawson will likely be covered by UNC’s Dawson Garcia and Brady Manek. The Tar Heels have an advantage in this category due to their size. If North Carolina does not play down to their competition, then they should have no problem controlling the boards against Furman. UNC’s front court must assert themselves in this contest.

Armando Bacot must be active on the boards while scoring on the blocks. Each year, he has added to his game. His array of low post moves should give Furman problems. The only knocks to his game would be his ability to pick up fouls early in the game and his reluctance to dominate the game. It would behoove UNC to have an “inside-out” approach to this game by establishing Bacot as a threat down low. The Tar Heels are at their best when they allow the interior players (Bacot, Garcia, Manek) to be focal points in their offense. This opens up the game more for the guards.

Last Meeting

Dean Smith was still the coach of the North Carolina Tar Heels when these two teams last played. Current UNC assistant coach Jeff Lebo was a sophomore guard for the Tar Heels, and they were the No. 4 team in the nation.

UNC led 47-33 at halftime. UNC forward Dave Popson led UNC with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Senior guard Kenny Smith and Ranzino Smith (no relation) scored14 points apiece. Freshman phenom power forward J.R. Reid and forward Steve Bucknall added 10 points each.

UNC trailed Furman once this entire game, when the score was just 9-8. In the second half, UNC went on a patented 22-4 run to push the lead to 75-43 with 10 minutes left in the game. UNC’s biggest lead was 83-45 when Dean Smith decided to sit his starters down for the night. North Carolina outrebounded Furman 41 to 26. In addition to that, UNC shot 61 percent from the field in the second half. They beat Furman 95-65.

Projected Starters

No. 4 R.J. Davis (So., 6-0, 175) – 13.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg,
No. 2 Caleb Love (So., 6-4, 195) – 16.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.9 apg
No. 1 Leaky Black (Sr., 6-8 200) – 4.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg
No. 13 Dawson Garcia (So. 6-11, 235) – 11.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg
No. 5 Armando Bacot (Jr., 6-10, 240) – 14.3 ppg, 9.6 rpg

What You Need To Know

WHAT? Furman Paladins (7-3, 3-2 away) vs North Carolina Tar Heels (7-2, 5-0 home)
WHEN? Tuesday, December 14 – 7:00 p.m. EST
WHERE? Dean E. Smith Center – Chapel Hill, North Carolina
RADIO? Tar Heels Sports Network Affiliates
LAST MEETING?  UNC won 95-65 on December 22, 1986
ALL-TIME SERIES? UNC leads 20-2 (UNC played Furman every year from 1972 to 1986)
PREDICTION? UNC 79, Furman 77

dark. Next. Tar Heels still on outside looking in

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