UNC Basketball to battle No. 5 UConn in Jimmy V Classic

Dec 2, 2023; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Elliot Cadeau (2) reacts with guard RJ Davis (4) in the first half at Dean E. Smith Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 2, 2023; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Elliot Cadeau (2) reacts with guard RJ Davis (4) in the first half at Dean E. Smith Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports /

The No. 9 ranked UNC Basketball program heads to Madison Square Garden for a showdown with the reigning champion No.4 ranked UConn Huskies.

Fresh off of a Saturday afternoon meatgrinder of a win against Florida State, the now No. 9 ranked UNC Basketball team will head to Madison Square Garden to duel the reigning champion UConn Huskies. The Huskies enter Tuesday’s games licking their wounds after their first loss of the season Friday to the then No. 5 ranked Kansas Jayhawks.

North Carolina struggled mightily in the first 30 minutes of Saturday’s game against Florida State, shooting terribly from deep and failing to halt Florida State’s offense. However, the Tar Heels were able to counteract their poor 2-11 first-half three-point shooting by getting aggressive with the ball and driving toward the paint.

The Tar Heels went on a 22-0 scoring run and finished the game 25-31 from the charity stripe, not because they stubbornly stuck to trying to make three-pointers (they finished the game 5-22 from deep), but because they pushed the ball inside, drew fouls, got to the line, and made critical free throws. Combined with a mean full-court press, the Tar Heels muscles out Saturday’s 78-70 win through audacity, not patient shooting.

UConn will enter the Garden on Tuesday after suffering their first loss of the season to the Kansas Jayhawks at Phog Allen Fieldhouse 69-65. Friday’s loss was the first nonconference loss for the Huskies in 624 days since they lost to New Mexico State in the 2022 NCAA Tournament. Like the Heels, UConn was heavily impacted by a rough day of three-point shooting, knocking down just two of 10 from deep in the second half and finishing with just five made three-pointers on 19 attempts.

The bright spot for UConn was Graduate Student and leading scorer Tristen Newton who finished with 31 points, his UConn career high. Newton has been the real leader of this year’s team through the early going, averaging 17.5 points per game and playing a team-high 31.9 minutes per game.

Key to Victory for North Carolina

In their last games, both of these teams had to navigate the scoring desert that sets in when your best shooters stop making shots from behind the arc. North Carolina was able to weather the storm not by fixing their three-point shooting but by getting the ball in the hands of Armando Bacot and RJ Davis, two guys who can drive in the paint, draw contact, and make free throws.

Whether North Carolina struggles to shoot the deep ball Tuesday night or not, they will be behooved to remember that their 6-foot-11 center is one of the best players in the country and can do serious damage when he gets the ball in his hands near the basket.

Something to Watch For

North Carolina will need to focus on how they can cool down the red-hot Tristen Newton. Newton has scored double-digit points in all but one game for the Huskies so far this season and has proven difficult to slow down.

The 6-foot-5 guard is in his fifth season of college hoops and contributed considerably in last year’s title run, culminating in a double-double performance in the National Championship game (19 points, 10 rebounds).  Following the Kansas game on Friday, Hall of Fame Kansas coach Bill Self described Newton as “the best player in the game.” I’d expect Hubert Davis to task the Tar Heels’ best defenders on the floor to stick with Newton for much of the day.

Last Meeting

The Tar Heels and Huskies last met in February of 2005. Current Tar Heels’ coach Hubert Davis was in his first year of retirement from the NBA, and current UConn coach Dan Hurley was the head basketball coach… of St. Benedict’s Preparatory School, a private kindergarten through twelfth-grade school with an estimated enrollment of 749 students.

In 2005, the Tar Heels won 77-70 thanks to a balanced attack of Raymond Felton, Jawad Williams, Sean May, and Rashad McCants, who all scored double-digit points. The 2005 Tar Heels would go on to win Roy William’s first national championship in St. Louis on April 4th, 2005.

North Carolina leads the series 5-1 all-time, with their one loss coming at UConn 86-54 in 2002.

Projected Starters

No. 2 Elliot Cadeau (Fr. 6-1, 180) 7.1 ppg, 1.6 rbpg, 4.0 apg

No. 3 Cormac Ryan (Sr. 6-5, 195) 11.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.0 apg

No. 4 RJ Davis (Sr. 6-0, 180) 20.4 ppg, 3.1 rbpg, 2.9 apg

No. 5 Armando Bacot (Gr. 6-11, 240) 16.3 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 1.8 blkpg

No. 55 Harrison Ingram (Jr. 6-7, 235) 14.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 2.3 apg

dark. Next. RJ Davis joins some exclusive UNC basketball company

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