Last week Charlie took a look at what NC State needed to do to make their case for the NCAA tournament, and specifically their current three game stretch against the top of the conference. Well, the Wolfpack are currently 0-2 in that stretch and have maybe their last chance for a quality win tonight against the hated Tar Heels.
North Carolina comes into this game ranked 7th nationally and has won three games in a row after losing a heart breaker to bitter rival Duke. UNC is solid at both ends of the floor, averaging 82 points (2nd nationally) for and 66 points against per game. In terms of efficiency (points per 100 possessions), they rank 14th and 13th respectively. (h/t Ken Pom)
The Heels are led on offensive by sophomore Harrison Barnes who is averaging 18 points a game. Similar to last season, Barnes started off slow only to pick up the intensity late in the year. In his last 5 games Barnes is averaging almost 21 per. Stopping him will be one of the keys if the Wolfpack want to have a chance in this game.
Down low, North Carolina has two more future 1st round picks in Tyler Zeller and John Henson. This duo is a nightmare down low both offensively and defensively for oppposing team as the two combine for 29 points, 19 rebounds and 4 blocks a game. There aren’t many teams who are able to compete with that kind of production from the post and State’s undersized frontcourt could be in for a long night.
The Heels are a little thin in the backcourt, and this is where State must try and exploit them. Kendall Marshall is a terrific distributor and initiates the offense, but isn’t the best defender. Reggie Bullock has found himself starting after Dexter Strickland went down with an ACL injury and can down knock down the 3. Like Marshall though, he can also struggle on D. Freshman PJ Hairston comes off the bench and is another sniper from long range. He may also be the most athletic player on the team and is turning into a very good perimeter defender. Beyond Hairston, the Heels bench gets quite shallow. Freshman Stillman White has seen some minutes backing up Marshall, but is really just expected to give about 5 minutes a night. Depth will be an issue for this team in March and needs to be one tonight for State to have a chance.
The Home Team:
NC State started their crucial three game strech by coming out firing against Duke in Cameron. Unfortunately, a tightly called 2nd half got the Wolfpack in foul trouble and allowed Duke to mount a furious comeback with 10 minutes remaining to steal the win.
Two days later they faced Florida State in what many thought was their best chance to win during this grueling stretch. However, the Wolfpack came out flat still clearly hurting from the Duke loss and didn’t put up much of a fight. Well, the current players didn’t anyway.
So now here we are. You never know what could happen in the ACC tournament, but tonight is the last chance NC State will have to pick up a quality win in the regular season. Add in the fact that it’s against a hated rival and I imagine the RBC Center will be a madhouse of pent-up frustration and anger.
State is led by a balanced scoring attack. All five starters average over 11 points a game, but none more than 13 a game. Junior Scott Wood is the team’s best shooter, but tends to disappear at times. He will need to take advantage of screens and move without the ball to get open tonight and shoot whenever he gets an open look.
Lorenzo Brown is arguably the best all around player on the team, but also disappears at time. He absolutely must win his match up with Kendall Marshall, both offensively and defensively, in order for his team to have a chance.
CJ Leslie and Richard Howell have to play smart tonight. Against Duke they came out too aggressive and spent much of the 2nd half on the bench in foul trouble. If they can’t stay out of foul trouble against Duke, they have no prayer against Henson and Zeller. Both players give up a ton of size to UNC’s big men, so their defensive effort has to be smarter.
NC State is going to need a complete 40 minute effort on both ends of the floor in order to have a chance in this game. In the first meeting their game plan of going right at Henson and Zeller was a disaster, so I expect a more perimeter oriented attack tonight. The Tar Heels have struggled defending the 3, so Scott Wood and the other shooters on this team need to get their looks early and often. On defense, the Pack has to disrupt Marshall and and Leslie and Howell must deny the ball inside. Zeller torched State in the first meeting, so I expect them to really focus in on him. This means that Henson should get more looks on offense and if he can consistently knock down that 15 footer he’s developed, then it could be another long night for the Pack.
Plain and simple, NC State needs to get hot from outside and stay out of foul trouble to win this game. I don’t think they will be able to do both. UNC 78 – NC State 67