Saturday, January 11, 4:30 EST TV:RSN/ACCN Extra (streaming)
Dean E. Smith Center, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
North Carolina Tar Heels
North Carolina started the season with *5 phenom Cole Anthony and high expectations. Things weren’t so great for the Tar Heels early in the season, going 6-3 including a blowout to Ohio State, and then the wheels came all the way off on December 5th, when it was announced Anthony would be out 4-6 weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.
Since losing Anthony, Roy’s crew is 2-4, including a home losses to Wofford, Georgia Tech, and Pitt. Roy Williams described this team as the “least gifted he’s ever coached.” If there ever was a time for Clemson to end this cursed streak, it would be Saturday.
North Carolina Starting Lineup
PG - #13 - Jeremiah Francis - Fr - 6’0, 210 - 5.9 Pts, 1.7 Reb, 3 Ast
SG - #4 Brandon Robinson - Sr - 6’5, 173 - 10.7 Pts, 3.4 Reb, 3.2 Ast
SG/SF - #1 - Leaky Black - So - 6’8, 195 - 5.4 Pts, 4.6 Reb, 1.9 Ast
F - #5 - Armando Bacot - Fr - 6’10, 232 - 9.4 Pts, 7.9 Reb, .8 Ast
C - #15 - Garrison Brooks - Jr - 6’9, 235 - 14.4 Pts, 8.8 Reb, 1.7 Ast
Key Bench Contributors
G - #3 - Andrew Platek - Jr - 6’4, 200 - 4 Pts, 1.8 Reb, 1 Ast
F - #32 - Justin Pierce - 6’7, 210 - Sr - 6.1 Pts, 4.7 Reb, .9 Ast
North Carolina’s offense is a mess right now. They’re a poor shooting team from the outside (30%), a poor shooting team from the inside (44%), and a poor shooting team from the free throw line (65%). The goal of basketball is to put the ball through the hoop, and the Tar Heels aren’t good at that.
The Tar Heels normally like to play at a lightening fast pace, but this year, their adjusted tempo according to KenPom is 39th in the nation. That’s slow for Roy Williams standards.
Without Anthony, this team lacks a focal point for the offense. They have some nice role players, but none of them are capable of filling the void Anthony left. Garrison Brooks is as close as they have to a star player, and while his stats are solid, they’re not elite. In fact, outside of Anthony and fellow freshman Andrew Bacot, this team doesn’t have the elite talent you’re accustomed to seeing on a UNC roster.
In theory, they will look to push the ball in transition looking for easy points and if those aren’t available they will pull the ball out and look to get the ball inside to Garrison Brooks or exploit a size match up somewhere else on the court. While they struggle to shoot the ball, they’re good at rebounding misses, collecting 13% of their misses (good for 13th in the country in that stat).
The key match up to watch will be Aamir Simms on Brooks. Aamir is the only interior defender that Clemson that match size and strength with Brooks. The problem is that Clemson desperately needs Simms on the offensive end of the court as well. If he gets into foul trouble guarding Brooks, things can go south for the Tigers rather quickly. Simms is going to have to be smart and avoid the silly fouls he’s sometimes prone to commit.
If Simms can hold his own in his match up with Brooks, and the Tigers can stall out the Tar Heel’s transition game, they’ve got a chance to pull out the victory. This isn’t a North Carolina team that’s going to blow up the scoreboard and run you out of the gym (he says with little confidence but much conviction).
North Carolina is significantly better on defense. They have a squad of long athletes that can guard multiple positions. Leaky Black is a stick figure, but is adept at blocking shots and can cover serious ground on closeouts.
Clemson is going to need to hit outside shots to loosen the defense up. That’s a scary proposition for Tiger fans. North Carolina’s interior defense is stout, and Simms, while a solid player occasionally struggles to score against size. Pitt shot 40% from 3 and knocked off UNC, Clemson will need a similar effort from outside. This would be a nice game for Hunter Tyson to catch fire and give the Tigers an extra big body on the court.
During this streak, there are only a few instances where you can say “Clemson has the talent to play with these guys.”
This is one such instance.
If Clemson can bring the balanced scoring they rode to victory over NC State, they’ve got a solid shot at picking up a win. The problem with this Clemson team is you’re not sure what you’re going to get on a game to game basis. Tevin Mack remains an enigma, Newman is inconsistent on offense, and Curran Scott can score in double figures or he scoreless. Simms has been consistently good over the last few games, but has a history of teasing with production and then fading into the background again.
The Tigers are coming into this game with about as much momentum as a 7-7 can muster after knocking off the Wolfpack on the road last time out. Conversely, North Carolina is riding a 2 game home losing streak, and are dead still in terms of momentum. The timing of this game sets up nicely for Clemson.
This North Carolina team looks like a squad that has a whole bunch of quit in them right now. Clemson must jump on them early and make them feel as bad about themselves as possible. The tension in the Dean Dome alone might crush them if Clemson can jump out early. That’s the path forward for the Tigers in this game. Get out to a lead and see if they’re willing to quit. If the game stays close, North Carolina will eventually grind the Tigers down in the post pull away late.
Now for my all important prediction
North Carolina 70 - Clemson 64 (34% Confidence)
North Carolina 63 - Clemson 69
It’s time boys. Let’s end this thing before it hits 60.