Carolina will beat State tomorrow night for two good reasons.
As long as the weather cooperates, the Tar Heels host the Wolfpack in the earliest meeting for the old rivals since 2006. Usually the home and home starts in mid-to-late January, sometimes in February. So with UNC 13-3 and State 12-3 and both teams 1-1 in the ACC, this figures to be a pretty close game.
After starting the season playing like one of the best teams in the country, Carolina has struggled since losing at Indiana and in its ACC opener at Georgia Tech. The Heels barely beat Tennessee and Clemson. Ironically, one of their best games of the season was the thrilling loss to Kentucky in Las Vegas.
State has struggled most of the season, losing to 22nd-ranked Creighton, at Illinois and at Miami in its ACC opener. Most of the Pack’s 12 wins have been unimpressive until Wednesday night when it blew out the same Virginia Tech team that had soundly defeated Duke three days earlier. UNC could be catching State at a bad time.
Coach Mark Gottfried’s team has better statistics than game results. Five Pack players average double figures, led by frosh super star Dennis Smith, Jr., and they shoot higher percentages from the floor, three-point range and free throw line than do the Tar Heels. But the one comparative stat that stands out is rebounding.
Carolina has a plus-seven rebounding average on the Wolfpack for the season, but 111 more total offensive rebounds, which has been both the Tar Heels’ strength and savior so far. They are one of the best teams in the country at getting back their own shots, and some of that has to do with missing some chippies around the goal.
Like Georgia Tech did and Clemson almost did, State will have to beat Carolina from outside, where it’s hitting 38 percent led by Smith, Terry Henderson and Torin Dorn, Jr., the son of former Tar Heel football star. And perhaps State’s purist long bomber, Maverick Rowan, has missed seven games and yet to find his outside shot.
It may be snowing outside, but the Heels will win this barn burner due to two things they own, the home floor and the offensive glass.