ACC Basketball

Tar Heels Visit South Beach

Michael Thomas Shroyer / USA TODAY Sports

HOW WE GOT HERE: Towards the end of January, the North Carolina Tar Heels were rolling, 18-4 on the season (all good loses) and a 7-1 record in the conference, yet the schedule got tougher and the defeats began to pile up, as they have dropped five of six, including their third and fourth games in the Dean Dome. Suddenly, UNC was barely hanging onto a four-seed.

Right around the same time, the Miami Hurricanes were putting together a pretty good season as well. They were coming off victories at Duke, home vs. NC State and on the road in Syracuse. The Canes were ranked, 14-5 on the year, 4-2 in the ACC. Yet, after getting steamrolled by Georgia Tech, they struggled, losing four of five (three of those defeats to inferior foes). However, they’ve recently won three of four to salvage what little hope they have of reaching the tournament.

FIVE DEEP THOUGHTS:

  • Statistically, North Carolina and Miami are very familiar. Both are top-50 offensively, both shoot in the top-100, both teams avoid turnovers. However, while Miami gets most of their scoring from their guards (Angel Rodriguez, Sheldon McClellan and Davon Reed), North Carolina relies on the big fellas. Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks have combined to average 26.1 points per game in conference play and until they ran into the Wolfpack this week, they had been putting in around 60% of their shots.
  • Miami has the size to match the Tar Heels, just not the talent. Omar Sherman is a big boy, who prefers to shoot threes. Ivan Cruz Uceda should see plenty of minutes, but the freshman has been inconsistent from game-to-game. This leaves Tonye Jekiri as the star in the middle. He’s the ACC’s top rebounder, pulling down 10 or more rebounds in six of his last seven games. He’s also started to pour in some points latley, scoring in double figures in four straight. Yet, the advantage for the Tar Heels is, Jekiri will get into foul trouble, so look for UNC to isolate him with Brice Johnson if they can and force him to play D.
  • Which struggling guard will finally get it going? If that question gets answered, it could be the game changer. Miami’s Angel Rodriguez had been in a awful shooting slump and it’s not surprising it coincided with the Hurricanes’ recent losing ways, failing to hit at least four buckets in a game since beating Duke a long time ago. Against Louisville, he was a tragic 1-for-12 from the floor. However, against Florida State, he attacked the paint and scored on eight of 11 shots from two, scoring 25 points.
  • For a hot minute, it looked like Marcus Paige broke his little slump, scoring 13 against Georgia Tech, while handing out 10 assists. However, when NC State came to town, he again disappeared, even afraid to take the big shot down the stretch. He failed to break double-digit scoring for the third time in four games, all loses. The problem is, this isn’t about shooting his way out of a slump. Paige has an injured foot, among other things and it’s not like ailments are going to suddenly start healing without rest.
  • The Hurricanes play their ball in BankUnited Center, which I believe is the smallest arena in the ACC (correct me if I’m wrong). I’ve been there. I was able to purchase front row seats pretty cheaply. My point…fans don’t always show up and it hasn’t been the home court advantage that other teams have enjoy. In fact, Miami has lost five games on campus this year. However, this is it for this team. If they don’t win this game, their NCAA Tournament dreams are done (unless they win the ACC Tournament). This is their last shot at a true signature win. If this team and this fan base can’t get hyped up for this one, then good luck in the N.I.T.

FINAL THOUGHT:
When Miami is clicking, running and hitting their shots, they’re one of the best in the ACC. The problem is, clicking, running and hitting their shots hasn’t really been their thing lately. The fact is, their winning ways have not been that impressive. They’ve beaten the two worst teams in the league (Virginia Tech, Boston College) and gave up 30-points to one player in four and a half minutes when they beat Florida State). The Tar Heels are going to reestablish themselves on the offense glass after being embarrassed by NC State and that’s the difference in the ball game.

WORTHLESS PREDICTION: North Carolina, 79-75

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