Game Preview: at North Carolina

Another huge game for Florida State is on deck, with a road game at UNC. If this was last week, we’re looking at this as a massive game between two teams riding waves of momentum. Instead, UNC just lost Wednesday night at home to a 10-12 Marquette team. It wasn’t even just that they lost, they got blown out on their home floor, to a really bad team. Maybe they’ve just been practicing and game-planning for FSU all week and didn’t prepare for Marquette, but either way… all of their momentum just hit a brick wall. Now they’re going to be desperate for a resume building win against a really good Florida State team that is heading towards a 2 seed.

For FSU, they haven’t won at UNC since 2010, and just twice since the turn of the century. The Dean Dome has historically been really poor to Florida State, and this will be a great chance for them to do something again that great FSU teams haven’t been able to do. We talked about this with Pitt, and now they’ll get a chance to do it with one of the greatest programs in college basketball.

In typical fashion, with their two biggest home games of the season, UNC will now be allowing about 2,400 fans into the arena for FSU and Duke, so there will be some noise for the first time all season in that building, but luckily yours truly will now be in the building as well. This game will be live at 4pm EST on ESPN, live from the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, NC.

North Carolina Tar Heels (14-8, 8-5) Breakdown

Like with our usual repeat opponents, I will link you back to the original GAME PREVIEW so you can see my thoughts on players and the team’s overall playstyle.

UNC is a little bit better of a 3-point shooting team since the last time we’ve seen them, mostly because of Caleb Love, he’s had some big games recently, outside of Marquette (which we’ll touch on in a minute). What they’ve made up for in 3-point shooting, they’ve lost in free throw shooting. Any of their 3 bigs, you’d rather have them going to the free throw line than get looks at the rim. They also just don’t take 3s, ranking in the bottom third nationally in 3-point attempts per game, which is why Florida State was okay with them taking 3s in the first game. I think Florida State’s gameplan on this will change slightly to address a certain player or two, but for the most part I don’t expect much change in the defensive gameplan.

Carolina could’ve been coming into this game with so much momentum…. but Marquette…. man. This was simultaneously one of their worst offensive and defensive performances, just lackadaisical on both ends. They turned the ball over on 25% of possessions, and most of it was illegal screens, push offs, etc. I do NOT expect Florida State to get those same calls in Tobacco Road, no chance. There was a lot of fighting going on down low that I do not think gets called in most games.

Defensively, Marquette was just hitting tough shots, especially in the first half. They were isolating a lot more than you’d see from FSU, but they were hitting shots, credit to them. Florida State is much better at getting ball movement and getting the defense on their heels and works to get good shots. Very rarely does FSU isolate and throw up a 3. Marquette did it a handful of times and it paid off. Those isolations paid off inside where they shot 62.5% inside the arc, forced 19 turnovers, and got 20 free throw attempts, while also limiting Caleb Love to a single point. That’s a great way to beat UNC.

Now, UNC is going to be desperate and angry trying to get a resume-building win, and there is no better opportunity for UNC than to beat a thriving Florida State team, that is clearly the best team in the conference as we stand in late February. UNC does have a couple of opportunities after this game, like playing against bubble teams in Syracuse and Duke, but neither would look as good as a win against Florida State would.

Anthony Harris has acted as a secondary playmaker, but is still working his way to get more confidence in his knee. He got the best of FSU in the first matchup, simply because FSU wasn’t expecting him to play. The game was getting out of hand before he was thrown in and immediately started making a difference. I doubt he was on FSU’s scouting report that game, but he certainly will be now.

Walker Kessler has been playing much better as of late, partially because he’s gotten more playing time. He still has a lot of growing to do, but the Tar Heels’ staff seems to have a little more faith in him, which is big considering they’ll need to rely on him a lot next season.

Team Stats PPG/RPG (ORBs/DRBs)/APG/SPG/BPG/ToPG/FPG          FG%/3PT%/FT%

UNC Produces: 74.2/42.5 (15.0/27.5)/15.7/7.2/4.0/14.5/17.0          44.3/31.5/65.0

UNC Allows: 69.4/32.0 (9.0/23.0)/12.9/8.0/4.3/13.6/18.1          42.6/35.6/69.3

Player Stats

#5 Armando Bacot 11.4/7.5/0.8/0.6/0.7/1.4/2.2             61.8/0.0/62.6

#15 Garrison Brooks 10.7/7.1/1.4/0.9/0.8/1.7/3.0          46.7/40.0/60.0

#11 Day’Ron Sharpe 10.3/8.0/1.4/1.0/0.9/1.8/2.0          53.4/0.0/51.3

#2 Caleb Love 10.0/2.4/3.7/1.1/0.4/3.2/2.0                     31.5/23.3/78.3

#4 RJ Davis 7.9/1.5/1.8/0.5/0.1/1.8/1.6                            34.5/31.0/77.6

#24 Kerwin Walton 7.9/2.2/2.1/0.5/0.0/1.8/1.6             47.6/45.4/90.9

#1 Leaky Black 5.8/5.3/2.5/1.3/0.4/1.3/1.9                      39.0/23.5/69.2

#3 Andrew Platek 4.4/1.8/1.0/0.5/0.2/0.9/1.3                40.7/32.7/78.6

#33 Walker Kessler 3.4/2.5/0.3/0.5/0.5/0.5/1.1             54.5/25.0/46.7

#0 Anthony Harris 2.9/0.9/1.3/0.6/0.0/0.6/1.4            45.0/25.0/75.0

#11 Florida State Seminoles (14-3, 10-2) Breakdown

This is a big game for FSU in their pursuit of another regular season ACC Championship. They win this game, then they move into a clincher against Boston College at home (sound familiar?) on Wednesday night. As mentioned in the opening, the Dean Dome has been historically bad to be Florida State, but to be fair, it has to everyone. UNC has won 78% of their games all time in the Dean Smith Center, so an opposition win is few and far between. Since 2010, UNC has only lost back-to-back home games three times, and two of those were last season when they had their worst team in 18 seasons and their 4th worst season ever. Can FSU make it a 4th time?

Florida State is dealing with some injury issues for the first time all season. They’ve had some guys miss a couple of games here and there, but it’s never been multiple key players like it is right now. MJ Walker, Malik Osborne, and Tanor Ngom all have brought FSU great minutes this season, Walker and Ngom were both sitting out the game with nagging injuries, while Osborne left the game with an ankle sprain. All 3 are set to be game-time decisions, but I expect Ngom and Walker to play. Osborne is a key piece, and FSU will need him to play if he’s healthy. Knowing Osborne, he’s going to try and give it a go.

FSU was able to beat Carolina the first time by using their guard size and athleticism to their advantage. Guys like Kerwin Walton and Caleb Love were able to get their points, but their bigs weren’t able to get it all done. Guys were playing safety over them and flying in from all angles to keep the ball from ever getting there.

UNC’s bigs were getting extra attention, with another defender constantly within 3-5 feet. Any pass to the inside was forced to be a tough pass, whether from pressure on the ball or in the post, with defenders fighting around bodies.

RaiQuan Gray is going to be really important in this game. His ability to take Garrison Brooks, Day’Ron Sharpe, and Armando Bacot off of the dribble is vital just in getting them away from the basket and out of their comfort zones. Luckily he’s been superb these last 9 games and has put himself in All-ACC conversations.

Florida State is a much better team than they were the last time they played UNC, and now will have Scottie Barnes in the lineup, something they didn’t have last time. His versatility cannot be understated, especially in a game like this. Last time, FSU was able to win because they were dominant from the free throw line and able to get UNC in situations they weren’t used to. Now, UNC knows what to expect, how will the ‘Noles adjust?

Injury Report

MJ Walker missed last game against Miami with an ankle injury. He went through shoot-around, but it was decided that he’d sit the game out and get a little more rest. He’s probable for Saturday’s game.

Tanor Ngom also missed last game with a bruise, and was held out for precautionary reasons as well. He should also be a go for UNC.

The big question is Malik Osborne, who turned his ankle against Miami, is doubtful for Saturday’s contest, which is a big loss. His rebounding presence against a team like North Carolina would be huge. Last time, he had 10 points and 2 rebounds.

For UNC, both Sterling Manley and Puff Johnson are questionable.

Projected Starters

North Carolina

G: Caleb Love

G: Kerwin Walton

F: Leaky Black

F: Garrison Brooks

C: Armando Bacot

Florida State

G: RayQuan Evans

G: MJ Walker

G: Wyatt Wilkes

F: RaiQuan Gray

C: Balsa Koprivica

Keys to the Game

3-Point Shooting

UNC is 6-8 when teams shoot above 34.5% from 3, and 8-0 in games when teams shoot 34.5% or less from 3. Pretty solid line. FSU has the best 3-point percentage against them all season, when they shot 50% from 3 on 16 shots. FSU knows they’ll be able to get those shots off, whether they make them will be a huge difference.

For UNC, there are a couple of players you have to keep an eye on, which will be addressed in the next key, but they aren’t a great shooting team. Caleb Love is capable when you leave him wide open, but otherwise he’s only 23% from 3 on the year. Anthony Harris was a great shooter before his ACL tear last season, and is still finding his way back, If he were to hit a couple, it wouldn’t surprise me.

Limit Kerwin Walton

This is… probably not the player you were expecting to see here. UNC is 7-1 in games where Walton scores 10+ points this season, and 7-7 in games that he’s less than 10 points. That 1 loss UNC has where he scores 10+ does just happen to be at FSU though. He’s a difference maker for their offense because he is the only one that can reliably hit a 3 in the starting lineup. Once you get to the bench, you have guys like Anthony Harris, RJ Davis, and Andrew Platek that can hit one occasionally too, but Walton gets the shine.

Most people will focus on UNC’s bigs, and for good reason. Garrison Brooks, Day’Ron Sharpe, and Armando Bacot are all exceptional players, but because FSU has so much length and athleticism, even when FSU switches they’re not caught in size disadvantages. Last time, FSU didn’t even have Scottie Barnes and were still able to keep their bigs contained for the most part.


UNC is one of the best rebounding teams in the country, but so is Florida State. As long as FSU contends on the glass, they’ll give themselves a chance. FSU out-rebounded Carolina in the first game, only the second time all season they’ve been outrebounded, and they’re going to want to prove a point and not let Florida State do it again.

If FSU doesn’t have Malik Osborne on Saturday, they’ll need someone to step up, especially with as great of offensive rebounding UNC has.

Game Prediction

Florida State opened as a 1-point favorite, before moving to a 2.5-point favorite, with an over/under of 151.

This is a really, really tough test. Before the season, I predicted this as a loss, but I also didn’t expect UNC to be coming off a home loss to Marquette. FSU will get Carolina’s best shot, they desperately need this one and they’re going to be extremely locked into their gameplan, and I think they’re going to try and limit our shooters more than normal. That being said, I trust FSU’s ability to switch and make stops when needed, and their size with their guards can give UNC’s bigs issues. I’m going for the once in a decade win at the Dean Dome.

FSU 81-77.

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