Game Preview: North Carolina

UNC has been a much different program this season and last, finishing last in the conference last season, and being just about average this season. They’ve lost to every good team they’ve played so far this season, but have found some ways to win these last few games in conference play, which we’ll talk about in a little bit.

That being said, it’s still North Carolina, one of the true blue bloods in college basketball. If Florida State wants to continue to prove they’re a “new blood,” go out and beat one of the five best programs in the history of this game. FSU is coming off their best and most efficient offensive performance ever, going against an NC State team that was without their shot blocker. How does FSU perform against a UNC team this Saturday with four post players and a team that is top-40 nationally in blocks?

This game will be at noon EST on ESPN from the Donald L Tucker Civic Center in Tallahassee, FL.

North Carolina Tar Heels (8-4, 3-2) Breakdown

This isn’t your dad’s or granddad’s UNC team. Obviously, they’re nowhere near as bad as last season, but they are still extremely underwhelming for UNC’s standards. They were projected to finish 3rd in the conference and had the preseason ACC Player of the Year, yet are currently 9th a quarter of the way into conference play. It’s a big game for both teams. For UNC, a win tells them they can compete in the top half of the conference and give them some confidence going forward with some lesser opponents the next few weeks. For FSU, a win cements them in the upper echelon of the standings heading into a tough two game stretch next week.

UNC is a team that lives in the post and in the paint. Their three leading scorers are all pure post players that can beat you through sheer force, through an array of post moves, or relentlessly attacking the offensive glass when a team gets lazy. If this was 1971, this would be a blueprint to success. Unfortunately, it’s 2021.

North Carolina used to be one of the fastest teams in the country. From 2014-2019, here are their finishes in tempo: 18th, 16th, 60th, 40th, 46th, 6th. Last season and so far this season, they’ve been 67th and 82nd in tempo. Their bigs are pretty mobile too, it’s just part of playing with a freshman point guard that is still getting used to the pace of college basketball, and not every freshman point guard plays as fast as Coby White did a few years ago.

In terms of shot attempts, it’s actually a pretty diverse shot selection: Spot-ups 19.3%, Transition 17.9%, Post-up 16.5%, PnR Ball-Handler 10.8%, and Put Backs/Offensive Rebounds 10.1%. No one in the country has more points (128) than North Carolina on put-backs, and it’s going to be a real focal point for Florida State heading into the game. They very rarely isolate, and really want to put the focus on finding ways to get the big men touches or their ball-handlers open for shots.

Defensively, they run exclusively man-to-man. They extend their bigs a little further than they probably should without switching, and it leads to confusion with young guards figuring out what they’re supposed to do. The more quick ball movement there is in a possession, the more likely it is that UNC is going to leave someone open from 3.

Florida State may be inconsistent from 3 when they take a lot in a game, but when they’re taking controlled, smart shots, it’s a really good shooting team. Even after a rough stretch, FSU is back up to 37.2% from 3. And FSU has plenty of guys that can make those quick passes. Playing inside-out to get the defense sucked in might be a good idea to get these opens looks.

UNC is actually a better defensive team than offensive, which is something not normally seen from them. If it wasn’t for their offensive rebounding, their offensive numbers would be putrid. They currently sit at 59th in offensive efficiency and 17th in defensive efficiency, and the 59th feels WAY high when you sit down and watch them.

Where they’re most impressive is coming out of halftime. Against both Iowa and NC State, they went into half down double digits then came roaring back in the first 6-10 minutes of the second half to tie, take the lead, etc. (may have been done in other games, I mainly watched these two games and Notre Dame). In general, they’re one of the worst teams in the country in the first half, sitting at 202nd in halftime margin at -1.3 PPG, somewhat surprising given their schedule so far. Then in the second half, they sit at 35th at +5.8 PPG. This is a really, really good second half team, and Florida State is going to have to make smart adjustments whether they’re up 10 or down 5.

Armando Bacot is this team’s leading scorer and rebounder, but only plays about 23 minutes per game. He comes in, gets his looks at the rim, then lets Day’Ron Sharpe come in and do his work. Bacot has only taken 7 shots outside of 5 feet all season, and he’s taken 78 total shots. Good, not great shot blocker. As with most of their bigs, he’s a relentless rebounder and is tied for the most offensive rebounds. I expect Florida State to really try and get him on the perimeter on defense.

Garrison Brooks was Preseason ACC Player of the Year and has been… fine. He’s a little more able to space the floor out to 15-feet, and is even 2/3 from straight away deep this season, but he’s another guy that really prefers to operate inside. He’s the better of the shot blockers of this roster, and there are a lot of solid shot blockers on this roster, but also leads the team in total fouls. Roy Williams seems to have the most trust in him out of everyone, so he’d be a go to guy if they really need a basket.

Day’Ron Sharpe may actually be their best player, and he just keeps getting better as the season progresses. He’s a heavyset guy at 265, but it’s solid muscle and he just absolutely overpowers people; Balsa Koprivica and Tanor Ngom have their work cut out for them when matched up with him. Despite playing just 19 minutes per game, he’s also tied for the lead in offensive rebounds. He’s going to be a major problem for the rest of the ACC for the rest of his college career, however long it is.

Caleb Love has been a major disappointment thus far, having one of the worst shooting splits in the country for someone playing as much as him at 27.0/18.0/85.3. His free throw shooting alone shows the potential he has as a scorer and shooter, but it’s yet to show this season. Love has the most shot attempts on the team by a pretty decent margin at 137, next closest being Brooks at 111. Against NC State, which is probably the closest comparison to Florida State in terms of play style, he had just two turnovers. That’s an anomaly compared to a lot of these games. He’s had 4 turnovers against Texas, Iowa, Georgia Tech, and Miami; had 5 against Stanford, and 6 against NC Central. He’s only had one game where he’s shot more than 37% from the floor, and has had 5 games below 23%.

RJ Davis was expected to be a small, compact scorer, drawing comparisons to JJ Barea. It’s interesting they decide to play him and Love at the same time, and not stagger their minutes more. Davis is more of a combo guard despite his size at 5’11” but he’s also been wildly inefficient this season. Davis and Love have taken the most 3s on the team, so don’t be too surprised if they make a couple they shouldn’t, just because of the sheer volume.

Leaky Black came into his college career with some pretty incredible highlight tapes, but he’s been underwhelming his whole career. Explosive leaper and a phenomenal athlete, but not a phenomenal basketball player. All the things that look impressive on his stat sheet, like his rebounding and steals, are a credit to his athleticism.

Andrew Platek is your typical 4-year guy at these blue blood programs: good shooter, knows what he’s doing when he’s out on the floor, won’t do a ton of things to hurt your team in a game. Roy Williams mainly plays the six guys above, but seems to give some trust to Platek when they’re in need of some spacing and scoring. Kerwin Walton has a similar skillset. Good shooter, a little bit better ball-handler, but turns it over a LOT.

Walker Kessler is someone I expected to play more for UNC, but he plays a little too erratic for the coaching staff’s liking. He can still come in and hit quality shots down low.

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

UNC Produces: 73.0/45.1 (16.6/28.5)/13.9/6.3/4.8/15.4/17.8          41.7/29.3/68.4

UNC Allows: 68.5/32.1 (9.1/23.0)/12.5/8.9/4.5/13.6/19.9          42.2/34.7/62.8

Player Stats

#5 Armando Bacot 11.3/8.0/0.4/0.4/0.8/1.7/2.2            62.8/NA/67.9

#15 Garrison Brooks 10.7/7.9/1.3/0.8/1.1/1.8/2.9          44.1/66.7/62.2

#11 Day’Ron Sharpe 9.7/7.8/1.5/1.1/0.9/1.9/2.3              50.0/0.0/59.6

#2 Caleb Love 9.3/2.3/3.3/0.8/0.4/3.2/2.2                      27.0/18.0/85.3

#4 RJ Davis 8.6/2.7/2.3/0.3/0.0/2.1/1.7                           32.7/29.2/76.7

#1 Leaky Black 7.5/6.2/2.3/1.3/0.7/1.4/2.0                       38.1/30.4/67.9

#3 Andrew Platek 6.0/2.2/0.8/0.7/0.2/1.1/1.9                 44.1/35.3/80.0

#24 Kerwin Walton 5.4/1.3/1.8/0.3/0.2/1.1/0.7               47.7/44.4/87.5

#13 Walker Kessler 2.8/2.5/0.1/0.4/0.5/0.8/1.3              54.2/0.0/44.4

Florida State Seminoles (6-2, 2-1) Breakdown

FSU’s offensive performance Wednesday night is something that can’t be replicated, but their offense has been surprisingly good this season. According to KenPom’s rankings, Florida State is 14th in offensive efficiency, and it’s been defense where they’re “lacking”, sitting at 40th. As rotations get solidified and the season has more practices, the defense will get figured out. For what it’s worth, it’s been a really down year across college basketball in terms of offense. FSU’s 113.1 offensive rating would’ve been 34th two season ago, but it’s still a pleasant surprise that FSU is this high when they lost so much offensive creation from a season ago.

Similarly, FSU’s current defensive rating of 93.3 would’ve been 18th two season ago. Defenses have been a lot better across college basketball, and whether that’s due to the lack of prep time in the summer and fall for teams to work on offenses or teams choosing to mostly focus on defenses in practice (likely the former), is something that’ll play out the rest of the season.

RayQuan Evans will be looking to follow up what was easily his best performance as a Seminole, finishing with 24 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assist on just 11 shots and 19 minutes. I don’t expect a performance close to that again against UNC, but I also wouldn’t complain. What FSU will need from him, if Scottie Barnes is still limited or doesn’t play, is to be an extremely pesky on-ball defender. UNC’s main ball handler, Caleb Love, averages 3.2 turnovers per game to 3.3 assists, and has a turnover rate of almost 20%. UNC’s bench ball handler, Kerwin Walton, has a turnover rate of 21.4%. FSU is going to dial up different presses all game to really force these young ball handlers into making mistakes, and these main defenders of Evans, MJ Walker, and Anthony Polite are going to be vital in causing as many disruptions as possible.

I’m curious to see the defensive impact RaiQuan Gray has this game. It’s been no surprise to anyone that watches how great of a defender Gray is, especially at coming from behind and poking a ball loose. He very easily has the best DBPM on the team, and is second in defensive rating behind Tanor Ngom. He’s mainly played against guys that are perimeter threats, and this will be his first true test against a twin post system. He has the girth to keep up, and is only giving up a couple of inches in height, but how will he keep up against an array of post moves? I’m confident in Gray, but we’ll see how the game plays out.

Because of UNC’s twin post system, you’re going to see a lot more Tanor Ngom and potentially even Quincy Ballard in this game, with Malik Osborne playing more at the 4. Osborne has struggled this season as he moves from almost exclusively being a 5 last season to playing more on the perimeter this year to mixed results. His effort is still second to none, and his defensive intensity is something sorely needed, but the offense completely falters when he’s out there; he has one of the lowest OBPMs and offensive ratings on the team. Opposing teams are daring him to create and I think he’s just not confident in it yet.

Injury Report

Scottie Barnes turned his ankle Wednesday night against NC State and didn’t return. Coach Hamilton has said he’ll be a game-time decision.

Anthony Harris and Sterling Manley have yet to play this season as they recover from knee injuries. No update has been provided.

Projected Starters

Florida State

G: RayQuan Evans

G: MJ Walker

G: Anthony Polite

F: RaiQuan Gray

C: Balsa Koprivica

North Carolina

G: Caleb Love

G: RJ Davis

G: Leaky Black

F: Garrison Brooks

F: Armando Bacot

Keys to the Game

Limit Offensive Rebounds

North Carolina is an extremely inefficient team, having one of the worst FG% and 3pt% in the country. What they lose in shot making, they make up for in offensive rebounding. UNC is first in total offensive rebounds and in offensive rebounds per game with over 16 offensive boards per game, allowing them to get 23 points per game simply on post-ups and put-backs.

With these offensive rebounds comes a lot of free throw chances as well. In games they win, they average nearly 25 free throw attempts per game. In games they lose, they average just around 20, and if you take out the Texas game (one of the weirder box scores I’ve seen this season, they shot 32 free throws and grabbed 17 offensive rebounds and still lost), it’s down to 17 attempts per game. I don’t expect Florida State get the benefit of the whistle against a Tobacco Road school, but five people going after defensive boards and boxing out is going to be imperative. Keep them in the 10-12 offensive rebounds range and I really like Florida State’s chances.

Shoot Well

In games where UNC’s opponents shoot above 35% from 3, UNC is 1-4. That one win was a 6-point win over 1-3 NC Central. In games where UNC’s opponents shoot below 35% from 3, UNC is 7-0. Florida State likely won’t have the same offensive performance they had Wednesday night against NC State, but taking smart shots opens up a lot for the rest of the offense to operate.

UNC has 4 guys standing 6’10” are taller, including their three best players. If you continue to drive directly into them, you’re exposing yourself to a bad day. If you get them involved in pick and rolls, forcing them to play out more on the perimeter, they’re lazy in rotations and leave the corners open often. Take advantage of those chances, and make them second guess whether to help off of the block more often.

Take Advantage in Transition

Florida State is going to get turnovers. Carolina is bottom-75 in turnovers given up at over 15 per game, and have had 16 or more turnovers in 7 of the games they’ve played so far (basically, UNC has turned the ball over a ton against every average or better defensive team, outside of Syracuse which is a completely different scheme). What Florida State has to do is continue to ramp up the pressure and make the most of these opportunities to get out in transition to score.

FSU was phenomenal in transition against NC State, with the exception of a couple of turnovers that were just bad passes/bad catch attempts. By my count, Florida State had 26 transition chances Wednesday night and scored/got fouled on 20 of those possessions. That kind of efficiency is something likely not seen again, but above 65% scoring in transition would be a good number to shoot for.

Game Prediction

Florida State opened as a 3-point favorite, with the o/u set at 144.5.

I like Florida State a lot here. There’s just more going in their favor than there is for UNC. If the whistle starts really leaning towards UNC (which it is the ACC, so 50/50 chance), or they start hitting shots they haven’t really been hitting all season, then I’ll get a little nervous. I just really think Florida State’s length is going to bother their guards in the backcourt, and they’ll be smart with how they play the post.

This should be fairly high scoring compared to most ACC games, the last few between these two teams have been. I’ll take the ‘Noles 79-72.

Leave a Reply