Game Preview: North Carolina

Florida State gets a quick turnaround following their road win against Virginia Tech, as both FSU and UNC head to Tallahassee for a Monday night showdown.

The Tar Heels are vastly underperforming their expectations heading into the season, especially given that some had them in the Final 4. The injury to Cole Anthony didn’t help things, but they’re still not a good team with him, given their lost loss to Boston College in the Dean Dome.

That being said, UNC is still a bad matchup for Florida State, and this won’t be the easy game that every Florida State fan expects.

For those not in attendance, the game will be at 7pm EST on ESPN, live from the Donald L Tucker Center.

North Carolina Breakdown

When Cole Anthony went down with injury in mid-December, most people expected the Tar Heels to tread water until he got back for the tougher half of the schedule. Instead, they went 4-7 in his absence, with losses to Wofford, Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh twice, Clemson, Virginia Tech, and a more respectable Gonzaga. Anthony came back this past weekend, but they still lost at home to Boston College after he wasted too much time trying to set up a play and hoisted up a bad attempt.

This team is just bad. They don’t do anything well except rebound (8th in TRB%, 18th in ORB%), the one true weakness of Florida State, but with Brandon Robinson out with an ankle injury, they’re losing some rebounding there too.

They just cannot shoot… from anywhere, but still do a fair bit of scoring with 71.5 PPG. As of 9:30pm on February 2nd, The Tar Heels are 294th in FG% (41.3%), 305th in 2pt% (46.4%), 329th in 3pt% (29.5%), and 310th in FT% (65.6%). Usually when UNC has had success in the past, it’s because of their transition offense. That’s not the case this year, given that they are 2nd worst in the country in transition points per possession at .794 and only end transition opportunities in points 38% of the time, according to SynergySportsTech.

UNC is also turning it over a fair amount at 13 turnovers per game, with 8 players averaging 1.0 turnovers per game or more. Against an aggressive and opportunistic Florida State defense, I would expect those numbers to rise a few in this game.

When the offense is bad, usually teams need their defense to step up, but Roy Williams has never been known for having good defensive teams. That’s no exception this year. UNC is allowing 70.8 PPG, and teams are just lighting them up from 3, as they are bottom-75 in 3-point attempts allowed and makes allowed. They also are bottom-30 in turnovers forced.

Offensively, they’re led by Cole Anthony, who is averaging 19.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 3.4 APG, and 1.9 SPG on a 36.7/34.3/74.3 shooting split. He’s also turning it over a ton with 3.5 TPG, and is extremely inefficient from just about everywhere. Despite his inefficiency, he is the V8 engine in this Mini Cooper of an offense. Think of the Dennis Smith Jr year at NC State, it’s very similar.

Garrison Brooks is having a solid year as well, averaging 15.3 PPG, 9.3 RPG, and 2.0 APG, but for their big man to be averaging 2.0 TPG too isn’t ideal. His shooting split is 52.9/16.7/59.1, but is 1/6 from 3 so that shooting percentage doesn’t mean too much to me. He is an extremely talented player around the low block, and is even better on putbacks. Keeping him off of the glass and forcing him off of his spots will be important.

This team will really be missing Brandon Robinson and his 13.1 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.7 APG, and 1.2 SPG. He’s one of the few sort of efficient players on the wing, at a 41.0/35.3/82.1 split. Look for players like Justin Pierce and Leaky Black to try and replace his production.

Armando Bacot is the last major name to know, as he is another talented big averaging 10.7 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 1.4 APG, and 1.3 BPG on a 47.4/0.0/65.3 shooting split. UNC is a really unique team, considering their twin post system still being alive in 2020. This is a great rebounding team, which is a huge mismatch against Florida State.

This is usually where I highlight some other contributors that are need to know, but no one is shooting above 26% from 3 except for Leaky Black at 32.5%, and no one else is having any major statistical contribution. Justin Pierce and Christian Keeling were great mid-major scorers who have yet to do much of anything since coming to UNC, maybe this is the game that changes.

Florida State Breakdown

There are two ways FSU can handle their defense this game. Either give Cole Anthony the Dennis Smith treatment, where they dog him up and down the length of the floor to make him give it up as much as possible, or the Ja Morant treatment where they take away every other option and let him be him.

Because Anthony isn’t the greatest passer, I’m going to expect more of a Dennis Smith treatment, when DSJ was held to 8 points, 6 assists, and 3 turnovers. The Seminoles have been switching 1-5 this season, but given UNC’s frontcourt, I’m not sure they can afford to do that. Given the success Dominik Olejniczak had last game against Virginia Tech, I’m expecting more of him and Balsa Koprivica, with Malik Osborne playing more at the 4 to match-up with UNC’s size.

Rebounding has been one of FSU’s weaknesses this season, as they are sitting at a 50% rebounding rate, and is bottom-50 in opponent ORB% with teams grabbing offensive rebounds on 31% of all rebounding chances while FSU is on defense.

Devin Vassell took his game to another level this past Saturday, going for 27 on 10 shots, including 7/7 from downtown. The guards are going to have an important role in this game trying to slow down Cole Anthony, and I imagine the coaching staff is just going to throw body after body after him, starting with Trent Forrest.

These guards are also going to have to crash the glass, no one can be leaking out if they expect to win this game. Ignore the record UNC possesses, and focus more on the UNC brand.

Injury Report

Florida State

Patrick Williams returned last game and looked to be operating normally.

MJ Walker missed the VT game with an ankle injury he tweaked in the Virginia game, and the staff was hoping he’d be back for this UNC game. I would say he’s probably for this match-up.

North Carolina

Cole Anthony returned last game and played 26 minutes, and now has to play just two days later on the road. I wouldn’t be completely surprised if he’s on some sort of minutes restriction for this game.

As mentioned a few times, Brandon Robinson will be out with an ankle injury he suffered at the very end of their last game against Boston College.

Sharpshooter Anthony Harris is out for this season with a torn ACL.

Big man Sterling Manley was announced out for the season before the season even began after having surgery to fix cartilage in his knee.

Projected Starting Lineups

Florida State

G: Trent Forrest

G: Anthony Polite/MJ Walker

G:: Devin Vassell

F: RaiQuan Gray

C: Dominik Olejniczak

North Carolina

G: Cole Anthony

G: Justin Pierce

G: Leaky Black

F: Garrison Brooks

F: Armando Bacot

Keys to the Game

Contend on the Glass

I’m not expecting FSU to keep up with UNC on the glass, as the ‘Noles just haven’t shown they can do that. If they can at least stay within 5-7 rebounds of Carolina, I really like FSU’s chances. The more offensive possessions UNC can get, the closer the game will be. Every player on Florida State’s roster will have to be attacking the defensive glass, putting a body on Bacot and Brooks every time a shot goes up, for them to win comfortably.

Hound Cole Anthony

With UNC’s third best scorer and best 3-point shooter out for the game, Cole Anthony is UNC’s only shot creator. I would think FSU is going to have some sort of full court pressure in place to get in is head and force him to give the ball up. I’ll go out on a limb and say Anthony has 5+ turnovers, including a couple of 10-second violations for not getting the ball across half court in time.

Test The Depth

Having just one day of rest is tough for any college team, especially when both teams have to travel in between those games. UNC already has a shallow bench, with only 8 players usually playing double digit minutes. With the pace UNC likes to play at, they’re going to wear themselves out quickly. The deeper they go into their bench, the more it favors Florida State, who should be at full strength today, depending on the availability of MJ Walker.


Florida State opened as 9.5-point favorites with the o/u set at 143.5. I think that o/u is a little high… I know UNC wants to score and Florida State is coming off of a hot performance against Virginia Tech, but usually games after just one day of rest result in uglier games and some tired legs in college basketball. This isn’t the NBA where teams have millions of dollars in recovery tools available on the planes and players have all day to get treatment. These are college athletes, they still have to do homework, go to classes, tutoring, etc.

Florida State should win fairly comfortably, somewhere in the 75-67 range. If Vassell keeps his hot streak going, this could turn into a 20-point blowout. On the flip side, if the defensive pressure busts and allows Cole Anthony to do what he wants, while their bigs dominate the glass, UNC could very well come away with this much needed win.

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