North Carolina (11-4, 1-1) vs. Louisville (14-1, 2-0)
Chapel Hill, N.C. - Dean E. Smith Center
Saturday, 2:00 p.m.
ESPN (Dan Shulman, Dick Vitale)
“There will be a lot more paying attention to transition baskets, rebounding, controlling your turnovers. It should be a very exciting game for both teams.” – Louisville head coach Rick Pitino
“Montrezl is a load.” – UNC head coach Roy Williams
Season to Date: No. 5 Louisville boasts an impressive 14-1 (2-0 ACC) record, with its lone loss coming to top-ranked Kentucky (59-50) on Dec. 27. The Cardinals have some nice out-of-conference wins on its resume, including a nine-point win over No. 22 Ohio State and a dominating 94-74 neutral site win over Indiana. Head coach Rick Pitino’s squad has also gotten off to a strong start in ACC play with victories at Wake Forest (85-76) and at home against Clemson (58-52).
Montrezl in the Middle: After toying with the possibility of entering the NBA Draft last spring, the junior forward has elevated his draft status with solid play this season. The 6-foot-8 big man added 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason and is currently averaging 15.9 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. More importantly, he has played with an infectious energy that has been a driving force in Louisville’s top-five ranking as it begins to navigate the ACC for the first time.
Harrell Needs Help: These Cardinals are not nearly as deep as they were last season, particularly in the frontcourt. Pitino has relied on two young centers - Chinanu Onuaku (6’10 230 lbs) and Mangok Mathiang (6’10 220 lbs.) - to try and alleviate some of the pressure on Harrell up front. Both underclassmen have a ton of potential, but are still adjusting to the game at the college level. Onuaku is starting alongside Harrell and contributing just 3.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, while Mathiang is adding 2.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per contest.
Defending Well: Giants on the back line that protect the rim? Check. Quick, athletic guards that extend on the perimeter? Check. Yes, this looks like another classic defensive-minded team that has Pitino’s calling card throughout the years. The Cardinals are ranked 12th nationally in scoring defense (55.5) and 13th in field goal percentage defense (36.2). Whether it is in the paint or out in space, this is a unit that has made life tremendously difficult for opposing offenses.
Struggles from Behind the Arc: As good as this group has been on defense, the offensive side of things has been much more of a mixed big. Specifically, the outside scoring options have struggled to find consistency from 3-point range. As a team, Louisville has converted just 29.5 percent of its 3-point attempts (5th-worst in the ACC) despite having the third-most attempts in the conference (308).
Jones Finding his Form? Point guard Chris Jones is still working to match the consistent level of play demonstrated by departed Louisville guards of the past few seasons (Russ Smith and Kevin Ware). That being said, Jones is coming off his two best performances of the season (back-to-back 22 point performances against Wake Forest and Clemson). If he can continue to provide that type of offensive output alongside leading scorers Terry Rozier (17 ppg) and Harrell (15.9 ppg), then Louisville’s offense has a chance to adequately complement its stout defense.
Last Meeting: North Carolina defeated No. Louisville, 93-84, to win the Hall of Fame Tipoff in Uncasville, Conn. on Nov. 24, 2013. The contest featured an electrifying battle between elite point guards, as Marcus Paige scored 32 points for Carolina, while Louisville’s Russ Smith led all scorers with 36. Kennedy Meeks also turned in a career performance with 13 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists.
Series History: The Tar Heels lead the all-time series with the Cardinals, 9-3. UNC is 2-0 against Louisville during the Roy Williams era.
3 Chris Jones (5-10, 175, Sr.) - 12.8 ppg, 3.1 apg
0 Terry Rozier (6-1, 190, So.) - 17.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg
25 Wayne Blackshear (6-5, 215, Sr.) - 12.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg
24 Montrezl Harrell (6-8, 240, Jr.) - 15.9 ppg, 9.3 rpg
32 Chinanu Onuaku (6-10, 230, Fr.) - 3.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg
1 Anton Gill (6-3, 190, So.) - 3.4 ppg, 1.6 rpg
21 Shaqquan Aaron (6-7, 170, Fr.) - 2.8 ppg, 1.6 rpg
12 Mangok Mathiang (6-10, 220, So.) - 2.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg
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