North Carolina (11-2) vs. Monmouth (10-2)
Chapel Hill, N.C. – Dean E. Smith Center
Wednesday, 7 p.m.
ESPNU (Anish Shroff, Cory Alexander)
“It’s been a year of getting more comfortable with this team, and getting more relaxed with these guys and now it’s clicking.” – Monmouth senior guard Je’lon Hornbeak
“Sooner or later the ball is going to go in and we’re going to do that by getting stops.” – Monmouth head coach King Rice
Heels Closing Out OOC Slate: With ACC play tipping off in earnest with three games in eight days beginning in Atlanta on New Year’s Eve, the Tar Heels will have to focus once more on a nonconference opponent that is a likely NCAA Tournament team. UNC took Davidson a bit too lightly three weeks ago and had to hold off a late rally for the 83-74 win. Monmouth is in the same league of mid-major opposition, and the Tar Heels’ ability to shake off the holiday break and engage early – they have trailed by seven or more points in the first half four times in the last six games – will likely determine the Hawks’ upset chances.
Monmouth Spotlight: The Hawks have won nine straight after dropping games at South Carolina (70-69, OT) and Syracuse (71-50) in the first week of the season. King Rice’s sixth squad in New Jersey is experienced and balanced, starting four seniors as well as four players averaging double figures. The Hawks rank 63rd nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and 101st in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to kenpom.com. Despite shooting just 43.9 percent from the floor, Monmouth is knocking down 37.5 percent of its 3-pointers, which represents more than 40 percent of its field goal attempts.
Senior Stepping Up: While the diminutive Justin Robinson receives the headlines for leading the Hawks in scoring and directing the offense, senior guard Je’lon Hornbeak has balanced out Monmouth’s offensive attack in recent weeks. The Oklahoma transfer has won back-to-back MAAC Player of the Week honors, thanks in large part to connecting on 30 3-pointers over his last seven games, including four or more five times. Hornbeak ranks ninth nationally in 3-point field goal percentage (51.5).
Big vs. Small: Monmouth’s four-guard lineup will yet again test Roy Williams’s resolve in sticking to his preferred rotation with two bigs on the floor. Micah Seaborn, standing 6-foot-5, serves as the Hawks’ tallest option in the starting lineup outside of center Chris Brady. While that will give Isaiah Hicks a significant advantage on the offensive end as well as on the glass, it also puts him in the difficult position of having to extend his defense to the perimeter. Hicks, whose foul trouble is a stock talking point, has been called for four fouls or more in four of his last six games, and his playing time has suffered as a result. The senior forward is averaging 19.5 minutes per game during that stretch after playing 26.7 minutes per game through UNC’s first seven contests. The emergence of Brandon Robinson on the wing has allowed Williams to play more with his small lineup in recent games, which is beneficial for the Tar Heels against teams such as Monmouth.
Last Meeting: UNC routed Monmouth, 102-65, in Rice’s first year with the Hawks on Jan. 1, 2012. John Henson scored 21 points and Harrison Barnes added 20 to pace the Tar Heels.
Series Record: The Tar Heels lead 1-0.
Projected UNC Starters:
2 Joel Berry (6-0, 195, Jr.) – 15.2 ppg, 4.7 apg
3 Kennedy Meeks (6-10, 260, Sr.) - 12.8 ppg, 9.0 rpg
4 Isaiah Hicks (6-9, 242, Sr.) - 12.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg
44 Justin Jackson (6-8, 210, Jr.) – 16.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg
24 Kenny Williams (6-4, 180, So.) - 6.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg
Projected Monmouth Starters:
12 Justin Robinson (5-8, 175, Sr.) – 17.5 ppg, 5.3 apg
10 Micah Seaborn (6-5, 195, So.) – 14.3 ppg, 2.6 rpg
11 Je’lon Hornbeak (6-3, 190, Sr.) - 13.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg
43 Chris Brady (6-10, 250, Sr.) – 10.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg
00 Josh James (6-2, 195, Sr.) – 2.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg