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UNC vs. N.C. State Preview

No. 14 North Carolina opens its ACC home slate against N.C. State in what is expected to be a winter wonderland at the Smith Center on Saturday.

North Carolina (13-3, 1-1 ACC) vs. N.C. State (12-3, 1-1 ACC)
Chapel Hill, N.C. – Dean E. Smith Center
Sunday, 1 p.m.
ESPN (Dave O’Brien, Jay Bilas)


“I think they’re offensively very gifted. With Meeks and Hicks inside, and Justin’s playing as good as he’s played in my time. He’s shooting the ball extremely well. I think Joel Berry’s playing at a high level. They rebound the ball very well. This is a legitimate top-10, top-15 team in the country, if not higher. It’s a great opportunity for our players to play against a really good basketball team.” – N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried on UNC

“I think Dennis (Smith) is going to play against good guards on a lot of nights, but I think Joel Berry is one of the best point guards in the country. I’ve watched him since high school, great respect for Joel and his game. He’s one of the best there is and is playing at a high level. He’s the glue that holds everything together for them” – Gottfried


Heels Stave Off Tigers: UNC avoided a disastrous 0-2 start to ACC play on Tuesday, outlasting Clemson for an 89-86 overtime victory. Not only did the Tar Heels get their first win of conference play, but they showed signs of life after looking lifeless against Georgia Tech last weekend. UNC shot over 40 percent from the 3-point line and four players scored in double-digits in the bounce-back win. Joel Berry broke out of his recent slump, scoring a career-high 31 points on 12-19 shooting, including a career-high seven made threes. Sophomore guard Kenny Williams, who struggled in his four previous games, provided a boost in overtime, scoring six of UNC’s 13 points.

N.C State Spotlight: The Wolfpack come to the Dean Dome this weekend in a similar situation as the Tar Heels. After an upset in their conference opener against Miami, head coach Mark Gottfried’s team got one in the win column with a 104-78 smacking of Virginia Tech at home on Wednesday. The Miami game notwithstanding, N.C State’s offense has hit its stride of late, scoring at least 89 points in five of its last six games. The Wolfpack are shooting the ball extremely well this season, posting a 50 percent field goal percentage that ranks 14th in the country. That solid conversion rate has helped NCSU average 84.5 points per game (20th in the country). On the defensive side of the ball, two statistics stand out: N.C State ranks 26th in the country in rebounding and 36th in blocks (76 total blocks).

The Dennis Smith Show: Any question about freshman guard Dennis Smith Jr.’s ability to jump right into Mark Gottfried’s offense and succeed have been answered with flying colors. The preseason first-team All-ACC guard is living up to lofty expectations and is leading the Wolfpack in scoring (19.6 ppg), assists (6.5 apg) and steals (2.1 spg). Smith played arguably the best game of his young college career in Wednesday’s win over VT, amassing 27 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists and five steals to give him the first collegiate triple-double. Not only does the freshman ooze confidence when it comes to scoring, he also does it efficiently, especially as of late. In his last six games, Smith is shooting over 58 percent from the field – he’s averaged 21.5 points per game over that stretch.

Matchup to Watch, Part I: ACC fans will get an early treat this year, as one of the most anticipated matchups of the ACC season will take place on Saturday between Berry vs. Smith. The pairing tells its own story of the superstar freshman who came in as the man versus the veteran junior who worked his way to the top. Both were preseason first-team All-ACC selections and both have lived up to the billing so far. Berry is averaging 15.1 points and 4.4 assists per game this season, and like Smith, is coming off of the best game of his season: the 31-point outing against Clemson. While Berry will likely start the game guarding Smith, the freshman may become the responsibility of Nate Britt when he comes off the bench. Regardless, two of the best guards in the ACC are about to go at it.

Matchup to Watch, Part II: Another matchup that will catch the viewers’ eyes is that of Kennedy Meeks versus Omer Yurtseven. After being suspended the first nine games of the season due to complications with him playing professional basketball in Turkey for three seasons, the 7-foot Yurtseven has impressed through six games. Yurtseven, who is the tallest player on N.C. State’s roster, is third on the team in rebounding. He will be matched up with Meeks, UNC’s leading rebounder, and will need to use his size to overcome the physical advantage that the senior Meeks possesses in the post.

Williams Dominance: Roy Williams is 30-3 all-time against N.C. State, including a 25-3 mark at UNC.

Last Meeting: UNC defeated N.C. State, 80-68, at the RBC Center in Raleigh on Feb. 24, 2016. The Wolfpack led by as many as 13 in the first half before the Tar Heels entered halftime on a 28-10 run. Brice Johnson led UNC with 22 points and 10 rebounds.

Series Record: The Tar Heels lead the series, 153-77. UNC has won 19 of the last 21 games.

Projected UNC Starters:
2 Joel Berry (6-0, 195, Jr.) – 15.1 ppg, 4.4 apg
3 Kennedy Meeks (6-10, 260, Sr.) - 12.8 ppg, 9.9 rpg
4 Isaiah Hicks (6-9, 242, Sr.) - 12.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg
44 Justin Jackson (6-8, 210, Jr.) – 17.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg
24 Kenny Williams (6-4, 180, So.) - 6.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg

Projected N.C. State Starters:
4 Dennis Smith, Jr. (6-3, 195, Fr.) – 19.6 ppg, 6.5 apg
3 Terry Henderson (6-5, 190, Sr.) – 16.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg
2 Torin Dorn (6-5, 208, So.) - 13.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg
0 Abdul-Malik Abu (6-8, 240, Jr.) – 12.1 ppg, 7.5 rpg
14 Omer Yurtseven (7-0, 245, Fr.) – 8.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg

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