CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Quality depth has been a North Carolina staple dating back to the Dean Smith era. The Tar Heels will encounter that same approach, albeit by their opponent, when No. 9 Florida State arrives for Saturday’s 2 p.m. tip.
On New Year’s Eve, sophomore guard Dwayne Bacon’s game-high 29 points, including his game-winning 3-pointer with two seconds to play, lifted the Seminoles past then-No. 12 Virginia, 60-58. A week later, it was sophomore wing Terance Mann’s 22 points leading FSU to victory over then-No. 21 Virginia Tech, 93-78. And on Tuesday, junior guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes scored a team-high 21 points in the win 88-72 win over No. 7 Duke.
Leonard Hamilton’s 12th team in Tallahassee has multiple scoring options and arguably the best depth in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Four different Seminoles are averaging double figures in league play, led by Bacon’s 20.5 points per game, while 11 different players are averaging more than 10 minutes per game during their current 12-game winning streak.
"We've got a deep, deep team and we have so many guys that do so many different things with or without the ball,” Bacon said following the win over Duke. “We keep playing together, we'll just keep winning."
That approach has helped the Seminoles climb the ACC leader amidst a six-game stretch against ranked opponents. Florida State (4-0 ACC) joins Notre Dame (4-0) as the lone ACC teams without a loss in league play. UNC (3-1) is currently third in the conference standings.
The Tar Heels employ a similar balanced approach, as four players are averaging double figures and 10 are logging 10 or minutes per game. That depth will be reduced by one on Saturday as freshman forward Tony Bradley is out (concussion).
“You guys have heard me say for 14 years that’s the way I like to have teams because you just can’t focus on one guy,” UNC head coach Roy Williams said on Friday. “You have to look at Bacon first because he’s the leading scorer. He’s seventh in the league, so you have to look at him first, but for us, Rathan-Mayes scores 60 every time he plays us, so we have to be aware of him, too…
“I think that is the most difficult kind of team to guard.”
Rathan-Mayes is actually averaging 32.5 points in two games against the Tar Heels, although the fact that FSU’s top three scorers are perimeter players, that’s a concern given UNC’s defensive breakdowns out front in the win over Wake Forest on Wednesday.
The balance is most problematic. Against teams like Wisconsin and N.C. State, UNC excelled defensively by focusing on limiting the damage by their primary scorers. That approach will not be available on Saturday against a Seminoles squad that can score from various positions. Bacon, for example, managed 13 points on 6-of-15 shooting with seven turnovers against the Blue Devils, yet his teammates elevated their play to secure a 16-point victory.
“Everybody just has to be ready to play,” sophomore guard Kenny Williams said. “When you have guy, a lot of the scouting focuses on that one guy. There’s a lot of doing what you can to prevent him from doing what he wants to do. [FSU] has a balanced attack, so everybody has to be ready to play and be ready to do what they can to prevent their man from scoring.”
The Tar Heels already dropped a winnable ACC game at Georgia Tech on New Year’s Eve. Holding serve at home against a strong and balanced Seminole squad would help minimize the lingering damage.