UNC vs. NC State Preview

NC State (15-4, 5-3) vs. North Carolina (13-6, 5-3)
Saturday, Jan. 21 — 5 p.m.
Smith Center — Chapel Hill, N.C.
ACC Network (Wes Durham, Dan Bonner)


“I don’t mind shooting 3s, but I thought we settled for 3s. And because we settled for 3s, you don’t shoot a very good percentage. Because you settle for 3s, you don’t attack the basket and you don’t get fouled and you don’t get to the free throw line, which is a strength for us. And when you settle for 3s, that’s when you don’t draw defenses in, and then that cuts down your assists. … we’ve got to get back to attacking the basket. And we’ve got to get back to making the extra pass.” — UNC coach Hubert Davis on his team’s 10-for-29 3-point shooting in Tuesday night’s defeat of Boston College, the third-most made 3s for the Tar Heels this season.

“I’m definitely excited. It’s going to be a crazy atmosphere. Last year we beat them twice, but I think they’re a much better team this year. They’ve got a lot of aggressive, aggressive guards, and that’s something that we’ve struggled with all year. So it’s going to be a huge challenge, and I know their coach is fired up, (Kevin) Keatts and all their players, so it’s going to be fun.” — UNC big man Armando Bacot on matching up against NC State.

Pregame Notes

Rivalry and the Road Ahead: Saturday starts an eight-game stretch in which every team North Carolina plays currently owns a winning record in the ACC. Those next eight opponents — NC State, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Duke, Wake Forest, Clemson, Miami and NC State again — have a combined record of 44-19 in league play, and occupy six of the top eight spots in the ACC standings.

First up for the Tar Heels, the Wolfpack. NC State has won four straight games and seven of its last eight, a run highlighted by victories at home over nationally ranked Duke (before the Blue Devils fell out of the AP Top 25 poll) and Miami. NC State has opened the 2023 calendar year with four wins in a row, the first time that has happened for the program to begin the month of January since the 1988-89 season.

UNC is 9-0 at home this season, including 4-0 in ACC games. The Tar Heels are 8-2 across their last 10 games. Saturday presents a matchup of the ACC’s top-scoring teams (79.5 points per game), separated by just one point on the season as a whole. Both teams have played 19 games. UNC has scored a total of 1,512 points, while NC State has scored 1,511 points. Wolfpack guards Terquavion Smith (19.1 points game) and Jarkel Joiner (16.2 points per game), and UNC guards RJ Davis and Caleb Love (16.3 points per game apiece) are the highest-scoring backcourt tandems in the ACC. Smith leads the league in scoring.

March Toward History: Bacot arrives on the doorstep of authoring more school history, closing in on supplanting a pair of UNC greats in the record book. The big man needs 17 rebounds to overtake Tyler Hansbrough’s all-time school record of 1,219 career boards. And Bacot’s next double-double will become the 61st of his career, moving him past Billy Cunningham’s career record in that category.

Bacot has grabbed 10 or more rebounds in a UNC-record 67 games. Since suffering a sprained left ankle just 78 seconds in that forced him out of the Tar Heels’ Jan. 10 loss at Virginia, Bacot has supplied 14 points and 16 rebounds in a win at Louisville, and 20 points and 16 rebounds in Tuesday night’s victory against Boston College, while shooting 13-for-19 from the field.

Reviewing the Rankings: UNC is No. 25 in the Ken Pomeroy college basketball rankings and No. 36 in the NET rankings. The latter system is the value index the NCAA Tournament selection committee uses for rating teams when the brackets are unveiled in March.

NC State is No. 36 in KenPom, but checks in higher than the Tar Heels at No. 27 in the NET, making the Wolfpack a valuable Quad 1 opportunity. The NET formula uses four quadrants and UNC is 1-6 in games against Quad 1 opponents this season. The Tar Heels are 12-0 in games against teams in Quads 2, 3 and 4, and coming off back-to-back wins over Quad 4 opponents in Louisville and Boston College.

UNC guard Caleb Love and NC State guard Terquavion Smith. (Photo: Jamie Rhodes, Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports)

Wolfpack Tracks: While the explosive Smith has produced five straight games with 20 points or more and eight on the season — only Bacot has more among ACC players with nine 20-point performances — his backcourt partner Joiner perhaps could be considered a victory barometer for the Wolfpack.

The Ole Miss transfer has averaged 18 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists during NC State’s four-game winning streak. In the Wolfpack’s 15 victories this season, Joiner has scored 17.1 points per game on 47.5-percent shooting from the field, including 40.7 percent from 3-point range. But in the Wolfpack’s four losses, Joiner has scored 12.5 points per game on 33.3-percent shooting from the field, a rate bogged down by 16.7 percent from beyond the arc.

Last Meeting: UNC won 84-74 on Feb. 26, 2022, at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., building a 25-point lead and cruising in to sweep the regular-season series between the teams. Bacot piled up 28 points, 18 rebounds and five blocked shots, becoming the first Tar Heels player ever to compile at least 20 points, 15 rebounds and five blocked shots in a game.

Love and Brady Manek added 16 points and six rebounds apiece. Puff Johnson came off the UNC bench and scored a career-high 16 points. The Tar Heels clicked along, connecting at 60-percent shooting from the field during the first half and finishing at 51.8 percent for the game. UNC went 21-for-23 on free throws (season-best 91.3 percent) and out-rebounded the Wolfpack 46-25.

Series History: UNC leads the all-time series 163-79 and has enjoyed an extended stretch of dominance in the rivalry, with a 35-5 record across the last 40 meetings between these teams, and 52-12 mark over the previous 30 seasons. The Tar Heels are 80-23 against the Wolfpack in Chapel Hill, including 29-7 at the Smith Center. UNC has beaten NC State three times in a row and won four straight matchups in Chapel Hill.

Projected NC State Starters:
0 Terquavion Smith (So., 6-4, 165) — 19.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 4.7 apg
1 Jarkel Joiner (Gr., 6-1, 180) — 16.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.5 apg
14 Casey Morsell (Sr., 6-3, 200) — 12.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg
23 Greg Gantt (Jr. 6-8, 210) — 2.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg
30 DJ Burns (Gr., 6-9, 275) — 9.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg

Projected UNC Starters:
1 Leaky Black (Gr., 6-9, 205) — 7.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.6 spg
2 Caleb Love (Jr., 6-4, 200) — 16.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.2 apg
4 RJ Davis (Jr., 6-0, 175) — 16.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.2 apg
5 Armando Bacot (Sr., 6-11, 235) — 17.6 ppg, 11.2 rpg
32 Pete Nance (Gr., 6-11, 230) — 10.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg

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