The North Carolina Tar Heels (13-5, 3-2) are on a three game winning streak in the ACC and will put it on the line tonight against what was the favorite to win the ACC, NC State Wolfpack.
In the past, the Tar Heels have been able to dominate the rivalry, but with Mark Gottfried coming to NC State, the Wolfpack will look to bring the rivalry back.
With Gottfried's team this year, the Wolfpack have been able to get out to a 15-4 record overall, with a 4-2 mark in the ACC.
NC State has almost six players that average in double figures and are one of the top shooting teams not only in the ACC, but in the nation (according to field goal percentage).
However, when the Tar Heels come into Raleigh and step into the PNC Arena, where the Wolfpack are undefeated so far this year, it will have to bring it's A game to come away with a victory. Here are three main categories that UNC will have to focus on in tonight's game.
This might be a no brainer for the Tar Heels, who have been playing much better on that side of the ball, but let's look at it a little more in-depth.
The first area on the defensive side will be in the frontcourt, as this matchup might be the toughest for the Tar Heels so far this year.
With C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell controlling the area, rebounding and forcing tough shots will be key area in the game, not allowing the Wolfpack to get second attempts at the basket. Leslie loves to step out near the free throw line and either take a jump shot or take his man one on one.
With his athletic ability, moving of the feet and not allowing Leslie to use his gift will be a huge help for the Tar Heels.
With Howell, he can be a monster on the boards and gets most, if not all, of his points in a five feet radius around the basket. Whether it is powering to the basket or getting rebounds, he is always around the ball.
When talking about the guards, not allowing Lorenzo Brown to penetrate to the lane with his dribbling and athletic ability, could be a huge help for the Tar Heels. Making Brown a jump shooter allows the Tar Heels to take out a key component that Gottfried wants in the game.
Roy Williams has even noticed Brown's improvement from last year.
"I think he's better in every phase of the game. I haven't looked at his stats this year compared to last year to know how it looks statistically," Roy said in Friday's press conference. "I feel like he's pushing the ball better, making better decisions, shooting it better from outside, and defending better. I think he's doing everything better but then again I haven't seen last year's stats."
Lastly, if anyone has watched Scott Wood, one has to know that he can shoot the ball from anywhere on the floor, especially from behind the arc. NC State makes sure to run plays for Wood, especially screens along the baseline, for him to get his shot off.
And when he is on, NC State is a hard team to stop.
2.Transition and Rebounding
Both teams love to push the ball up the court and get transition points. Each team has sharp shooters and big men that can run the floor and are two teams that rank in the top 15 in the nation when it comes to points per game.
Whoever wins the battle of transition points and getting back defensively could be the determining factor in the game.
Rebounding, as mentioned before, will be a category to focus on. With UNC losing the battle last Wednesday against Georgia Tech (giving up 17 offensive rebounds), Williams will be looking to do a much better job on the boards, with all his guys crashing the boards.
N.C State has struggled before with rebounding, as the frontcourt given up some big games to a team's frontcourt (Wake Forest's Devin Thomas and Clemson's Devin Booker both had phenomenal games against N.C. State).
James Michael McAdoo will be a key guy as he will have to step up huge for the Tar Heels and try to have a monster game like the ones mentioned before.
However, if Howell, has a monster game like he has had in the past five games, NC State will be tough to handle. Howell is averaging 14.2 rebounds per game in the last five games, including 18 against Duke and 16 against Wake Forest.
These will be two of the contributing factors in the game, with the team that can out-perform the other, will have an extreme advantage in Saturday's matchup.
No the Tar Heels don't need to take a page out of the Little Giants movie and try to intimidate the other team with a fake substance that cause them to foam at the mouth.
But the crowd will be wild and hostile Saturday, as fans have been counting down the day when UNC comes to PNC Arena.
UNC must not be intimidated in the game and if the Tar Heels are able to come out hot again like they have in the past two games against Maryland and Georgia Tech, it would take a great deal of pressure off of them.
Everything is on the line for NC State, as many have predicted that this is the year for the Wolfpack. With UNC losing four key guys from last year to the NBA, many people think that the more experienced team should win.
The Tar Heels have to step up big and have multiple facets of the game go their way against the Wolfpack. Like in the Georgia Tech game, fans want to see everyone that comes onto the floor with the North Carolina jersey on, contribute in some part of the game.
The fire is back at NC State and there is nothing more satisfying than beating UNC this year. UNC will look to make a statement in the ACC and to let people know that they might be young, but they are talented.
Williams commented on the renewal of the rivalry Friday. When asked if is it nice to see the UNC-N.C. State rivalry returned to the forefront of the country again?
"Nah, I wish we didn't have any rivalries. I wish we beat the crap out of everybody all the time."
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