Can North Carolina maintain its sense of urgency on the road against an inferior opponent? ROBERT WILLETT
CHAPEL HILL — For the second time in about a week, I’m preparing for a long drive south on I-85. This time, at least, I’ll be stopping in Clemson, S.C., where North Carolina and Clemson play tonight.
The preview …
North Carolina (19-8, 9-5 ACC) at Clemson (13-13, 5-9)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Littlejohnn Coliseum, Clemson, S.C.
What it means: A victory tonight would just be one more indication that the Tar Heels have put it together – or are on their way to putting it together – since going to a small lineup. UNC has won three consecutive games and a victory tonight would guarantee the Heels a winning record in the ACC.
Projected starting lineups
C Devin Booker 12.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg
F Milton Jennings 9.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg
F K.J. McDaniels 10.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg
G Jordan Roper 7.6 ppg, 1.2 rpg
G Rod Hall 5.8 ppg, 3.4 apg
F James Michael McAdoo 14.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg
G P.J. Hairston 13.3 ppg, 4 rpg
G Reggie Bullock 14.1 ppg, 6 rpg
G Dexter Strickland 7.7 ppg, 4 apg
G Marcus Paige 7.7 ppg, 4.4 apg
Player to watch
Reggie Bullock, junior, North Carolina
Bullock scored 22 points and tied his career high for rebounds, with 13, to lead the Tar Heels to a 76-65 victory against N.C. State on Saturday. It was just the second time this month that Bullock eclipsed the 20-point mark, though coach Roy Williams might have been more pleased with Bullock’s rebounding. Since UNC went to a four-guard starting lineup, Bullock’s rebounding ability has become more valuable.
Observations: UNC freshman forward Joel James is expected to play for the first time since suffering a concussion earlier this month. James has sat out the Tar Heels’ past four games … The ACC this season has its share of teams that have struggled offensively, and perhaps no team has struggled more than the Tigers. They rank last in the league in scoring (61.8 points per game) and 10th in field goal percentage (42.6 percent). … Clemson also ranks 11th in the ACC in possessions per game, and 10th in points per possession.
Three keys for UNC:
--Get off to a fast start. Clemson is a bad offensive team and any deficit the Tigers face is magnified by their inability to score. In other words, Clemson isn’t built for comebacks.
--Control the pace. The Tigers rank in the 300s nationally in both possessions per game and possessions for 40 minutes. That slow pace allows them to hide some of their deficiencies on offense. If UNC controls the tempo, it should win comfortably.
--Maintain the sense of urgency. UNC has played with more energy and more urgency in recent weeks. Part of that was to be expected, given the lineup change and the quality of some of the opponents UNC has faced. UNC’s commitment to urgency, for lack of a better description, could be tested tonight against a struggling opponent.
UNC has the edge in three of the four – and the three most important. The Tar Heels have been a better shooting team, better at taking care of possessions, better at offensive rebounding. Clemson has done a better job of getting to the free throw line.