Syracuse faces tough test vs. North Carolina

Opponent: North Carolina Tar Heels

Location: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, NY

Date: Wednesday, February 21

Time: 7:00pm EST

TV: ESPN or stream on the WatchESPN app

Line: North Carolina -4

North Carolina is on a five-game winning streak

North Carolina (21-7, 10-5 in the ACC) is riding a hot streak right now having won five straight games to improve to third in the ACC standings.

The five game stretch features a home win over #5 Duke and a blowout road victory over Louisville. The Tar Heels are playing their best basketball of the season at a time it matters most.

Only a couple months ago, college basketball pundits were down on North Carolina. The Tar Heels lost a home game 79-75 against Southern Conference foe Wofford.

This year’s North Carolina team was expected to take a small step backwards after losing leading scorer Justin Jackson and leading rebounders Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks to the professional ranks. The Wofford game proved the team was vulnerable but the Tar Heels have come together as a result of veteran leadership and are now ranked #10 in the country.

Top Players

North Carolina’s leading scorer and rebounder is junior forward Luke Maye (pictured below). Although he’s best known for hitting the game winning shot over Kentucky last season in the Elite Eight, he’s made a name for himself this season with his elevated play. He averages 18.4 points per game and 10.5 rebounds per game. Maye has scored 30+ points in three games this season.

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Senior Joel Berry II (pictured below) is the Tar Heel’s unquestioned leader. He’s been to the Sweet 16 and on the winning and losing end of the National Championship during his career in Chapel Hill. He’s averaging a career high 17.7 points per game this season and also chips in 3.1 assists per contest.

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Strengths

North Carolina’s biggest strength is their rebounding. They lead the country in rebounding margin at 11.7. On Saturday, the Tar Heels outrebounded Louisville 44-32. Maye is second in the conference in rebounding but senior forward Theo Pinson also averages 6.2 rebounds per game.

The Tar Heels are also great at distributing the ball and finding the open man. North Carolina is first in the ACC in assists per game at 17.9. The team has five players that average over 2 assists per game and has a balanced scoring attack of various players that can step up and hit big shots. Senior transfer guard Cameron Johnson (pictured below) and junior guard Kenny Williams average over 11 points a game and can take the scoring pressure off of Berry and Maye when needed.

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Weaknesses

North Carolina has struggled turning the ball over at times and is 13th in the ACC in turnover margin at -0.5. This statistic is more reflective of the Tar Heels inability to garner steals as they are also ranked 13th in the conference in steals per game. If Frank Howard and Tyus Battle can take care of the basketball, the Orange might have a chance in this one.

The Tar Heels are giving up 73.4 points per game, which is 207th in the country. North Carolina consistently finds themselves in 80 or 90 point games so it’s not a major cause for concern but there are other statistics that illuminate the Tar Heels leave more to be desired on the defensive end. Opposing teams are shooting 38.5% from beyond the arc against the Tar Heels this season. Let’s hope the Orange shoot at that mark or better Wednesday night.

Syracuse vs. North Carolina All-Time Series

North Carolina leads the all-time series 9-4. The Tar Heels won the first meeting 67-58 way back in 1957.

Last season, the team’s met in Chapel Hill and North Carolina destroyed the Orange 85-68 behind 20 points from Hicks.

 

Prediction

North Carolina wins 80-73

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