The Syracuse Orange (11-7, 3-2) travel down to Chapel Hill to take on the North Carolina Tar Heels (16-3, 4-1) tomorrow night as part of Big Monday on ESPN. As you’re well aware of, the last time these two teams met was in the Final Four last season. As you’re also well aware of by now, Syracuse did not win that game.
North Carolina returns most of its personnel from last season, but did lose two key players in Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige. So what can we expect from this team? For starters, UNC has gotten off to an auspicious 4-1 start in the conference and could be undefeated if not for a slip up at Georgia Tech. They’re coming a big 13 point win over Florida State on Saturday.
Justin Jackson and Joel Berry lead the way for UNC with 17.9 and 16.2 points per game, respectively. Jackson has really expanded his range this season and Berry is the unequivocal leader of this team. Both shoot at over a 40 percent clip from downtown so Syracuse will really have to key on them in the zone.
UNC once again has a troika of big men who get it done on the inside. Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks both average over 12 points while the former is grabbing just under 10 rebounds per and Hicks still grabs a respectable 5.3. Replacing Brice Johnson down low is freshman Tony Bradley who averages 8.1 points and 5.7 rebounds in 15 minutes per game. He sat out against Florida State while recovering from a concussion and it isn’t clear whether or not he’ll be ready to go against Syracuse.
Throw in that core with guys like Kenny Williams and Nate Britt and you get the feeling just how deep Roy Williams can go into his bench. Theo Pinson is also back off of hiatus and is coming off a 12 point performance on Saturday. Needless to say, North Carolina is an outstanding basketball team — the zone can’t just focus on one area defensively. The Syracuse defense will have to be stout at all levels to be competitive in this game.
Also of note, North Carolina averages a shade under 90 (read: a lot) points per game. They shoot it well from the floor and although they don’t take a great deal of threes, they still shoot it admirably. North Carolina is also the top rebounding team in the country. They haul in 46.2 boards per game so defensive rebounding out of the zone will be imperative. In all three of UNC’s wins over Syracuse last season the Heels were able to get on the glass.
The game tips off at 7 pm Monday night and will air on ESPN. Syracuse hasn’t beaten UNC since Syracuse’s inaugural season in the ACC. We’ll have pre and post game coverage as well as the game thread so be sure to keep it locked at the site.
What are your thoughts heading into the game? Nervous? Excited for the chance of a big time win? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.