|Boston College 7-0 center Dennis Clifford.|
That said, today’s edition of the daily three: Three things to pay close attention to in UNC's ACC basketball opener:
How North Carolina starts the game. Leading into the start of ACC play, Tar Heels coach Roy Williams and his players have spent a lot of time talking about the need to raise their intensity level entering conference play. And now it’s time to make that talk a reality.
UNC has looked good recently in dominant victories against overmatched non-conference opponents. And, really, this freshman-laden Boston College team – the Eagles have 12 players in their first year with the program and nine freshmen – isn’t much better than the likes of Monmouth or Nicholls.
Still, it’s the ACC opener. That should be enough for UNC to play with inspiration. The Tar Heels need a fast start tomorrow not because they might lose if they don’t have one. But more because such a start could help set the right attitude for conference play.
UNC’s defense. Ask North Carolina players the one area where they want to improve the most and the answer will come quickly: Defense. And it’s not like the Tar Heels have struggled defensively.
As of Jan. 1, the Heels ranked 17th nationally in field goal percentage defense, holding opponents to 37.6 percent shooting. The Heels also ranked 17th nationally in blocked shots, with an average of 5.8 per game.
The one area where North Carolina can improve, though, is on the perimeter. UNC ranks 59th in 3-point field goal percentage defense. That’s not terrible given that UNC is 59th out of 338 Division I teams.
Still, when UNC has found itself in close games this season, it’s usually because the opposing team is shooting well from the outside. Boston College is shooting 33.9 percent from 3-point range, which ranks 9th in the ACC. But the Tar Heels can’t rely on the fact that the Eagles are likely to miss shots from the outside. UNC must effectively guard the perimeter.
The Eagles’ Dennis Clifford down low vs. UNC’s Tyler Zeller and John Henson. Boston College doesn’t have the personnel to compete with North Carolina. Not even close.
But when the Eagles’ 7-foot center Clifford is in the game, it will be worth watching what goes on on the interior. The Tar Heels haven’t had to face a lot of size recently but Clifford, a freshman, at least presents some physical challenges.
Zeller and Henson are far more skilled than Clifford but Clifford still gives the Eagles some defensive options. They’re likely to use him to help double team Zeller, and make things uncomfortable for him. And how will UNC’s perimeter players – especially guys like Harrison Barnes, Dexter Strickland and P.J. Hairston – attack the rim with a 7-footer looming in the paint?
Even though Clifford is inexperienced and raw, going against him could serve UNC well down the road.
-- Andrew Carter