Tuesday, January 10, 2012

UNC vs. Miami: Three things to watch

CHAPEL HILL — No. 3 North Carolina hosts Miami tonight at 9 p.m. (ACC network, WBTV channel 3 in Charlotte) at the Smith Center.

While we wait (and wait) for the late tip, consider these three things to watch:

First …

North Carolina’s perimeter defense. Miami is capable of making this an interesting game if it makes shots from the perimeter and if it can successfully penetrate the Tar Heels’ defense. UNC, of course, has had some problems in both those areas at times this season.

In the defeat against UNLV in Las Vegas on Nov. 26, the Runnin’ Rebels made 13 3-pointers and their guards often drove the lane without much problem. Against Long Beach State last month, UNC had no answer for Casper Ware, who scored 29 points and made four 3-pointers.

Teams with good guards, who can shoot, have the potential to pose problems for the Tar Heels. Miami’s Malcolm Grant can shoot (he’s second in the ACC in 3-pointers made per game, with 2.6), and Durand Scott is a good penetrator. Off the bench, freshman guard Shane Larkin (son of Barry Larkin, who on Monday learned he’s bound for the Hall of Fame) is shooting better than 40 percent from behind the 3-point line. And 6-foot-11 Kenny Kadji has made 9 of his 16 3’s.

Second …

How will the Tar Heels’ bench respond from a poor offensive game? Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston have been valuable offensive players off the bench for the Tar Heels. At times, so too has been James Michael McAdoo. But against Boston College on Sunday, those three players were a combined 4-for-17 from the field.

If Bullock, Hairston and McAdoo provided their “normal” offense, then UNC’s margin of victory would have been in over 30. As well as UNC’s Big Three played on Saturday, they still can’t do it alone. Dexter Strickland and Kendall Marshall aren’t consistently going to provide a huge amount of scoring, so it’s important for the reserves to produce when they have the opportunity.

Third …

Harrison Barnes. In UNC’s past four games, Barnes has scored 26, 18, 20 and 25 points. That stretch represents the first time this season that Barnes has scored at least 20 points in three out of four games. Barnes is playing his best basketball of the season, and he seems to be hitting his stride at just the right time – the start of conference play.

Not coincidentally, Barnes is playing with more confidence and assertiveness than he was at the beginning of the season. He’s playing well now but if he continues on this pace, it’s scary (for the opposition, at least) to think about how well he might be playing a month from now.

-- Andrew Carter