After a disappointing loss to Pittsburgh Wednesday night, things don’t get any easier for Louisville on Saturday afternoon in Chapel Hill.
Louisville Cardinals (10-5, 1-1) At No. 12 North Carolina Tar Heels (12-3, 2-0)
Game Time: 12:02 p.m.
Location: Dean E. Smith Center: Chapel Hill, N.C.
Announcers: Dan Shulman (play-by-play), Jay Bilas (analyst) and Maria Taylor (reporter)
Officials: Mike Eades, Bill Covington, Jr., Tony Henderson
Favorite: North Carolina by 12
Series: North Carolina leads, 13-5
Last Meeting: North Carolina won 93-76 on Feb. 17, 2018 in Louisville
Riding a four-game winning streak that includes a 90-82 road triumph over No. 15 NC State on Tuesday night, North Carolina enters Saturday as the No. 12 team in the current AP top 25 poll. The Tar Heels opened ACC play with back-to-back games away from home, also toppling Pitt, 85-60, at the Petersen Events Center last weekend.
Per usual, Carolina is one of the best offensive teams in America. They rank No. 4 in Division-I in scoring offense (89.9 ppg), and are No. 9 in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency rankings.
Senior forward Cameron Johnson, in his second season with the program after transferring i from Pitt, leads UNC in scoring at 16.2 ppg. The picture of consistency, Johnson has scored in double figures in all but one game this season, but has only scored more than 20 points twice.
Luke Maye, the preseason ACC Player of the Year, enters Saturday averaging a double-double at 14.8 points and 10.0 rebounds per game. Maye scored 19 points and grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds in UNC’s win at Louisville last season.
The guy who has really made the Carolina offense go all season long is freshman point guard Coby White (14.7 ppg). One of the fastest players in America with the ball in his hands, White can be reckless at times, but Roy Williams is fine with that so long as his good continues to heavily outweigh his bad. During its current four-game winning streak, the Tar Heels are +98 in the 110 minutes White has been on the floor. He scored 22 points in the win over Pitt, and 19 four days later against NC State.
Entering the season, many expected the most productive Tar Heel freshman to be projected top five NBA Draft pick Nassir Little. While Little’s numbers have been respectable enough (9.9 ppg/4.3 rpg), the productivity of proven college players like Johnson and Maye has resulted in him averaging just 19.3 minutes per game. You still get a sense that Little has multiple explosive games in him before bolting for the NBA, and we’ve seen Louisville serve as a season-long slump-buster (many times) before.
As always, North Carolina plays at a breakneck pace. The Heels rank fifth in the country in tempo, and only two teams in Division-I are averaging shorter offensive possessions. The good news for Louisville is that the Cardinals have played some of their best defense against the three best transition teams on their schedule so far — Michigan State, Marquette and Lipscomb. Obviously, UNC is a different type of beast, but with U of L’s halfcourt defense struggling as much as it is at the moment, facing this style might not be the worst thing in the world.
Turnovers have been an issue for North Carolina, but the team’s pace affords it so many possessions that a high TO number doesn’t affect the Heels as much as it would most teams. For instance, UNC gave the ball away a whopping 23 times against NC State, but still scored 90 points and beat a top 15 team on the road by eight.
STRENGTHS: Outside shooting, shooting in general, pace, athleticism, skill, offensive rebounding, free-throw shooting, defensive rebounding, field goal percentage defense, assists per field goals.
WEAKNESSES: Halfcourt defense, turnovers, frontcourt depth, getting to the free-throw line, rim protection.
—North Carolina is the only team in the ACC that Louisville has never beaten on its home floor.
—Louisville is ninth in the nation in free-throw attempts per field goal attempts (395/853, 46.3 percent) and fifth in the nation with 25.2 percent of its points coming from free-throws.
—North Carolina is one of five unbeaten teams in ACC play, but the only one of those five that has yet to play a home game.
—UNC is the only team in the ACC with four wins in true road games.
—Louisville is 9-0 this season when shooting a better percentage from the field than its opponent.
—UNC’s Cameron Johnson leads the ACC and is eighth nationally in three-point shooting at 49.4 percent.
—Louisville is 0-3 all-time in games against North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
—Roy Williams is 7-3 all-time against Louisville, and 6-2 against the Cards during his time at UNC.
—Carolina leads the nation in rebounds per game, is third in assists and rebound margin and fifth in scoring. The Heels out-rebound their opponents by 11.5 rebounds per game, which is on pace to be the second-largest total in program history.
—This will be Chris Mack’s first game against North Carolina as a head coach. Wake Forest was 5-1 against the Heels during Mack’s time as an assistant with the Demon Deacons.
—Louisville has a 10-9 record all-time against teams ranked No. 12 in the Associated Press poll.
—UNC has 20 or more assists in eight of its 15 games, and three of its last four.
—Louisville has won 148 consecutive games when scoring at least 85 points in regulation.
—Louisville is one of just four schools which have won 20 or more games on the court in each of the last 16 seasons (also Kansas, Duke and Gonzaga).
Ken Pomeroy Prediction: North Carolina 85, Louisville 73