Preview & Prediction: By Evan Dorey
-- An interesting ACC battle highlights today’s action, as #1 North Carolina (22-2, 8-2) faces #63 Miami FL (15-8, 4-6)
It feels like ages ago that people were talking about the possibility of an undefeated season for North Carolina, but it’s been just five weeks since Boston College caused one of the season’s biggest upsets. UNC then fell to 0-2 in the ACC after losing at Wake Forest, but since then, the Heels have looked good, including beating Clemson and winning at Duke en route to an 8 game winning streak. Miami had a respectable non-conference record, but their only win of note came at Kentucky. Since they entered ACC play, the Hurricanes have been inconsistent, blowing out Wake Forest and taking Duke to overtime, but also losing three in a row to Virginia Tech, NC St. and Maryland at the end of January. The one good thing for Miami is that the end of its schedule is pretty favorable, and it should finish on a roll heading into the ACC tournament.
North Carolina combines one of the country’s fastest playing styles with the NCAA’s most efficient offense, so its no surprise the Tar Heels have failed to break the 80 point barrier just twice all season. Unlike a lot of the nation’s other top offenses, UNC doesn’t have any one area where it excels: the only stat in which it ranks in the national top 10 is free throw percentage. The strength of the Tar Heel offense is balance; it can score from two or three with equal effectiveness, and does a good job conserving possessions, giving up few turnovers and getting back a lot of misses. Miami has been solid defensively, but will have trouble keeping up in this one. The Hurricanes should be able to keep UNC off the free throw line, and do a good job defending shots, but force very few turnovers, and are weak on the defensive glass. Keeping North Carolina’s possessions down will be a major trouble spot for them in this game.
Miami has had one of the ACC’s better offenses, relying on a combination of inside and outside play. The Hurricanes score best from the outside, where they hit nearly 38% of attempts, but also do well on the offensive boards, getting back 40% of their own misses. They also get to the free-throw line often, but they’re not particularly strong inside scorers, a limitation that keeps them from being on an elite level. North Carolina’s defense is somewhat underappreciated, it’s been better this season than teams with larger defensive reputations like Pitt and UCLA. The Tar Heels make life difficult inside, holding opponents under 44% from two, and rarely fouling. In other areas, the Tar Heels are average, and Miami’s strong three-point shooting could potentially exploit a weakness.
Maybe it’s just me, but Tyler Hansbrough seems to have fallen out of the spotlight a little, at least as much as a returning national player of the year can. Hansbrough has played almost an identical season to last year, with the lone exception of his rebounding numbers, which have come back down to the levels of his first two seasons. Still, he’s an efficient scorer who makes a killing at the free throw line, rarely turns the ball over, and is a serious double-double threat every night. For all Hansbrough’s abilities, however, he’s not the most efficient player on the team, a title that belongs to Ty Lawson. Lawson can score inside or out, a 48% three-point shooter, and leads the ACC in assists, steals and A/TO ratio. His smart ball-handling is critical to the offense’s success. Danny Green is another excellent three-point shooter who has a high rate in both steals and blocks. Wayne Ellington isn’t quite as good a percentage shooter as Lawson or Green, but is a solid scorer, and another guy who’s smart with the ball, committing few turnovers. Deon Thompson is the fifth starter, a decent inside option for both scoring and rebounding. Freshman Ed Davis is an interesting player off the bench, leading the team in blocks and posting one of the conference’s best rebounding rates. Bobby Frasor is the primary depth guard, but has really struggled with his shot this season.
As Jack McClinton goes, so goes Miami: the senior guard has scored more than a quarter of the team’s points, and is easily the team’s best offensive option. McClinton shoots 47% from the field, evenly split between twos and threes, and despite his importance in the offense, isn’t a ball-hog, putting up a high assist rate as well. Junior Dwayne Collins is the Hurricanes’ best inside player, leading the team in rebounds and shooting more than 60% from the field. Brian Asbury and Cyrus McGowan start alongside Collins in the frontcourt, but aren’t great offensive options, both under 40% from the field. McGowan is an excellent offensive rebounder, and is critical to Miami’s strength on the glass. Lance Hurdle starts in the backcourt, but he’s had had a tough time with his shot, just 8-for-31 in his last five games. James Dews is another guard struggling with his shot, and has been in and out of the starting five. Jimmy Graham, Adrian Thomas and Dequan Jones are the primary depth forwards, and in any given game one can break out for a good point total.
Miami is better than a 4-6 conference record would indicate, but it isn’t a match for the Tar Heels, who just have too much talent and experience for the Hurricanes. If Miami can make its three-point shots and do a good job on the offensive glass, it’ll have a chance, but UNC should have enough to get the road win.
Winner: North Carolina Margin: +10
-- Evan Dorey's game previews & rankings are based on Elo Ratings. Elo Ratings are fairly simple, all teams are assigned an initial number of points, which is the same for all teams, eliminating preseason bias. Then, as the season progresses, when a team wins it gains points, and when it loses it drops points. The amount of points that are gained or lost depend on the level of the opponent (beating a cupcake gets you little, beating #1 will be a big increase), the scoring margin of the game (which is capped), and the game’s location. To take a look at Evan's College Basketball Elo Ratings, visit his website or blog where he discusses the rankings along with other statistical observations about big games and interesting teams.
Editor's Early Preview
*Made on 02/06. Full preview by the GameNight staff coming soon!
Miami's big win over Wake Forest proved they can hang with the big boys. But simply put, I don't really ever pick against UNC straight up.
Early Prediction: UNC
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About Evan Dorey
Evan Dorey - Game Previews
A recent university graduate from Markham, Ontario, who loves analyzing the statistics of sports in general, and college basketball in particular.