July 17, 2024

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It's time to think about Travel.

NC State-UNC Part 2, and Duke travels to Louisville :: WRALSportsFan.com

NC State and UNC, Part 2! Except this time, NC State is coming off of its second COVID pause of the season! Doesn’t … have a great ring to it, does it? But it’s happening nonetheless. And even NC State’s own head coach doesn’t know what to expect out of his team coming off of a 10-day layoff. So how should I know? Well, North Carolina has been playing, and maybe we can glean something from that. Maybe NC State comes out of its COVID pause with the same superpowers that Florida State did. Who knows?

And speaking of figuring it all out, we’ve got Duke and Louisville on Saturday as well. Duke got Jalen Johnson back and he was spectacular, but it wasn’t enough. Will it be enough in this game? And what happened to Louisville? Are any of these teams good? What’s happening?

Let’s just try to use some GIFs to sort this all out!

NC STATE (6-4, 2-3 ACC) AT NORTH CAROLINA (9-5, 4-3 ACC)

Time: 2 p.m.
TV: ESPN

#ANALYSIS

I realize you all come here more for GIFs than actual analysis. Or maybe both. But even NC State’s head coach has little idea what to expect out of his team as it heads to Chapel Hill on Saturday for its first game in 10 days. Worse than the lack of actual games is how scattershot practice participation has been, plus actual injuries that aren’t COVID-related. It’s clear NC State hasn’t had its full roster at practice no matter what. And before the pause, NC State lost three in a row in pretty different circumstances, but three in a row nonetheless. Meanwhile, North Carolina hasn’t had a pause this season and has gotten 14 games in already and looks like a different team than it was when it played NC State. Among the biggest differences? UNC has cut down on its turnovers significantly, and its freshmen guards are getting more comfortable. They’re also shooting it better from beyond the arc, even if it’s clear their best option is still to get the ball inside.

The first meeting between these two feels like ages ago, but it was a weird game. One thing that is still true is that North Carolina got off to a poor start and made up for it later, but it wasn’t enough. It’s been enough for UNC some here lately, but against teams that arguably aren’t as good as NC State. Getting off to a slow start again isn’t going to work. But who knows how much rust NC State will have? And the Wolfpack is likely to be without Manny Bates, or without Bates at full capacity. He was brilliant in the first meeting, finishing with 14 points on 7 of 11 shooting and five blocks, so it didn’t matter that NC State was without DJ Funderburk. They should have Funderburk in this one, but Bates’ defensive and rebounding presence will be missed.

Manny Bates goes up for a rebound

NC State is going to have to win this game with its defense. North Carolina’s offense has been improving, although it’s been sort of a slow improvement in terms of numbers. But after holding five of its first six opponents to an effective field goal percentage of less than 50%, they’ve now allowed four straight opponents to go over that mark. After their first seven opponents turned the ball over on 20% or more of their possessions, the three-game losing streak included marks of 12.4%, 18.9% and 16.1 percent. Not forcing turnovers or getting defensive rebounds to start transition offense is going to be a recipe for disaster against North Carolina. And though they won Round 1, UNC still rebounded 45% of its misses, the highest mark NC State has allowed this year. UNC is missing less now, so getting those defensive boards becomes that much more important.

NAMES TO KNOW

Devon Daniels. Yes, it was Shakeel Moore who was the most impressive arguably in NC State’s first game against UNC as the freshman piled up 17 points and had a ridiculous dunk. But Daniels was brilliant as well, scoring 21 points on 8 of 13 shooting and adding five rebounds, three assists and a steal, plus harassing UNC’s young guards defensively. It was his best game against a good opponent this year, and since, he’s struggled. NC State had a narrow win over BC, then lost to Miami and Clemson and in those three games, he shot 11 of 26 from inside the 3-point line and 4 of 16 from outside it, adding 12 assists to 10 turnovers (five assists to seven turnovers in the two losses). I didn’t include the Florida State game because, and this could be a good sign for Daniels, he finished with 14 points on 6 of 12 shooting and had three assists to just one turnover. But NC State needs Daniels to be consistent and good, and to play the way he did in the first meeting with North Carolina. He’s NC State’s best combination of talent and experience on both ends of the court and if he plays the way he did in the first meeting, it could absolutely single-handedly flip this matchup in NC State’s direction, rust or not.

Kevin Keatts during NC State's loss to Miami

Caleb Love. UNC’s freshman guard still leads the team in turnover percentage on the season, turning it over at least twice in every game since the season-opener. But his offensive efficiency rating of 110 against Wake Forest was his highest since that season-opener, and you can sort of live with turnovers if you’re also getting assists (he had three), good defense (he had two steals and two blocks) and, well, points. Love’s 20 points were three more than his previous career high of 17, which was set in the season-opener. He had double digits in two of his first three games as a Tar Heel but it took him 18 shots to get 16 in one game. His 20 points came on 12 shots against Wake. And his 3-point shooting has come around significantly. He’s made 5 of 9 from beyond the arc in the last two games after making 9 of his first 50 attempts this season. And he did a good job of drawing contact and getting to the foul line, which will be big against an NC State team that can sometimes be foul-prone. In the first meeting with the Wolfpack, Love had 11 points on 3 of 14 shooting, four rebounds, four assists and two turnovers. The two turnovers are actually probably a good sign considering the way NC State pressures you. He’s going to need to keep shooting well and defending at a high level because the challenge will be tougher on Saturday.

NARRATIVES

NC State Win: A season sweep!

mrs doubtfire

NC State Loss: Hard to be mad coming off of a COVID layoff, but knowing this was a great chance to get a season sweep of UNC…

mixed emotions

UNC Win: Figuring things out? Maybe?

herbie hancock

UNC Loss:

hopes and dreams

PREDICTION

UNC, 83-72. I think NC State gets off to a good start but can’t maintain it.

Duke_Pittsburgh_Basketball_48271

DUKE (5-4, 3-2 ACC) AT LOUISVILLE (9-3, 4-2 ACC)

Time: 4 p.m.
TV: ESPN

#ANALYSIS

Both of these rabid fanbases are currently wondering what is wrong with their teams, although to be fair, Duke fans have been asking that question longer than Louisville fans. In some ways, this feels like a good matchup for Duke. Louisville doesn’t have a ton of size — 6-8 freshman Jae’Lyn Withers is Louisville’s starting center. Duke is 14th in ACC-only 3-point defense and Louisville’s offense is 14th. But where things get interesting is in areas like turnovers and rebounding, both of which have been Duke strengths, particularly in forcing them. Louisville doesn’t turn it over a ton and is about average in that category, but Duke’s defense is second in ACC-only defensive turnover percentage.

Louisville is third in offensive rebounding percentage and fifth in defensive rebounding percentage, while Duke is third in defensive rebounding and second in offensive rebounding. So the game is likely to come down to those two things, and the foul line is worth watching as well. Duke needs to do a better job of getting there, and Louisville might just be the team to accommodate that as the Cardinals are 14th in defensive free-throw rate in league play. But Duke is 12th in offensive free-throw rate and 15th in defensive free-throw rate, while Louisville’s offense ranks fourth in that category. Whichever defense is able to make more happen by forcing turnovers and contesting shots while also avoiding fouls is likely to win this one.

NAMES TO KNOW

Jalen Johnson. It’s hard to know exactly how to evaluate this Duke team with Johnson since they haven’t had him so much of the season. Yes, they lost two games with him earlier in the season but the Illinois game was his final one before missing three games with an ankle injury. He only played four minutes against Virginia Tech in that loss before getting 33 against Pittsburgh, his most since the season-opener, and he didn’t disappoint with a career-high 24 points and seven assists. His 15 rebounds weren’t a career high, but his four blocks and two steals each tied a career high. It’s difficult, but not impossible, to play without a big man but as Duke showed against Pitt, it’s certainly way easier to have one. Except Duke lost the game, right? So the question remains, how does Duke adjust to getting Matthew Hurt going again with Johnson back in the lineup, while also incorporating the freshman guards as complementary scorers? That’s more of a big-picture issue, of course, but in theory, Johnson should have a big impact against a team without a lot of size. And it’s a limited sample size for Johnson, but he’s drawing 5.1 fouls per 50 minutes and has a free-throw rate higher than anyone on Duke’s roster except Jeremy Roach. He could really help Duke in that capacity as well, but of course he needs to make them. Free-throw shooting has been a big problem for Duke and his 60% is not great. He should help with a lot of Duke’s issues moving forward, but this game will give us a good sense of how much.

David Johnson. It’d be easy to pick Carlik Jones here, the Radford transfer who is averaging 17.9 points per game for the Cardinals to go with 5.8 rebounds and 4.7 assists. But of all of the performances I’ve seen at Cameron Indoor by opposing players in recent years, Johnson’s last year ranks high on the list. Johnson was captivating as he piled up 19 points on 8 of 12 shooting, adding seven assists and seeming at times unguardable as he pushed the ball at breakneck speed and got into the lane seemingly at will. It was his season high and his career high until January of this year, but he’s Louisville’s second-leading scorer with 13.1 points per game and is shooting a tick higher than Jones at 45.6 percent. And remember how Duke’s 3-point defense isn’t good anymore? Well, Johnson leads Louisville in 3-point shooting at 43.5 percent. When he struggles, Louisville is going to be vulnerable — Louisville is 3-1 in games where Johnson was in single digits scoring, but one was a narrow win over Seton Hall and the other a win at Wake when Wake cut it to single digits — but Duke is going to have quite the challenge in trying to shut down both Jones and Johnson, and Johnson certainly has experience doing well against Duke.

NARRATIVES

Duke Win:

so much better

Duke Loss: Duke is .500? IN LATE JANUARY?!

unacceptable

Louisville Win: Beating Kentucky and Duke in the same season?

two thumbs up

Louisville Loss:

bill murray pillow

PREDICTION

Duke, 79-71. Don’t ask me why. I have no logical reason.