The East Carolina Pirates and the No. 21 North Carolina Tar Heels. The real North Carolina rivalry.
Sure, North Carolina vs. Duke or North Carolina vs. North Carolina State provide for fairly intriguing in-state battles, but there's nothing quite like this matchup.
OK, so I might be bending reality just a tad with those last few statements, but with Jeff Lebo's squad off to an explosive start and Roy Williams' off to a bit of a disappointing one, this encounter could be much more enthralling than usual.
Let's take a closer look.
Where: Dean E. Smith Center, Chapel Hill, N.C.
When: Saturday, Dec. 15 at noon ET
Live Stream: WatchESPN
East Carolina Injury Report (via USA Today)
G Erin Straughn, leg, questionable
North Carolina Injury Report (via USA Today)
None to report
What They're Saying
Roy Williams, according to ESPN's Robbi Pickeral, would like to see his team get to the free-throw line a little bit more:
“I don’t mind … [more] 3-pointers a game, but I would like to get to the foul line more, and that comes from getting the ball inside, by pass or dribble,’’ Williams said Thursday.
"Everybody acts like I just want them to throw it to the big guy, but Ty Lawson got to the foul line a lot just by driving the ball to the basket. And Marcus [Paige, UNC’s starting point guard] hasn’t gotten that comfortable with it yet; he’s played seven or eight games, and he’s shot one free throw, and that’s just not typical. We’ve got to get the ball to the basket by dribble or pass."
On the season, the Heels' FTA/FGA percentage—a good indication of how well a team can get to the line—is an anemic 22.1 percent, which is 344th in the country. Last year, the Heels' FT rate was 37.3.
Moreover, when the Heels do get to the line, they aren't making their shots. Their 61.7 FT percentage (316th in the country) is down from an already-bad 68.2 percent last season.
East Carolina Player to Watch: Maurice Kemp
Kemp, who, by all accounts isn't one of Shawn Kemp's kids, has a very unique game.
At 6'8", Kemp might seem to belong on the block at the collegiate level. But at 190 pounds, banging down low really isn't his game.
Still, he's not a traditional wing, as just 6.8 percent of his field goals come from beyond the three-point line.
Instead, he's a bit of a mixture of everything. He's a big, long specimen, as evidenced by his rebounding prowess (8.1 per game, 19.4 percent rebounding rate, both of which rank in the top 100 in the country), but he's also a slasher and a mid-range shooter, above all else.
On the season, Kemp leads the Pirates with 16.7 points per game and an efficiency rating of 19.1. Because he makes most of his living inside the arc, he's shooting an impressive 50.7 percent from the field and gets to the line 8.1 times per game.
Throw in 2.4 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.0 blocks per game, and Kemp has shown the ability to impact the game in several ways. Watching the senior match up with any one of UNC's veteran wings is certainly something to pay attention to.
North Carolina Player to Watch: Marcus Paige
I've listed Paige, but I'm going to cheat and give you two names to watch: Paige and fellow freshman Brice Johnson.
Paige, unfortunately, is here because of his struggles.
Considering UNC's depth on the wing with Reggie Bullock, P.J. Hairston, Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland along with the expected dominance of James Michael McAdoo on the inside (although that has yet to come in full), Paige entered the season as arguably the Heels' most important player.
As it turns out, that's a tall task for any true freshman. The Marion, Iowa product has stumbled out of the gates.
Paige is shooting 37.5 percent from the field, 29.0 percent from long range (on 3.875 attempts per contest) and has just 30 assists (3.8 per game) compared to 23 turnovers. To top it all off, in 194 minutes, he has one free-throw attempt.
If the Heels are going to turn this into more than just a rebuilding year, Paige is going to have to become more efficient on the offensive end. Luckily for UNC, he is young and there's still plenty of time for him to develop.
On to a brighter spot. Brice Johnson.
Because of not-so-stellar defense (according to Roy Williams), Johnson is averaging just 14.1 minutes per game on the season. But if he continues to play like he has on offense, he's going to need more time on the court.
The freshman is averaging 9.4 points on 64.5 percent shooting (a ridiculous 1.29 points per weighted shot, albeit from a small sample) to go along with 5.1 rebounds per game. Extrapolate those numbers to 28.2 minutes per game (a starter's role), and that comes out to 18.8 and 10.2 per contest.
Make sure to keep your eye on him, as he's sure to make a large impact off the bench.
Key Matchup: Controlling the Tempo
This one's pretty simple.
North Carolina, as always, wants to get into you on defense, force turnovers (17.6 per game) and get out and run. The Heels are averaging 78.9 possessions per 40 minutes, which is second most in the nation.
On the other side of the ball, East Carolina plays at a much-average pace of 69.1 possession per 40.
Seniors Kemp and Miguel Paul can certainly run if need be, but if they want to have a chance of continuing their efficient offensive ways (1.027 points per possession), they can't play North Carolina's game.
Unfortunately for the Pirates, this one is in Chapel Hill, and the Tar Heels have a much better chance of imposing their game plan in front of a raucous home crowd.
Look for the pace in this one to quicken, freeing up North Carolina's bevy of shooters for lots of open looks from the outside against a defensively weak East Carolina squad.
That, in turn, should help McAdoo rebound from an underwhelming performance last week against East Tennessee State.
The Pirates are off to a good start at 6-1, but they haven't played anyone nearly as talented as UNC.
North Carolina 92, East Carolina 70