North Carolina Basketball: 5 Keys to Beating Miami in ACC Game
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When it comes to knocking off the Miami Hurricanes, there is no easy solution for this North Carolina basketball team. Not only are the 'Canes more experienced—starting four seniors—but the Tar Heels will have to get it done in Coral Gables, Fla.
This is the team that blew out the Duke Blue Devils by 27 points at the BankUnited Center. It is also the only team that remains undefeated in the conference.
With five of UNC's six losses coming on the road, the scales tip even more in favor of Miami.
If there is anything we have learned from this college basketball season, though, it's that no team is invincible.
UNC has a chance to pull off an upset if it focuses on these five keys to victory. But it will take a concerted effort by all members of the cast.
UNC Must Get out to a Fast Start
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At this point, P.J. Hairston starting seems to be nothing but a pipe dream. But it could still end up a key move if Roy Williams ever takes that step.
This would be the perfect game for him to do just that.
The last time these teams met, UNC was scoreless in seven of its first eight half-court possessions. Through those first five minutes, the Tar Heels only managed five points off a Reggie Bullock three and a coast-to-coast jam by James Michael McAdoo.
In that same time span, Miami only had six points. Imagine if the Tar Heels started the game more efficiently.
By himself, Hairston has scored 59 points over his last 58 minutes. That's just over one point per minute, which is exactly what the entire team had over the first five minutes against the U.
This is why fans are begging Roy to start Hairston. He has been red hot of late, and has the tools to take over a game.
Alas, he will probably not start, and the Tar Heels will have to find a way to score early and often without him.
Contain Kenny Kadji This Time
Kenny Kadji scored a game-high 18 points in their last meeting.
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Back in January, nobody had an answer for Kenny Kadji. Miami's power forward had 18 points, nine rebounds, three assists, four blocks and two threes.
And it seemed like every time Carolina was starting to shift the momentum, Kadji was the one to answer.
Julian Gamble did his part too, and Reggie Johnson will be back in this game. He missed the last one with a broken thumb.
But nobody on the Hurricanes' squad is more versatile and deadly than Kadji. Not only does he have great size at 6'11", 242 pounds, but he can beat defenders off the dribble or spot up for three.
He's shooting 36.1 percent from deep, which is actually down from his 41.8 percent last season.
It will be defense by committee on Kadji this Saturday, but James Michael McAdoo will probably have the bulk of the responsibility. No matter who is on him, the Tar Heels need to find a way to shut this man down.
Marquee Matchup: Marcus Paige vs. Shane Larkin
Shane Larkin was held to just 11 points and one assist.
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With the improvement of Marcus Paige's defense, he will probably be locked on Shane Larkin for most of the game.
That's no small task.
At 5'11", 175 pounds, Larkin doesn't have much of a size advantage over the 6'0", 157-pound Paige. But he is stronger, incredibly quick and handles the ball very well. He has also proven to be a deadly marksman, shooting 41.8 percent from downtown this season.
Paige will have to be the pesky defender he has proven to be over the last couple weeks with his quick hands and heads-up play.
Larkin only had 11 points and one assist in the last meeting, but he is capable of producing much more. Especially when he gets the transition game going.
That's where Paige has to worry about Larkin the most.
Larkin is averaging 2.3 steals per game, and he'll be halfway down the court before guys can even react. Paige will have to be careful not to give it up to Larkin on the offensive end. He will also need to be aware of Larkin when other Tar Heels turn the ball over.
Paige has proven to be one of the best transition defenders on the team, and he will have to be at the top of his game in that department this weekend.
The Traingle Trio Must Dominate
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It's rare that Reggie Bullock, P.J. Hairston and James Michael McAdoo happen to be ballin' in the same game. And the Triangle Trio has an even tougher time making that happen against physical defenses like Miami.
But Carolina's top three scorers have to be at the top of their games when they travel south.
Hairston only managed five points on 2-of-7 shooting when the Hurricanes came to town. Bullock and McAdoo didn't perform much better, as they combined for 25 points on 9-of-30 shooting.
If they play down to that level in Coral Gables, Miami will run UNC right out of the building like it did Duke.
The trio accounted for 54 points in their last game against Wake Forest. That was the same total the Demon Deacons had when the three Tar Heels were subbed out for the last time.
And Hairston only played 12 minutes.
Granted, it was against Wake, and nobody here is putting too much weight on that. But Hairston, Bullock and McAdoo seem to have found their identities over the last couple weeks. And their teammates are learning who to lean on.
Now they need to put a dynamic performance together against Miami.
James, Hubert Have to Step Up at Center
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As previously stated, Julian Gamble was a big part of Miami's win in Chapel Hill, N.C. And now it has the 6'10", 292-pound Reggie Johnson back in the mix.
Who will be the primary center to handle those duties nobody wants? Does Roy go with the bulk of Joel James, or the quickness of Desmond Hubert?
There really is no good answer to Gamble and Johnson. Miami's centers are more skilled and experienced than anyone Coach Williams could throw at them. Gamble has been there for six years, and Johnson for five.
And they'll be working against a freshman (James) and a sophomore (Hubert).
But the Carolina duo is playing much better now than they were a month ago. Neither has proven to be a major scoring threat, but their defense has really stepped up.
James is using his body more, and his on-ball defense is starting to look pretty impressive. Hubert is just long and quick, which makes him a great help defender. He finds great angles to come in and block shots.
Have they improved enough to take on the Monsters of Miami?
That remains to be seen. But there is no doubt Carolina's centers will have to find a way to contain the aggression of Gamble and Johnson.
The biggest key to this game for Carolina is getting out to a fast, efficient start. But that may only happen if the boys in blue can execute the other four keys from the jump.