It's certainly not the Tobacco Road rivalry, but NC State vs. North Carolina promises to entertain on Saturday afternoon.
For the second time in less than a month, the Wolfpack and Tar Heels will square off in a big-time conference matchup that both programs desperately need in order to better position themselves for March. NC State has won three straight coming into this weekend's showdown in Chapel Hill, while North Carolina is riding a two-game winning streak into Saturday's meeting.
With tipoff right around the corner, it's time we take a look at the biggest x-factors fans should be watching for in Saturday's pivotal rivalry clash.
Leslie McDonald, North Carolina, G
A 6'5" junior guard out of Memphis, North Carolina's Leslie McDonald can provide the Tar Heels with a huge offensive boost against NC State on Saturday. McDonald is hitting 40 percent of his three-pointers this season, and poured in four on six attempts in Tuesday's win over Georgia Tech on the road (UNC hit just 6-of-20 as a team in the win).
Although McDonald only averages about 18 minutes per game for Roy Williams' squad this season, he is the team's fourth-leading scorer, and second-best outside shooting threat behind Reggie Bullock.
The junior even ranks 16th in the ACC in points per 40 minutes, averaging a mark of 18.2. Look for McDonald to provide North Carolina with a huge lift off the bench this weekend, as he's done all season long.
His ability to stretch the floor and knock down shots is huge for the Tar Heels, and could potentially sink the Wolfpack on the road Saturday. Remember, McDonald didn't play in January's first meeting between these two teams.
T.J. Warren, NC State, F
Freshman forward T.J. Warren has played a key role for NC State in his first season, averaging 12.2 points and 3.8 rebounds per game for the Wolfpack. But over the course of the team's last two victories over Virginia Tech and Florida State, Warren is averaging 21.5 points per game, including a 31-point explosion against the Seminoles this past Tuesday.
Warren also brought down a career-high 13 rebounds to go along with his career-high 31 points on Tuesday.
At 6'8", 230 pounds, Warren is a threat on the interior as well as beyond the arc. He is 4-for-9 from long-range in conference play this season (2-for-2 vs. FSU on Tuesday), and is the team's leading three-point shooter in terms of percentage this season (.545).
When Warren is knocking down shots at a high percentage (19 points on 9-of-12 shooting in the home win over North Carolina), and playing physical basketball inside and around the paint, NC State is difficult to beat, as they will be on Saturday evening in Chapel Hill.
Marcus Paige, North Carolina, G
Like NC State's T.J. Warren, North Carolina's Marcus Paige is a freshman capable of changing the outcome of a game like Saturday's. The six-foot guard is averaging just 7.4 points per game this season for the Tar Heels, but he's the team's leading assist man, averaging 4.3 dimes per contest.
So, expect Paige to play a significant role for North Carolina this weekend.
After all, if Paige was a little bit better in the two teams' first meeting back in January, perhaps North Carolina would have stole that game on the road. Instead, it was his 2-of-11 shooting effort that helped NC State squeeze out an eight-point win at home.
Paige will also be a difference-maker at the foul line for the Tar Heels on Saturday. He's the team's best free-throw shooter at 87 percent, and has missed only five foul shots all year long. If Paige is playing aggressive, smart basketball against the Wolfpack, then the Tar Heels will have a great shot to avenge last month's loss to their rivals.
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