This is the game where Roy Williams’ lineup blunders could hurt the North Carolina Tar Heels the most. In the first matchup between these teams in Raleigh, Williams never gave his team a chance.
He was still employing the same preposterous lineup that everyone now knows was embarrassingly wrong, a decision that resulted in a 19-point halftime deficit. The Heels fell behind by as much as 28 before rallying to make it respectable, and several lessons should have been learned from the comeback against the North Carolina State Wolfpack.
Ole’ Roy has since realized that P.J. Hairston has to play, but he still hasn’t figured out a few things that could cost him in this one. I’m sure most people don’t remember who sparked the rally in Raleigh, and apparently Coach Williams doesn’t either.
Hairston and his 19 points were clearly a major factor, but three other seldom-used players were critical as well.
J.P. Tokoto had his best game of the year against N.C. State, finishing with 10 points, three assists and two rebounds in 17 minutes off the bench. In addition to his offense and energy, Tokoto’s size and versatility on the defensive end allowed the Tar Heels to get back in the game.
Tokoto has only played 22 minutes combined in his last four games, and Williams’ refusal to find more time for him is just one thing that is keeping the Tar Heels from reaching their potential.
Brice Johnson only played 10 minutes in Raleigh, but he had six points and four rebounds in that time. Johnson is the best center on this team, and his lack of playing time this season will be the main reason the Tar Heels won’t go as far as they should in the NCAA tournament. Johnson is the perfect candidate to defend State’s C.J. Leslie, and Brice’s 103 rebounds in 301 minutes this season should make him a no-brainer for big minutes in the post.
Considering he’s only played 22 minutes combined in his last three games, he probably won’t see enough time in this one either.
Jackson Simmons also gave Carolina a big lift during the comeback, making all three of his shots and adding three rebounds and a block. He gave the Tar Heels another scrappy defender to battle Howell and Leslie down low, and he should be called on for important minutes again this time.
Simmons has only seen 19 minutes of action in his last three games, so hopefully practice has been enough to keep him sharp.
N.C. State presents some major mismatches for UNC’s most frequent lineups, and it’s going to take some tactical ingenuity for the Heels to come out on top this time around. As a 6’5” point guard, Lorenzo Brown is a matchup nightmare for most teams, not just Carolina. Marcus Paige is too small to guard him, but unfortunately there will be times where he has to.
Tokoto is the Tar Heel best suited to lock Brown down, and Roy Williams needs to find a way to make that happen as much as possible.
Leslie McDonald wasn’t available in round one, but he’s coming off a big game against Georgia Tech and should spend some time on Brown as well. Giving Lorenzo many different looks is the best way to keep him off balance. He's the key to the Wolfpack offense, so slowing him down has to be priority one.
Mark Gottfried is likely to start an even bigger lineup than he did in Raleigh, as it seems 6’8” T.J. Warren has replaced 6’3” Rodney Purvis as a Wolfpack starter. Warren had 19 points in the first matchup between these teams, and he’s coming off career highs of 31 points and 13 rebounds against Florida State on Tuesday night.
Warren’s addition will put UNC’s “small ball” lineup at even more of a disadvantage, so Roy Williams will have to get creative for Carolina to win the game and take over third place in the ACC.