The North Carolina basketball team will be looking for its fifth straight victory when the Florida State Seminoles come to town this Sunday. UNC's only loss since Roy Williams switched to a small lineup was against Duke in Cameron Indoor.
FSU isn't having the same success of late, as it has lost four of its last six games.
The Seminoles are just 7-8 during ACC play this season. One of those was a 77-72 loss to the Tar Heels back in January.
Now the 'Noles have to try and get it done in Chapel Hill. That won't be easy with the way Carolina has been playing.
But UNC has its share of troubles that come with the smaller lineup. It will have to find a way to work those deficiencies out and capitalize on its strengths.
These five keys to the game should keep the Tar Heels rolling.
Florida State is the worst rebounding team in the ACC at just 31.3 per game. The Tar Heels are second in the conference with 40.8 per game.
But that means nothing right now.
Since going small, UNC is only averaging 32.8 rebounds per game and giving 35 to its opponents. The new group's worst performance was in the last game against Clemson, when they only mustered 28 boards.
Leading rebounder James Michael McAdoo only pulled in four of those.
Don't be surprised when centers Kiel Turpin and Boris Bojanovsky receive a big chunk of minutes for Florida State. FSU's twin towers stand at 7'0" and 7'3", respectively, and would be going up against the 6'9" McAdoo.
Neither has shown much prowess on the boards, but that could easily change, given the height advantage and a lack of physicality from McAdoo.
Meanwhile, P.J. Hairston will likely be dueling with Okaro White, who ranks second on the team with six rebounds per game.
It wouldn't be a bad idea to give Brice Johnson some extra minutes in this one. He is only getting 7.4 minutes per game over the last five, and he is the team's most efficient rebounder.
Johnson snags one board every 3.1 minutes he is on the floor.
Carolina can't afford to make FSU look like a good rebounding team.
Florida State got the best of North Carolina with the turnover margin in the last meeting, 10-13. Unlike the rebounding, this is one area where UNC has greatly improved over the last five games.
And it has improved on both ends of the floor.
Carolina has given up 13 turnovers per game over the course of the season. Since making the lineup switch, it is only giving up nine per game.
On the defensive end, the Tar Heels are averaging 10 steals and are forcing a whopping 16.4 turnovers per game. That doesn't bode well for FSU, which is averaging 14.6 turnovers per game.
The Seminoles have a tendency to be lazy with their passes, which plays right into UNC's hands. All five starters are excellent at jumping the passing lanes, so we should be seeing a lot of steals on Sunday.
The turnover margin is easily the biggest statistical reason Carolina is 4-1 with this starting five.
As well as the Carolina defense has played since going small, it is still struggling to defend the three ball. The Tar Heels are allowing their opponents to shoot 38 percent behind the arc during that span.
That cannot continue.
Florida State buried 11-of-22 threes in its last meeting with North Carolina. Terry Whisnat II nailed four of his seven attempts in that game.
The Tar Heels will also have to keep an eye on Michael Snaer and Devon Bookert. Bookert doesn't jack up many treys, but he is 24-of-48 on the season. Snaer leads the team in three-point percentage (38.8), attempts (134) and makes (52).
He won't hesitate to let one go if he slips open.
P.J. Hairston hammered home a couple dunks against FSU in early Jan. With the driving lanes that have opened up since going small, we should see more of this on Sunday.
However, Clemson was able to clog the lanes and force Carolina to settle for jump shots. And considering the current lineup consists of four guards, those guys can easily be coaxed into shooting jumpers. They don't seem to want to wait more than 15 seconds for a shot, so they are content to jack up the first open look—no matter where it is on the floor.
The three ball is even more tempting for this crew.
The Tar Heels are attempting 21.8 threes per game with the small lineup. They are drilling them home at a 37.6 percent clip, but they are still sacrificing offensive rhythm and free throws for it.
So even though their three-point percentage has gone up, their overall field-goal percentage has dropped to 42.9.
I've said it before, and I will say it again: the Tar Heels need to make cutting to the basket the primary option. They still aren't getting to the free-throw line enough, and rely way too much on their three-point shooting.
Marcus Paige's performance on Sunday could be the difference between a close game and a spanking by the Tar Heels.
He got his team off to a good start against Clemson, nailing two threes in the first few minutes of the game. Paige finished with 10 points, and is averaging 10.6 per game over the last five.
But it isn't just about points. Paige needs more games like the one against NC State, where he dished out eight dimes.
As previously stated, Clemson was doing a great job of clogging the lanes on Thursday. As a result, Paige was playing from the perimeter most of the game, and was only able to hand out four assists.
Paige can't just be a part of the offense; the offense needs to run through him in order to thrive. With him controlling the offense, he keeps the trigger-happy off-guards from jacking up unnecessary threes. When the ball just gets rotated around, eventually one of them is going to pull the trigger.
If there is anything we have learned about Paige over the last five games, it's that he is perfectly capable of running this offense—and scoring in it.
To go with his 10.6 points per game, he is also averaging 4.2 assists, 1.4 turnovers, 2.8 rebounds and 2.2 steals. He is also 18-of-19 from the free-throw line and 7-of-16 from downtown.
Paige simply needs to keep this run going.
If the Tar Heels can hone in on these five keys to the FSU game, they should come out with a dominant win over the 'Noles in front of their home crowd. And if Duke loses to Miami on Saturday night, the Carolina faithful will have even more to cheer about than just another win.
UNC would tie Duke for second place in the ACC.
But it has to get this one first.