Another 1-1 week for the ‘Canes last week. After a tough loss at Purdue, where the team battled hard but just couldn’t seem to get over the hump, the ‘Canes recovered with a home win over UMass to stop their slide at 2 games. The games were noteworthy for 2 reasons:
- Freshman Shane Larkin is quickly emerging as a star. Larkin followed up a nearly game saving performance against Purdue with another strong outing against UMass and earned ACC Rookie of the Week honors.
- Coach Larranaga appears to be content to play a small lineup, but has no idea who to trust as his big on the court. Against Purdue, Swoope started, remaining on the court even in foul trouble, and was backed up primarily by Akpejiori. Kadji only played 2 minutes. The script was flipped entirely against UMass, as Akpejiori started, Swoope came off the bench, and Kadji actually ended up playing a majority of the big man minutes, playing 25 minutes in a very strong outing. Don’t be surprised if Larranaga gives Kadji the start against Memphis, using his 3rd starter at that position in 3 games.
The goal of going 2-3 over the tough 5 game stretch is still out there, but it requires the ‘Canes to win 1 of the games this week to avoid dropping to 5-4 overall. This might be the most challenging week of the ‘Canes season, so splitting the games will have to be viewed as a success.
Tuesday, 9PM, ESPN2
Memphis started the year in the Top 10, but stumbled in Maui, going 1-2 with a loss to Michigan and an overtime loss to Georgetown. Despite those losses, they are still ranked 20th and are a threat to make the Final Four this year. This is a legit team with athletes all over the court. Will Barton is a prototypical SG, with size and all court game. At 6-6, the ‘Canes will struggle to match up with him. On the interior, the Tigers will rotate 3 athletic bigs and will also bring athleticism of the bench. Several players in the 6-6 range height-wise with athleticism will provide a difficult matchup for the ‘Canes. Fortunately, the ‘Canes have improved in handling pressure this year (which is something Memphis features) and inserting Larkin into the starting lineup seems to have calmed things, so hopefully the turnovers will be kept to a minimum. Outside of Duke and North Carolina, this will be the ‘Canes toughest game all year. The sample size is small, but Memphis ranks 9th in the country in scoring and 12th in field goal percentage.
JT’s Take: Memphis might be one of the worst “good” teams in all of college basketball. I’ve watched them several times, and while the raw athletic ability jumps out at you, so does the lack of basketball IQ on the team. They repeatedly make terrible decisions and force shots, no doubt a product of them all being superstars in high school. In a way, they remind of the Miami Heat from last year when they were struggling in December. You could tell the Heat were forcing possessions, letting one possession be for Wade, then from LBJ, and so forth, rather than playing within the team and letting the game come to them. Eventually, it did for the Heat. So far, it has not for Memphis, with each possession being forced, especially in a tight game. I think we have the talent to matchup with Memphis, but unfortunately we just go too long in games failing to score the basketball. Tonight, we get it done. I think we force Memphis into enough stupid mistakes, pulling off a much needed victory. Miami 73 Memphis 70
Vishnu’s Take: This is an awful matchup for Miami. Memphis features several players that might be called “tweeners” in the NBA but are actually matchup nightmares in college. The ‘Canes had trouble keeping Purdue out of the paint, and Memphis is bigger, stronger and more athletic. The ‘Canes must hope for a strong home crowd (I honestly have no idea what to expect on that front), hot 3-point shooting, and cold 3-point shooting from Memphis to have any chance at this game. I just don’t see it happening and expect a double-digit home loss. With that said, there is no shame in losing to one of the best teams in the country, so hopefully the ‘Canes come out loose, play well, and maybe have a chance to steal one. The field goal percentage must be much better, as Durand Scott was the ‘Canes leading scorer against UMass, scoring 16 points on all FTs.
@West Virginia (5-2)
Saturday, 7PM, ESPN2
Bob Huggins’ team has 2 double-digit losses, at home to Kent and then their past game @Mississippi State. West Virginia has 6 players do the heavy lifting in terms of minutes played. While their backcourt is not tall, they do play a more traditional lineup, with 2 power players, which might make it difficult for the ‘Canes to match up with their 4 guard lineup. This is a veteran West Virginia team, lead by seniors Kevin Jones and Darryl Bryant. The atmosphere in Morgantown, even for a December basketball game, is notoriously rough. All About The U correspondent John Groves will be in attendance. The positive thing for the ‘Canes is that West Virginia stinks from 3-point range (something their teams have been traditionally reliant on), shooting only 28.1% and ranking 303rd in NCAA Division 1 basketball. Contrast that with the ‘Canes, who are shooting 35.9%, good for 115th. That’s not earth shattering, but still a strength in this game.
JT’s Take: I’ve only seen WVU once this year, and it was Saturday night against Mississippi State. I’m not sure if MSU is just pretty damn good (I know they’re talented) or if WVU just came out flat. This is another game where if the Canes had Reggie, I think we’d be in good shape. However, we just do not have the size to matchup with WVU at this point in the season, and with this game being in a hostile environment, I don’t think we can keep WVU from getting easy baskets, which you must do on the road. This will be a frustrating loss. WVU 77 Miami 65
Vishnu’s Take: This game has all the makings of an ugly game. West Virginia plays in Manhattan, KS at Kansas State 2 days before this game, and the ‘Canes will be coming off by far their biggest pre-conference game. Both teams will probably have some sort of a hangover effect. In an ugly and sloppy game, expect the team that can hit a few big shots to win. After a low scoring back and forth, I expect the ‘Canes to knock down some clutch 3s and open a lead. Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant’s shooting should improve, and with Larkin now running the show, the ‘Canes are creating better looks. They will make enough to squeak out a much needed, low scoring road win.